The hard disk drive is a component within the computer that stores information, everything from programs to photos to system files. Every time you turn on your computer, you’re accessing data from the hard drive, and if you are using a hard disk drive as opposed to a solid state drive, the constant spinning of the platters will wear out and eventually fail. Hard disk drive failures are probably one of the most common sources of headaches for our clients.
Hard drive failures happen most commonly a few months after they’re bought or after years of use. Those that fail only months after installation are generally considered defective by the manufacturer. Otherwise, barring external factors, hard drives will just wear out, on average after about four years of use1. Water damage, over-heating, shock (e.g. dropping), bad air filters are all examples of hard drives failing from external factors. It is inevitable that anyone using a computer will experience a failing hard drive at some point in time.
That if you have data that you can’t afford to lose, back it up! Make multiple copies! Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know the importance of making data back-ups, until its too late and their data is irretrievable.
What exactly is happening when a hard drive fails? The most common mode of failure is called a “head crash.” A hard drive consists of spinning, magnetic platters that are then read by a head, which is only nanometers away from the platters. A head crash refers to when the head makes contact with one of the platters, damaging the magnetic coating and rendering that data unreadable. It is very important to note, that when a laptop is dropped or bumped (events that causes a head crash), to immediately turn off the computer so that the hard drive stops spinning. If the platters keep spinning, the head can get caught on the damaged area and continue to tear through the rest of the magnetic coating, damaging more data.
Over time, other hard drive failures are results of certain sectors or moving parts simply wearing out. The main symptom of this happening is the computer gradually slowing down, which is from the head reading a bad sector repeatedly until it successfully accesses the data. In certain instances, a clicking noise can be heard as well, which is the hard drive attempting to recover from an error.
The unfortunate thing about hard drive failures is that it can happen gradually or instantaneously. Because gradual failures generally present themselves as a system continually becoming slower, the problem may be overlooked or attributed to something different entirely, which stresses the importance of having your hard drive tested as soon as symptoms appear. This minimizes the amount of data that could potentially be lost.
There isn’t much that can be done to prevent the normal wear and tear of hard drives–eventually it will have to be replaced. However, being careful with a laptop as to prevent shocks, keeping it out of extreme temperatures and water are the best preventatives to maximizing the life of your hard drive.