If you take into account manufacturer warranties, modern hard disk drives (HDDs) have an expected operating lifespan of 3-5 years – with most hard drives continuing to function reliably for much longer periods of time than that. Unfortunately for all of us, no hard drive can be expected to last indefinitely; hard drives contain mechanical components that wear out over time, and even the best hard drives start to have difficulties once 10 years have gone by.

So, how do you determine whether you have a physical hard drive crash? For starters, it is important to note that this isn’t anywhere near a comprehensive list of hard drive failure signs and symptoms. We recommend that you treat any unusual performance issues when it comes to your hard drive with the utmost levels of caution. While these are the most common symptoms of a damaged hard disk drive, the reasons for your specific crash can be very different.

What to Look for When Your Hard Drive Is Failing Or Has Crashed

1. Your computer does not recognize the hard drive in question

There are a variety of reasons why your computer may fail to recognize your hard drive, some of which are relatively simple to resolve. The power supply in your computer may be failing, or the motherboard may be unable to transfer information from your computer’s hard disk drive to your storage media. The latter tends to be super rare, but does point to other system issues.

However, if you are reasonably certain that all of your computer’s components are working properly — or if you have tested the hard drive in another machine or in an external drive case or cloner — it is likely that one or more HDD components have failed. Boot failures are most commonly associated with failure of the hard drive’s electronics board, but in some cases, other component failures can cause this symptom in the case of certain models.

2. When you try to access files, you notice that they are taking longer to load or freezing your computer.

If your hard drive is running low on available space or if another component of your computer is malfunctioning, you may experience performance issues. The majority of speed issues are simple to resolve — but if the problem only occurs when your computer is accessing data, the problem may be much more serious.

Occasionally, the mechanical components of a hard drive experience failure, which results in performance issues. You should seek professional assistance if you notice that some of your files have become corrupted and their contents have been affected, are unable to be opened, or they display errors such as CRC (cyclical redundancy check). Despite the fact that the hard drive appears to be operational, it may be on the verge of failing. Certainly, a backup is in order if the drive is not too far along. A reputable data recovery company can transfer the information safely and without putting your files at risk of loss.

3. When you attempt to open a file, you will receive “file corrupted” or “file not found” errors.

File corruption occurs when portions of a file are “missing,” resulting in the file being unable to be opened or accessed at all. There are quite a few hard drive crash scenarios that can result in corruption, including:

  • Automatic, or unexpected shut downs
  • When an application attempts to write a file, it encounters an error.
  • The magnetic material on a portion of the hard drive’s platters (or platters) has failed and is no longer functional.
  • The actuator heads on the hard drive are showing signs of wear.
  • Malware (malicious software) infections are specifically designed to target specific files.

Generally speaking, we recommend taking a cautious approach: at this point you’re probably best to shutdown your computer and schedule an evaluation with a professional data recovery company as soon as you possibly can.

4. Unusual noises are coming from your hard drive.

These are some of the most obvious signs of hard drive crash or failure. This is because today’s hard drives are engineered to operate with near-silent operation. Failure of mechanical components, such as the spindle and actuator assembly, can be indicated by a variety of sounds, each of which is quite unmistakable.

These are the types of sounds that our customers frequently describe:

  • Clicking
  • Whining
  • Buzzing
  • Whirring
  • Grinding
  • Beeping
  • No sound at all (the hard drive does not “spin up” when the computer is powered on).

It is sometimes quite difficult to diagnose a hard drive failure solely on the basis of sound. For example, buzzing sounds may indicate a failure of the actuator head assembly, but certain electronic issues may also be responsible for this symptom with specific makes of hard drive.

The most common symptom associated with physical hard drive failure is hard drive clicking sounds. While the noise we are describing is sometimes referred to as the “click of death,” this is not entirely accurate because the vast majority of failed clicking hard drives can be recovered completely by a professional. The power source should be disconnected from your hard drive if it shows any signs of physical damage — and unusual noises are one of the most serious signs of physical damage that can occur.

5. Your operating system is unable to start.

It is possible for key files to become corrupt or for the hard drive to fail, resulting in operating system failures such as the dreaded “operating system not found” error. The problem could be physical or logical (in this context, “logical” simply means “not caused by a physical component failure”). If the hard drive contains important data, you’ll need to take action immediately.

You can try to access the hard drive with a computer that is running a functional operating system, but the safest course of action is to turn off the power to the hard drive.

When you have these signs of hard drive crash, professional data recovery services should really be your first focus if the data is of value to you.

Identify a professional data recovery company with an established reputation if your hard drive has failed, or if you’ve noticed any unusual symptoms while using your computer. Never try to repair your own storage media on your own. Today’s hard drives are extremely precise instruments, and data recovery requires sophisticated tools such as firmware repair equipment and cleanrooms that have received certification.

Hard Drive Recovery Group provides free hard drive evaluations through our network of full-service labs and recovery centers. We also offer a no data, no charge guarantee, which means that if we are unable to recover your requested data, we will ship your hard drive back to you at no additional charge to you.