Disk Drive Failure: Common Red Flags and Causes

blue crash screenLosing data could be a real catastrophe. Fortunately, hard drives typically display warning signs before their imminent death, explains a CompTIA A+ practice test instructor.

The first thing to know about hard disk drives (HDDs) is that they’re mechanical, and a majority of them are based on the platter and spindle system, which functions similarly to a record player — with the arm reading data contained in the platter and the computer system using this data for virtually every single computer task.

There’s another hard drive type, the solid state drive (SSD), which has become increasingly popular in recent years. It makes use of electrical grid cells for directly writing data to memory modules, similar to how the random access memory (RAM) functions.

While SSDs are more durable and faster than typical hard drives, they are also prone to disk failure.

Common Disk Failure Causes

The main cause of disk failure, whether for HDDs or SSDs, is essentially a mechanical failure. With HDDs, the platter and spindle system might be losing precision or wearing out because of heavy usage or age.

With SSDs, the memory modules could likewise wear out due to the same reason. Other common causes of disk failure also include the following:

  • Impact. A hard drive’s components are sensitive, and sometimes, dropping a drive or a laptop could result in instant disk failure.
  • Excess heat. This could be the culprit if drives are used continually in an insufficiently cooled system or an extremely hot environment.
  • Power or lightning surges and static electricity.
  • Exposure to high magnetic fields or water.

Common Symptoms of Disk Failure

If you believe that your hard drive might be on its last leg, consider these issues are symptoms that disk failure is imminent:

  • Folders and files disappearing
  • Vague and frequent error messages when conducting common tasks, such as relocating files
  • File and folder names being changed or are scrambled
  • Excessively long wait times when accessing files and folders
  • Frequent crashing, especially when booting up
  • Corrupted files or output when printing
  • A grinding noise or extended silence when requesting data when opening folders or files

If you notice any of these red flags possibly indicating impending disk failure, it’s best to prepare for the worst case scenario and back up your hard drive as soon as possible. Knowing these disk failure causes and symptoms would help you avoid a potential disaster, so keep these in mind.