How can I tell if a hard drive has failed?

Hi all,

My wife's computer has been making weird grinding noises and tonight I think I got the blue screen of death. I keep getting a boot disk error and when I put in both my Windows and Linux boot disks I can't fix the problem. The good news is at least the damn thing turns on.

Does anyone know if it's possible to save data if the hard drive is fried? Also, I'm wondering if we shouldn't replace the whole thing. I bought it 7 years ago and have made a few upgrades, but new computers seem pretty cheap, especially if my wife only wants it for doing light web editing work and playing casual games.

Well, clicking and grinding are bad signs that can indicate a fast failing harddrive if you are sure that the harddrive is making that noise.

I have had luck with failing harddrives by freezing it overnight in the freezer (plastic bag around). Then I hooked it up to a known-good PC and copied as fast as I could. But I could never copy anything from a harddrive that gave me the "click-of-death".

Well, check the fans -- grinding can be a failing cooling fan, rather than the hard drive.

If you're sure it's the drive, then the next thing to think about is what you want to do. Any further use of the drive will have a good chance of damaging the data even further; grinding means that something is running into something it shouldn't, and may be damaging the drive surface. If the data is really important to you, you can ship the drive off to a recovery service, and they'll charge you a grand or two to extract what they can.

If you're certain that you don't want (or can't afford) to use a drive recovery service, then you can try the freezer trick. Stick the drive in the freezer for awhile, and then boot from it -- if it works, get any data off it FAST, because it's going to die again. You can sometimes do this trick for several freeze/heat cycles, but it won't usually keep working for very long. However, each time you use this drive, you may be causing further damage, which is why you don't want to mess with it if you plan to send it off to a recovery service.

As far as fix or build new -- it depends on what you want to do with the machine. After 7 years, it probably needs new fans, and obviously, probably needs a new hard drive, but if it's working otherwise, you can just spend some time getting it back up to snuff. A current machine will be substantially faster, but if it's just a utility computer, that won't matter much. Word processing and bill paying and basic web browsing haven't changed enormously in 7 years.

Oh, you know.... that'll be using the older PATA drives, rather than the newer SATA ones, and they're extremely expensive in terms of cost/dollar. It looks like a 160 gig drive in PATA is about $90, and you can get terabyte drives for $85, in SATA.

Hmm. Do you have any way to figure out what model of computer it is, or, if it's a custom-built job, what kind of motherboard it's using? I'd like to see exactly what options you'd have to put storage on that beast.

Oh, you can use some of those blue ice packs to keep the drive cold, if freezing seems to be working, giving you more time to get the data off. But usually, freezing temporarily revives electronics, not bearings, so the chance of this working is probably not very high.

Wouldn't dry ice work better? Less chance of getting water where it shouldn't be since the dry ice sublimates into nice heavy CO2 as it warms.

Eh, that's probably too cold.

Dry ice keeping it dry would only work if you could eliminate all other sources of humidity touching the cold thing you want to keep dry.

Along with what Malor said try putting it into another computer. There are drives that won't boot but when used as a secondary drive, can be accessed to get files from. (provided the drive is still recognized by the bios) Again like Malor said, time is of the essence and any accessing of the drive is potentially damaging it further.

i havn't heard a HD click o' death in 15 years. they usually die quietly now.

if this is a windows machine, you can take a look at the event log
(control panel, administrative tools, event viewer)

from there, look at the system log, then sort by the "source" column, and scroll down to D. ( it should sort alphbetically)

you'll likely see Lots of entries from Disk, and if you click on 'em it'll complain about a bad block. if there is just a few in there, i wouldn't panic, but if there's lots ( hundreds) of disk errors in there, it's on its way out, and you can do what other people are telling you to do here.

another thing you can check is to get into the bios and enable SMART monitoring. it's supposed to check for bad drives and bitch when it finds them. it works... sometimes.