Diagnosing Hard
Disk Errors

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Troubleshooting Hard Drive but is it the drive or the BIOS?

Hard drive failures at times can be catastrophic.

Not all hard drive errors will happen when you are expecting them to. The only way to be prepared for a hard drive failure is to keep a current backup of your data.

Some symptoms of a pending hard drive failure:

  • Noise: The hard drive is emitting unusual sounds, like a high pitched screech, a lot of 'clicking' when the drive is accessed, or a general raise in the pitch of the drive while the platters are spinning.
  • Read or write failure, when you open a file and you get a 'Can not access file' or when you go to save a file and get 'Drive not available' errors.
  • Drive did not initialize at startup, missing from drive listing in My Computer or Device Manager.
  • Excessive bad sectors found when running the check disk program

Troubleshooting Hard Drive Techniques:

The bottom line is hard drives fail, if you do not have a backup of the data on a different device you will lose your data.

With computers you can also use the smaller condensed "Check list" to accomplish a single repair task.

Hard drives have a mean time between failure (MTBF) of over 200,000+ hours. That means that on average the hard drive will fail at around 200,000 hours. Because this is an average it could fail before or last long after that. It is after all an average. I have seen drives fail out of the manufactures shipping box, I have seen drives last so long that the data and the size of the drive are out dated.

What to do if you suspect your hard drive is having problems by troubleshooting hard drive:

  • Back it up.
  • Find out what is going on with the drive.
  • Is it clicking?
  • Is it failing to read or write data?
  • Is it missing from the BIOS or Windows Device manager (assuming you are using a Windows Operating System)?
  • Excessive bad sectors

Troubleshooting hard drive missing from BIOS or the Windows Device Manager:

When the drive fails to respond to the initialization command when the system boots it could be:

  • No power is getting to the drive - can you hear it spinning up?
  • The controller cable may have failed or became disconnected.
  • The motherboard controller interface may have failed.
  • The drive has failed.

You will find more troubleshooting hard drive techniques in the Self Computer Repair Unleashed! 2nd Edition E-Book..

Troubleshooting Hard Drive Instructions:

Test the theory by:

  • Disconnect the power cable from the drive, try another cable, if you have a spare cable if not use one from a known good device, say the CD ROM
  • Disconnect the interface cable and reconnect or try a different cable.
  • Try the drive in another computer.

Results of the theory:

  • Drive will power up, does BIOS see it?
  • Did Bios see the drive with the different cable?
  • Does the drive work in the other computer.

If any of the above tests fail then the hard drive has failed either mechanically or electronically.

Troubleshooting Hard Drive errors:

Noisy hard drive:

  • Normally a noisy hard drive means there is a mechanical failure eminent.
  • The clicking noise you hear is the seeker head moving back and forth, it is not reaching or finding the requested sector of the drive platter to read the data.
  • A high pitched sound or a 'screeching' sound means the read/write head on the arm of the seeker head mechanism has impacted a platter and is gouging a grove in the platter.
  • The last sound is when you start the computer the hard drive spins up to the required revolutions then shuts down. The BIOS will keep reinitializing the drive and you hear it spinning up then shutting down over and over. This may be due to a 'Brown out condition' (the hard drive is not getting enough 12 volt power at sufficient amperage to keep the platters spinning at the required revolutions). or the drive electronics have failed.

Failing to read or write data to a certain position on the hard drive.

  • Sometimes this is an indication that sections of the hard drive platter(s) are starting to degrade. Before you do anything to the drive Back it up!
  • After backing up your hard drive you can run the built in 'Check Disk' program that Windows supplies, it is a moderate to good program and will fix some errors on the hard drive that have been occurring before you had an indication that there was a problem with the hard drive.
  • The check disk program should run at start up, this allows the program to read all portions of the hard drive and not be locked out of some areas because a program has a file open.
  • Running the check disk program can fix and lock out bad sectors on the hard drive, but it can not move or repair physical sections of the drive platter. By this I mean that if a file was written to an area before the sector went bad then that data is LOST. Nothing can recover it short of a miracle, do not be fooled by some of these 'Data Recovery Programs' that cost fifty bucks or so, if check disk can't read the data from DOS then neither can those programs. The only way to recover the data is to send the drive to a company that does 'low level data recovery'. The data had better be very important because it will cost you about a hundred dollars or more a meg to recover the data.
  • If you run check disk and it can not lock out the bad sectors then you should consider replacing the drive as soon as possible.

Last is the inaccessible drive.

  • The drive doesn't show up in the list of devices at boot up (BIOS initialization screen, if applicable). Or does not show up in My Computer or Device Manager.
  • If the drive has a drive indicator light (some of them do have a led on the front of the drive, you have to have the computer case open to see it) and it comes on but you can not hear it spin up do the tests above for power and controller cable. If you don't see a power led it may not have one or the drive electronics has failed.
  • When the drive will not spin up check the drive through the tests above.

Troubleshooting Hard Drive

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If you have two of the same drives (happens on occasion) or can find another drive by the same manufacture you may be able to recover your data if the electronics on the drive has failed. (A mechanical failure means your data is gone.) Removing the bad drives electronics board and replacing it with a good electronics board may bring the drive up long enough to get your data off of it. Any time the drive has had problems it is suspect, if you repair it as outlined above remember:

  • How much is your data worth?
  • A repaired drive will fail again and it will not be after 200,000 hours.

P.S.

A post to the [old] Q and A forum suggested you hit the drive with the handle of a screw driver to dislodge a stuck seeker head arm. You could do this if the drive is powered down and the platters have stopped spinning. I will caution you that if you hit the drive too hard the seeker head arm will unlock and then it could impact the platter causing a gouge in the platter thus destroying an chance of recovering any data on the drive...



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