We typically see modern hard drives failing after just 3 – 4 years (quicker in laptops that have had a hard life) but even a new drive can fail within weeks if you’re unlucky. A hard drive may fail ‘nicely’, slowing down or losing a few files as parts of it become unreadable – this may cause errors but it may still be possible to recover data from it.
Or a drive may fail the ‘tough’ way – total failure, sometimes accompanied by a regular clicking sound (known in the trade as the click of death), making it impossible to retrieve any data from the drive unless willing to spend hundreds of dollars to attempt retrieval. A drive that has been failing for some time is very likely to end up becoming a total failure eventually.
We review how to test if a hard drive is failing below – if possible, always backup any important data beforehand – testing works it hard and makes it hotter so if it is already failing, testing may finish it off completely…
Check A Hard Drive Within Windows – If your computer will not load into Windows skip to Step 4.
We will use the free program HD Tune – you can download it from here (second option down is the free HD Tune, not the commercial HD Tune Pro version). Install the program and run the HDtune.exe program. If you have more than 1 hard drive in your computer, check that the correct one is listed at the top of the HD Tune Utility or select the correct one from the drop down menu.
Step 1 – Check The Health of the Drive. Click on the ‘Health’ tab – if you see no details skip to Step 2 (some drives do not provide information here). An example is shown below:
The health status at the bottom should be OK and all items in the list should have a status of OK. If the Reallocated Sector Count is highlighted in yellow then the drive is likely failing.(Note: some drives may show a different item highlighted in yellow but with a status of OK – this may be due to the way the drive is recognized and is not always a problem).
Step 2 – Check For Bad Sectors. A bad sector is like a scratch on a CD – if any data was stored in that sector of the hard drive it can no longer be recovered. Bad sectors are a definite sign of failure – they may also slow the drive down and cause crashes/prevent Windows loading.
Click the ‘Error Scan’ tab to scan for bad sectors. Ticking the ‘Quick Scan’ box will make the test run much quicker but is not as thorough as a full scan (so you may miss warning signs that your drive is failing). We recommend running a full scan by leaving the Quick Scan box unticked.
Click Start to run the scan – a full scan may take an hour or more on a large drive. An example in progress is shown below:
When completed, every block should be green – a red block means the drive has a bad sector and is damaged.
Step 3 – Check The Speed of the Drive. On the ‘Benchmark’ tab click Start to test the speed which may take a few minutes – example below of a test in progress:
Check the graph – it is normal for it to go gradually downwards as the test progresses. Some peaks and troughs are normal if Windows is installed on it but the troughs should not be almost to the bottom of the scale.
The minimum speed is measured in MB/sec and should not be less than 25% of the maximum speed - if the minimum or maximum is less than 10MB/sec the drive may be failing and the computer will be extremely slow. Alternatively, the drive may be stuck in an extremely slow mode called PIO – see our article how to fix drives stuck in PIO mode.
Step 4 – The Drive Is Failing or Windows Won’t Load Up. If you have not already done it – back up your documents and files now. Before replacing your hard drive or returning it under warranty, search for diagnostic software from the hard drive manufacturer to provide a conclusive check on the drive – a useful list of manufacturers and their diagnostic tools can be found at Tacktech.
Tip: If you don’t know the hard drive manufacturer do a Google search for the model number of the hard drive as shown by HD Tune (e.g. in Step 2 ours showed as ST3500320AS – a quick search of Google reveals that it is made by Seagate).
Follow the instructions given by the manufacturer to download and run their diagnostic tests. Most offer their software in the form of an ISO file you can use even if you cannot get into Windows – if unsure what to do with ISO files see our article on how to burn an ISO image file to CD.