Let’s start by saying, “All hard drives will eventually die – just like everything else.” So, all those precious photos, videos, audio files, and documents in your computer will soon become inaccessible.

Think about all the hard work and memories in there and suddenly just gone… That’s quite sad, right?

Well, that’s not a problem if you’ve regularly been backing up all your data. However, some people tend to ignore this due to the assumption that an HDD (hard disk drive) has a very long lifespan. To be honest, a few drives do last pretty long – longer than ten years – but there are also some that don’t even reach a year.

A realistic expectation of a hard drive’s lifespan is approximately 3 to 7 years. The more stable and intact the drive is, like the ones in a desktop computer, the longer it lasts. While drives that are frequently moved around, laptops and external HDDs for example, don’t get that far. With that in mind, it should now be rather easy to accept that after a couple of years, no matter how cautious you are, you’ll lose your data if you don’t practice backing it up.

What to Do Before Your Hard Drive Fails

Overall, preserving your data and keeping it secure isn’t actually that challenging. There is only one easy, proven effective way to make sure you won’t end up crying or investing in hundreds or thousands of dollars for a professional service, and that is to – make a backup.

To do that, you just have to save your data in an external storage device. It can be as cheap and basic as a flash drive for legal documents, or it can be as expensive as a portable hard disk for massive chunks of files such as high-quality images and videos. Other than a physical storage device, you can also avail a cloud service. These services are free unless you want to require more than the limit they offer. Nonetheless, either, is a great solution, and will often save you more money in the long run.

But What If You Haven’t Done Any Backup at All?

If you’re in luck and your hard drive isn’t failing yet, then, please, do the above and relieve yourself of worries. However, we also understand the concern for those who’ve recently purchased a new desktop or laptop computer. Of course, anyone with a new PC has every right to be confident that it is reliable and backing up the data at this point seem a bit too early. So, despite the fact that it is still recommended to get an extra storage device, you can instead be more cautious. What do we mean by that? Watch out for these:

Signs and Symptoms of a Failing Hard Drive

If you experience any of these signs and you can still boot your computer (new or old) successfully, the first thing that you should do is to backup everything as soon as possible. The sooner you do it, the more likely it is you won’t experience any permanent data loss.

Clicking Sounds

Let me start with the worst and most obvious sign of all – click of death. Believe it or not, your hard drive is capable of producing audible clicks. If you hear any strange sounds from your computer and it’s still working smoothly, confirm if it does come from the hard disk first. If it does, you better hastily grab any storage device you can and do a backup of everything important before it’s too late. After doing so, turn your machine off immediately to prevent any further damage.

Clicking sounds are due to a malfunction of the drive’s head component, which happens whenever it tries to write and read data. On the other hand, if you hear screeching noises (this happens rarely), it may be just too late, and your system may no longer be able to boot up. This kind of sound may be a sign of a spindle motor, platter, and bearing failure that requires professional assistance to recover data – no guarantees, though.

Corrupted Data

Any file can become damaged. It means you can’t open it, move it, or, in worse cases, delete it. There are many reasons why a particular file can go haywire. Most of the time, it’s because of copying or moving the file and suddenly cancelling it in the middle of the process (either intentionally or unintentionally). Another reason is also pretty obvious, a virus or malware. Last but not least, wait for it… of course, a failing hard disk drive.

Since there are numerous reasons for data corruption, the best thing to do is to eliminate each case. If you have a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and you’re sure you don’t intentionally cancel transfer processes, it could be a virus. Conversely, if you’ve got an updated antivirus installed and you’re positive that your PC is free from any malware, then a slowly failing hard drive could be the reason behind it.

Dramatically Slower Performance and Recurring Freezes

Surely, you’ve experienced this issue at some point in your life. There is, however, a quick way to determine if the reason behind the problem is your HDD. That is to run your computer in “safe mode,” or you reformat it. Just a reminder, before attempting to reformat it, you make sure to backup your files. If after this process your PC still freezes, has sudden spikes of exceptionally slow performances, or goes blue screen after running any program, there’s a huge chance that your hard drive is starting to malfunction and fail.

Bad Sectors

The last sign that you should be looking out for is bad sectors. Just to clear things up, a sector is plainly an area/part of a hard drive that allocates accessible data for the users – think of it as a slice of pizza (the entire pizza is your hard disk). To detect this kind of problem, you can merely run a manual check to know which sector has gone haywire.

To perform the test, right click on the Hard Disk Drive in My Computer, select Properties, go to Tools tab, and under Error Checking, finally click on Check/Check now. Windows will then search for bad sectors and attempt to fix it. If there is still a bad sector even after the process, it shows a gradual deterioration of your hard drive.

It’s Too Late: Hard Drive Is Dead – How to Recover Data?

Sometimes we just can’t avoid it, and the only thing to do now is to try and recover the data yourself or with the help of professionals. If, regrettably, you’re in this situation, don’t panic or do anything that can make things worse such as placing your HDD in the fridge or oven (yes, people actually do that causing data recovery become impossible). The first and best thing to do the moment your hard drive fails is to assess the type of failure. There are only two kinds of hard disk failure: logical/software-related failure and mechanical failure.

Logical/Software-related Failure

This type of failure means that no physical aspect of your drive is having issues. Thus, most of the time, there is a huge chance of retrieving your data successfully without any professional assistance. This problem happens because of accidental formatting or due to faulty programs. As long as your data wasn’t overwritten, you can still get it back.

Mechanical Failure

Now this one is more serious than the other. When you’re facing a drive with a mechanical failure, it only means that it has malfunctioning/broken parts. You usually hear a few clicks and screeches when this type of problem occurs. Although there’s still a chance that the majority of your files are still recoverable, it doesn’t come easy and requires an expert to pull it off. Moreover, this kind of service doesn’t come cheap, and there are no guarantees whatsoever. Depending on the severity of the damage, you should expect to pay about $500 to $2000.

Recovering Data from a Logical Failure

The moment you experience a logical failure, it is crucial that you instantly stop using your computer – turn it off immediately. The longer you use it while that drive is attached, the more damage it’s going to receive and the higher the chances of losing your data permanently. That’s because your operating system will continue to read and write even if its current state is inactive.

To recover your lost data, the best thing you can do is to make a clone of your drive. You can make a copy using a number of methods through different programs you can check on the internet. However, to save you the hassle of looking for one, we recommend using Clonezilla. You can use it on any operating system and just follow the instructions here to create a clone.

After actually creating a copy of your hard drive, you can then work on the clone and attempt to restore the files using a recovery tool. Although there are many efficient ones available, they’re not free though. If you’re on a tight budget (probably because you want to do this yourself), we recommend Recuva.

Recovering Data from a Mechanical Failure

This type of failure is by far more complicated than a logical failure where you just have to install a recovery program and possibly getting your lost data back. When it comes to a mechanical failure, you need to replace a broken part of the drive to fix it. You can quickly confirm this kind of problem as a computer can’t detect your hard disk. However, in the off chance it does detect your HDD, you should immediately do a backup and turn your machine off.

Before we dive in, it would be best to get familiar with the essential parts of the hard disk drive to understand fixing it better:

  • Platters – This part resembles small rotating plates. This is where all your data is stored, and these plates come in sets capable of storing up to 4 terabytes.
  • Head Assembly – This is an essential component responsible for writing and reading the data. Each head floats nanometres on top of the platter (one for each side). If this part malfunctions and touches the disk while rotating, it will possibly cause irreversible data loss.
  • PCB (printed circuit board) – You can identify this with ease as it looks like any other circuit board. Usually, it is coloured green or brown, and it functions as the brain of your HDD.

Before you continue in diagnosing and repairing the hard drive yourself, you should be aware that there is a huge risk. There is a possibility that you might end up worsening the situation.

!!Proceed with discretion!!

If the data in your HDD is imperative, better let the professionals handle this for you. There are only two problems which we think you can manage to pull off – as long as you give it time and effort.

Your Hard Drive Doesn’t Rotate

If no matter where you attach your hard drive, and it still doesn’t function at all (absolutely no motion or sound), there’s a huge chance of correctly fixing it on your own. Almost every instance, this problem is due to a faulty PCB. Your best and fastest solution is to replace it with an identical PCB from the same kind of drive, and before you know it, you’ll recover all your data. However, keep in mind that this only works for classic, older hard drives. Modern HDDs have an embedded microcode. This microcode is unique for that particular drive only. Replacing the PCB is a no go if you have a more current drive, attempting to do this will cost you your data.

Your Hard Drive Seems Fine, but Certain Files Instantly Freezes Your Computer

This problem happens when the platters and firmware are going haywire. Remember the part where I mentioned about bad sectors? When there are too many of it, it causes your PC to crash every time you access a certain location or file that’s part of that bad sector. Although there is a chance of you recovering your data back – without professional recovery tools – it is very risky. The way to do that is by installing a software imager where you can forcefully roam around the bad areas – take caution as it can cause more platter damages in the long run.

For other problems such as clicking or beeping sounds present, it would be wise that you directly seek professional help and stop any further activities to increase the chances of a successful recovery. These problems require a lab with the right tools and expertise to repair.

Why?

Take for example screeching and clicking sounds; it’s caused by a malfunctioning head assembly.  Remember, this component floats nanometres above the platter, and without precision tools, it’s impossible to pull it off on your own.

Beeping sounds, on the other hand, are due to motor damage that when replaced will require the head assembly to be removed, in turn, will end up needing the same tools to put them back correctly again. To make sure you won’t lose data permanently; best leave it to the experts, we can even come to your house.

We hope this guide helps you recover data from your broken HDD and brings it back to life, otherwise get in contact with us and we’ll hook it up to our lab and get your data off it for you!