Many people know firsthand how stressful hard drive failures are. Photo, video, important reports, diplomas and documents: many hours of work may disappear in one second. Truly, this is a disaster, but in some cases, its consequences may be reduced to minimum thanks to timely diagnosis of an error type and proper reaction.

Error types can be divided into:

  • Mechanical damages;
  • Stuck head block;
  • Electronics outages;
  • Logical failures;
  • Combination of mechanical and logical failures.

In the first case, data recovery using specialized software without help of professionals is not recommended and doesn’t mostly work. In any other case there is a chance to bring the data back by yourself. Therefore, it’s essential to define correctly and timely to what error type this disk breakdown belong and to take all corresponding measures. For instance, in case of a mechanical damage an attempt of scanning and recovery can lead to disk death inalterably.

Mechanical damages

Mechanical damage is a physical hard drive damage caused by an external influence (e.g. a severe hit of a hard drive enclosure) or components malfunction and has several different types. Mechanical damages include media errors and breakdown of a read/write head failure.

Media error is any physical damage of magnetic plates. Such disk may be recovered only partially and solely in special laboratories.

Read/write head may have factory defects or break down affected from outside and start touching magnetic plates. Further exploitation can scratch magnetic surface and the data will be partially lost, thus, you need to stop using the drive and send it for recovery.

It’s worth taking into account that the data lost as a result of a mechanical failure is recoverable until magnetized plates are damaged. However, you’d better not do recovery by yourself.

Stuck head block

This common problem appears in case of hits, strikes and other inappropriate use. You can tell this failure by inability to start a disk engine and impossibility to read any information from it (including system information). Only repair can solve this problem.

Electronics outages

Controller plate breakdown, firmware failures, loss or deterioration of contacts of internal connections of electronic components etc. Usually, an attempt to access disk in a read mode in this case does not worsen device condition (if magnetic plates spin and the spinning speed is sufficient for the magnetic heads not to touch the disk surface).

Such problems may be resolved by repair or replacement of electronics and further data recovery.

Logical failures

Logical failures are generally related to operating system failures. Such a failure results in incorrect file system work and data loss. For instance, if a system failure (reset due to BSoD error etc.) occurred during file write to disk, then you deal with a logical failure: data is no longer displayed, but actually remain on the disk. This means the file exists but the system does not remember the path to it.

In case of a logical failure the system may not detect the hard drive and say that it doesn’t exist. Indeed, both the disk and the information on it are intact, only but a file system failure happened there. You can make sure that the disk is working finding it in a list of operating system devices.

Data recovery after the logical failure is not a problem mostly because you can do it by yourself using a special software.

Logical failures and mechanical damages at once

It is quite possible that the storage will suffer from a mechanical damage and a logical failure at the same time. Again, the logical damage can cause the mechanical one. Data recovery from such disks should be committed to the specialists.

Failure signs

How can actually a damage type be defined and handled properly? Because correct and timely diagnosis can save terabytes of important data. The main thing is not to miss the following warning signs usually going together with different failures.

However, if you did not manage to distinguish the failure type by the following signs or you are not sure about your choice, better call in the professionals to diagnose them.

Hard drive does not produce any sounds at all

Absence of engine spinning sounds can mean either stuck heads or electronics breakdowns. Therefore, disk diagnostics and, depending on the result, disk repair are required before data recovery.

Unusual sounds

If you can hear clicking or other sounds unusual for the drive this must be a mechanical damage of the controller. In this case, you need to switch off the computer immediately, disconnect the drive, pack it in antistatic plastic or aluminum foil and bring it to the service center whenever possible.

Failure detected by BIOS

If BIOS detected a failure (does not detect the drive, displays disk name and size incorrectly etc.), there must have occurred a mechanical failure or electronics breakdown, that’s why you need to do the same actions as described in the previous paragraph.

Very slow response

If the computer opens even the lightest files very slowly and some of them don’t open at all, as well as when the operating system starts with failures, then the drive is about to break down. Therefore, you need to make a backup as soon as possible and send the disk to repair.

Lost data

If data is lost from the computer, and you are absolutely sure that they were there, or if the programs stopped starting, there is a high probability of a logical failure. Try recovering data using specialized software.

System doesn’t boot

If BIOS did not show the failure and the operating system did not boot, the problem must be in a logical failure.

Computer does not detect the drive

Issues of the computer itself may cause this problem, however, it can also be related directly to the hard drive. To check this connect the drive to another computer, and if even this computer does not detect it, examine if the disk is detected as a storage device. If so, this is a logical failure, if not – the physical one. On the other hand, if you can hear clicking or something, take the same measures as with mechanical breakdown.

What to do to prolong life of the hard drive

Handle with care

Caring attitude to the device may prolong its life.

  • Avoid physical shakes, falls and strikes. It’s extremely important to transport it with the power switched off. Wait until the disk is off operation, only then you can carry it.
  • Avoid overheating. Use additional coolers and cooling tables.
  • Do not keep the hard drive on all the time. This mode can destroy the disk, thus switch it off in idle hours. Besides, this saves electricity and helps the environment.
Make backups

In order to prevent from complete data loss and save time and nerves, it’s recommended to make backups of the system and files at least once a week. You can use another disk, a USB drive, a NAS system or a cloud storage.

It’s much easier to make a backup, than to spend money and time on data recovery. Besides, in most cases the hard drive fails without any warnings leaving you helpless.