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Why Hard Drives Fail and How to Prevent It

Hard drive failure is like a swift kick in your wounded leg when you’re trying to limp to safety. It happens without much warning and can rob you of important files, family pictures, and anything else you have stored on your computer.
Unfortunately, hard drive failure is going to happen. All hard drives will eventually fail, whether by mechanical failure or misuse, but there are ways to predict and even prevent hard drive failure long enough to back up your data, and fix the issue or replace the hard drive.
Why Hard Drives Fail'
Despite having the word “hard” in the name, hard drives are actually somewhat fragile. There are several reasons why hard drives fail; some are preventable, some aren’t.
Reasons why hard drives fail:
• A sudden power failure (blown circuit or electrical storms) while the disk is writing
• A sudden impact to the computer/hard drive while the computer is running
• The filter becomes clogged which can lead to overheating
• Extreme heat can lead to electronic component failure
• Exposure to water
• Faulty bearings or other mechanical/electrical components
There are two types of hard drive failure: physical and logical. Physical hard drive failure is caused by malfunction of the hard drive’s moving parts. Physical failure can occur when the hard drive experiences shock from being dropped, heat from a failed heatsink or clogged exhaust port, or from a spilled cup of latte. Logical hard drive failure can be caused by file corruption. When files are corrupted, the computer BIOS will recognize the hard drive, but won’t boot it.
How to Predict Hard Drive Failure
In order to predict hard drive failure, you need to know the signs of hard drive failure, which are these:
• Your computer is running hotter than usual
• You hear clicking or grinding noises during start up or when the hard drive is writing
• Your files start disappearing
• Your computer frequently freezes during boot up
• Your computer takes forever to save or open a file
• Computer speed decreases
If you are noticing any one of these issues, you should start considering that something is amiss with your hard drive. Should you start freaking out yet? No, you can wait on the freak out until you notice multiple issues – that would be cause for REAL concern.
Predicting when your hard drive will fail can be simplified in a single phrase: “Get SMART.”
SMART stands for self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology and is built into new hard drives as a safety tool. When your hard drive attempts to spin the disk up to the correct speed more than once, it will alert you. When your hard drive runs into errors while booting, it will alert you. Unfortunately, it doesn’t track problems with files so you’ll have to keep an eye for that yourself (which is easy if you are alert for the signs of hard drive failure listed above).
How to Prevent Hard Drive Failure
There are several methods you can employ to prevent hard drive failure; some you can do without much tech training, and some that may require that you download preventative software.
To prevent physical hard drive failure, here are a few things you should do:
• Once your computer is on, leave it there. Never move or bump or knock a computer when it is running.
• Avoid extreme temperatures. Don’t leave your computer next to a roaring fireplace, in the freezer, or in the car when temperatures drop to below 40º or rise to more than 85º.
• If your computer does experience extreme hot or cold, bring it inside and allow it to reach room temperature before attempting to boot it.
• Always shut down your computer using the Shut Down option.
• Never place beverages on or near your computer. Liquids and electrical components do not mix.
• Avoid static and magnets like the plague.
• If you’re brave enough to open the computer case, tighten the screws holding the hard drive in place. This should help keep the hard drive snug and safe during an accidental jostle.
• If possible, choose a solid state drive.
You may be able to prevent logical hard drive failure by:
• Getting rid of unnecessary or bad files.
• Running chkdsk from the command prompt regularly. The chkdsk will scan for any filing errors and will work to correct them.
• Defragmenting the hard drive. Fragmented hard drives have to work harder to gather the required information. Set your computer to automatically defragment the hard drive at least once per week.
Even though hard drive failure isn’t the end of the world, it can be devastating when it happens. If you know why hard drives fail, can predict when it’s going to happen, and then prevent it, you can operate your computer with the confidence of a well-seasoned IT professional.


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