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5 Common Causes Of Hard Drive Failure And How To Fix Them

April 23, 2024


Hard drives can malfunction, pretty much just like any other piece of technology. Unfortunately, mechanical hard drives, in particular, have moving parts that can (and will) fail.


That’s why it’s crucial to know how it happens and what you can do about it. This will help you not only foresee the inevitable, but you can also save your precious files from getting corrupted as well.


In this article, we’ll tackle the most common reasons why hard drives fail, and what to do if it happens.



5 Common Causes Of Hard Drive Failure


Hard drive failure might be a very mild, fleeting incident, or can be as disastrous as the permanent loss of crucial data. These hard drives can malfunction for a variety of reasons—let’s take a look at each one:


1. Unfortunate hard disk head crash


hard drive head crash

When your hard drive experiences a head crash, it’s usually far from saving.
(Credit: Data Recovery)


Did nobody warn you to avoid carrying your hard drive with you? If you dropped it and noticed a scratching or clicking noise then, you most likely triggered an HDD head crash!


A head crash happens when the head of your hard disk physically strikes the platters. Damage to the drive or an electrical fault between the head and the logic board could be the root of this problem.


With that, the heads of your hard drive could slap or crash onto the magnetic layers of the platter, which can cause serious damage and irreversible data loss.


2. The spindle motor starts to malfunction


hard drive spindle motor

There are a lot of factors that cause a hard drive’s spindle motor to malfunction.
(Credit: DriveSavers Data Recovery)


Spindle motors are very strong and the platters are spun at more than 7200 RPM! But, if the HDD platters are not spinning, the HDD heads cannot transmit and receive data, making the hard drive worthless. This is known as Spindle Motor Malfunction.


Many factors can cause the spindle motor in your hard disk to fail, such as:


  • Insufficient lubrication
    A spindle motor can malfunction if it doesn’t have enough lubrication. This can have an impact on operating speeds and vibration levels.
  • Contaminated bearings
    When the spindle and its bearings are contaminated with various liquids and particles, such as wine, coffee, and smoke, this greatly reduces the lifespan of the hard drive.
  • Improper handling
    Spindles and their bearings appear to be strong pieces of hardware, but they are extremely vulnerable to mishandling. A spindle’s bearings can fail with even the slightest impact.


Also, there is a slight beeping sound made when a spindle motor fails. That’s why you need to shut down your computer immediately if you hear any unusual sounds coming from it!


If the motor failure does not damage the platters in any way, you should be able to fully recover your data. This is really encouraging!


Yet, attempting to resolve this matter on your own will only make the situation worse. If you’d like to keep your data recovery chances alive, only a data recovery engineer can fix motor difficulties.


3. Problems with the PCB


hard drive PCB

A PCB is crucial for powering your hard drive. (Credit: Donor Drives)


The heart of your hard drive is the Power Circuit Board (or PCB, in short). It’s in charge of giving the read/write heads of your hard drive the ability to generate and decipher data.


Basically, hard drives have an electromagnet-powered tiny arm located inside them that rotates the orientation of the data cells. And, this small arm is propelled by microcontrollers found inside PCBs.


That being said, a hard drive will unquestionably malfunction if the PCB does as well. Some signs of having a PCB problem could include a burning or smoke smell, overheating, a non-responsive drive, the computer alerting you to format the drive, and unusual file errors.


4. Adaptive deviations that happen over time


assembling hard disk

It’s inevitable that every hard drive has a flaw in its firmware. (Credit: Digital Hospital)


For those who don’t know, there’s basically a record of flaws in every hard drive’s firmware. This is called the adaptive list or adaptive table, which is a list of flaws that hard drive manufacturers know would eventually cause their devices to malfunction. These potential problems are taken into account when your hard disk is calibrated.


But, the way each hard disk works evolves with time. As a result of these minor physical changes, the read/write heads can become misaligned. This is referred to as adaptive deviation.


So, even though the hard drive’s physical functionality changes, the initial adaptive specified by the manufacturer is still in effect. This causes your hard drive to be unable to read or write data.


5. Unforeseen human errors


human error caution

Human error is a very common reason for hard drives to fail.



What To Do If Your Hard Drive Fails


You risk losing crucial information and documents if your hard disk fails or crashes (and you don’t even have a backup of your data).


But, even if it appears that the hard drive has failed, technically it’s just become unusable or inaccessible for logical reasons such as software defects, malware attacks, virus infections, corrupted files or operating systems, unintentional deletions or formatting, and so on.


So, luckily, there are still some things you can do if your hard drive fails. Let’s take a look at them.


Method 1: Do a physical check up


Before you head straight to the nearest repair store, it’ll save you a lot of time (and money) to first check if the problems on your hard drive can be solved by a few physical fixes.


  • Step 1: Clean your hard drive
    You should start by clearing any dust and dirt from computer vents. Your failed hard disk could be overheating as a result of a blocked vent.
  • Step 2: Check the cables
    Next, ensure that all data and power wires are connected properly. If these are properly connected but still show no signs of life, consider changing the power cord.
  • Step 3: Retrieve your lost data
    If the physical fixes worked, then you can freely retrieve most if not all of your data.


If those didn’t work, we can move on to the next method.


Method 2: Using data recovery software


Your hard drive needs to go through two steps in order to be ready for recovery. Let’s take a look at what these steps are.


  • Step 1: Attach your failed hard disk to a computer
    If you have one or more backup hard drives at your disposal, you can safely ignore this step. But, if your dead hard drive is all you have at the moment, go ahead and first attach it to a working computer.
  • Step 2: Identify the damage
    You have everything you need to determine the extent of the damage when the failed hard disk is attached to a computer. There are some cases where the hard disk will appear as a different storage device and even times when it’ll appear empty. That’s why you’ll need data recovery software for situations like this.


After you’ve done these steps, it’s time to learn how to use data recovery software. If this is your first time, don’t worry. We’ll guide you along.


  • Step 3: Download the data recovery software
    Before everything else, you’ll be needing data recovery software. And, for this guide, we’ll be using Disk Drill. With its well-designed user interface that enables anyone to recover files from external hard drives, SD cards, or pretty much any other storage device in only a few minutes, Disk Drill stands out in the vast sea of file recovery tools and apps.

    Data Recovery software

    Disk drill is a great software to recover lost data.


  • Step 4: Launch the app
    After installing, you can finally open and use the app. To recover your files, simply select the failed hard drive and click on “Search for lost data”. Once you’ve done that, the software will display to you all the files that you can recover.

    how to search for last data in hard drive

    ‘Search for lost data’ can be found after selecting your failed hard drive.


  • Step 5: Recover your files
    Now, just choose the files you want to recover and you can finally get them back by clicking on “Recover all”.

    recovered files in bottom right of screen

    ‘Recover all’ can be found at the bottom right side of the screen.


Pretty simple to do right? And what’s great is that it only takes a few minutes!


However, keep in mind that it’s not possible to recover data using the software if the drive fails because of mechanical issues or other physical causes, and the drive is not visible in Disk Management. In this case, you’ll need to seek the help of a qualified data recovery service provider to recover your data from a badly damaged, crashed, or dead hard drive.



Keep Your Files Safe And Secure With Cloud Storage


We live in the digital age, and our dependency on information, whether personal or business-related, is enormous! You shouldn’t let a damaged hard disk cause you to lose money or sentimental items that are valuable to you.


Luckily, cloud storage is there to save the day. You’ll be able to save your files, and get access to other features such as file synchronization, sharing, and much more.


Even better – cloud storage is no longer merely used for backup. For some customers, it has entirely replaced their actual hard drives. With cloud storage, you can save your backup data on secure remote servers using the best cloud storage services.



There’s Still Hope For Your Data!

At any time, your hard disk can fail or become corrupted. You risk losing important files, documents, and other items if you don’t maintain a backup of your data.


Luckily, if your hard disk is having issues, it does not necessarily spell the end of the world. If you know why it fails and how you can retrieve your data when it does, you can pretty much solve most of the hard drive issues you come across.


And, if you have cloud storage, you don’t have to worry about losing your data at all. So, don’t feel down when your hard drive stops working on you, there’s still hope to retrieve your lost data!