When a hard drive is dying, you’ll observe indicators. Strange noises, damaged files, boot crashes, and slow transfer speeds spell doom. This is usual for older drives. Older spinning drives’ motors and magnetic sectors can degrade over time.
SSDs don’t have moving parts, but their storage cells degrade with every write, thus they too will fail (though SSD reliability is much better than it used to be).
Your drive will generally fail gradually unless it’s overheated or damaged. Even if your drive isn’t making unusual noises, monitor its health so you can prepare for death. How-to:
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S.M.A.R.T. your drive
Most current drives have S.M.A.R.T., which monitors drive properties to detect a failing disc. Your computer will alert you before data loss so you can replace the drive while it’s still working.
From Windows’ Command Prompt, you can manually check S.M.A.R.T. status. Open cmd by searching for it. Execute:
wmic obtain model,status
It returns Pred Fail if the drive is dying or OK if it’s fine.
On a Mac, click the Apple icon and select About This Mac. System Report, Storage. Make sure Macintosh HD is selected and search for S.M.A.R.T. Status in the window. The status should be Verified or Failing.
Install data utilities
Misleading S.M.A.R.T. information exists. IT only tells you if your drive is dying, but problems can arise even if S.M.A.R.T. is fine. CrystalDiskInfo for Windows (free) or DriveDx for macOS ($20 with a free trial) offer more detailed S.M.A.R.T. information than your computer does.
Instead of OK or Bad, CrystalDiskInfo and DriveDx use Caution and Warning. These labels apply to hard drives and SSDs that are starting to wear down but aren’t dead (learn how CrystalDiskInfo applies them here).
Your drive may have a few faulty and reallocated sectors, but you may not have had any problems because those defective sectors weren’t housing any data. If a faulty sector lands on a needed file, it can become corrupt. A Caution label normally means you should back up the drive and replace it soon, even if it’s working fine.
Check the manufacturer’s website for a specific tool to assess your drive’s health. Seagate’s drives use SeaTools, Western Digital’s use Western Digital Dashboard, and Samsung’s use Samsung Magician. These tools can consider hard drive and SSD technology.
Dead Drive (or Almost Dead)
Caution and Pred Fail drives won’t fail tomorrow. They could last two years or a week. If you see warnings, back up your files before your drive dies.
Now is not the time for a full backup; doing so could cause the drive to fail. Plug up an external device and copy your most important files—photos, business documents, etc. Once those are safe, try a full drive clone with EaseUS Todo Backup Free (Windows) or Carbon Copy Cloner (Mac) (Mac).
If your hard drive has stopped operating, you’ll require a data recovery service like DriveSavers, which can cost $1,000 or more. If you have irreplaceable family photos, it may be worth it.
Drive Failure: Prepare Now
Hard drives fail “if” not “when.” All hard drives fail, so you must back up your computer regularly—even when it’s healthy. Do you do what you’ve heard?
Set up Backblaze’s automated cloud backup today. It takes 15 minutes and is one of the finest ways to avoid heartbreak later. If you can’t afford the $7 monthly fee, use Windows’ File History or Mac’s Time Machine to back up to an external device. Cloud-based backup is priceless in case of fire or theft.
Good backup costs money, but it’s much cheaper than data recovery. You won’t sweat the small stuff with a backup. Even if your drive crashes without warning, you can recover quickly.