How to check the status of your hard drive

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(Image: Shutterstock)

Your hard drive hasn’t behaved the same way lately. It starts to click or squeal, it can’t seem to find your files, and it moves very slowly. It might be time to say goodbye, but here’s what you need to do before it hits the big data center in the sky.

Each hard drive eventually dies, and when it is close to death, you will see the signs. Weird noises, corrupted files, crashes on startup, and freezing transfer speeds all point to the inevitable end. This is normal, especially if your reader is over a few years old. On older rotating discs, moving parts like the motor may deteriorate over time, or the magnetic sectors of the discs may deteriorate.

Newer solid state drives (SSDs) don’t have any moving parts, but their storage cells degrade a bit every time you write to them, which means they too will eventually fail (well that the reliability of the SSD is much better than it was before).

Unless your disc experiences excessive heat or physical trauma, it will likely fail gradually. This means that even if your reader isn’t making any strange noises, you need to keep an eye on their health every now and then, so that you can prepare for death before it happens. Here is how to do that.


Check the SMART status of your drive

Most modern readers have a feature called CLEVER (Self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology), which monitors different drive attributes to try to detect a failed drive. This way your computer will automatically notify you before data loss and the drive can be replaced while it remains functional.

In Windows, you can manually check the SMART status of your drives from the command prompt. Just type “cmd” in the search bar and open the app. In the pop-up window, run:

wmic diskdrive get model,status

He will come back Prediction failure if the death of your reader is imminent or Okay if he thinks the reader is okay.

mac disk utility

On a Mac, open Disk Utility from / Applications / Utilities /, click on the drive and look at the SMART status at the bottom left, which will read either Checked or Fail.

crystaldiscinfo

However, this basic SMART information can be misleading. You only know when your drive is near death, but you may start to experience issues even if SMART’s baseline is okay. For a closer look, I recommend downloading CrystalDiskInfo for Windows (free), or DriveDx for macOS ($ 20 with a free trial), both of which will offer more detailed SMART information than what your computer provides.

Instead of saying your drive is “OK” or “Bad” like the built-in tools do, CrystalDiskInfo and DriveDx also have more intermediate labels, like Caution or Warning, respectively. These labels apply to hard drives and SSDs that are starting to wear out, but are not necessarily on their deathbed (learn more about how CrystalDiskInfo applies these labels. here).

For example, my drive above has a few bad and reassigned sectors, and I didn’t experience any issues – probably because those bad sectors didn’t contain actual data at the time. But if even one of these bad sectors lands on a file that you need, it can get corrupted. The Caution label is therefore generally a good indicator that you should back up the drive and consider replacing it soon, even if you are not yet having problems.

If you want an even deeper, more accurate picture of your drive’s health, check out its manufacturer’s website for a dedicated tool. For example, Seagate has SeaTools for its motivations, Western Digital has Western digital dashboard for its readers, and Samsung has Samsung Magician for its SSDs. These tools can sometimes take into account certain technologies specific to their hard drives and SSDs. But for most people, CrystalDiskInfo will give you a decent rough recommendation for just about any reader.


If your drive is dead (or nearly dead)

distorted image of a hard drive
Image: Getty

Disks with the Attention or Pred Fail status will not necessarily fail tomorrow. They could move around for a year or two, or be dead like a fingernail in a week. But if you get any warnings, it’s time to back up your files before your drive goes to the bucket.

However, now is not the time to perform a full backup – you don’t want to stress the drive with too many reads, otherwise it might fail while you are backing up. Instead, plug in an external drive and copy your most important files there – family photos, work documents, and anything else that can’t be easily replaced. Then once you know they are safe, try to do a full clone of the drive with something like Free EaseUS Todo Backup (Windows) or Carbon copy cloner (Mac).

If your hard drive has already stopped working, things get much more difficult and you will probably need a professional data recovery service like DriveSavers, which can cost $ 1,000 or more. But if you have some priceless family photos on the drive, it may be worth it for you.


Prepare for Drive Failure NOW

computer files cartoon floating in the cloud
Image: Shutterstock

It is not a question of “if” your hard drive fails, it is a question of “when”. Eventually all hard drives fail and if you want to avoid losing all your important files, you should definitely back up your computer regularly, including when the drive is healthy. I know you’ve heard it before, but are you actually doing it?

Take some time tonight to set up an automatic cloud-based backup like Backblaze. It only takes 15 minutes and is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from grief later on. If you can’t afford the monthly price of $ 6, back up to at least an external drive using Windows’ built-in File History tool or your Mac’s built-in Time Machine feature. But just know that it won’t protect you in the event of a fire or theft, and the peace of mind that cloud-based backup gives you is priceless.

Yes, a good backup costs money, but it costs a lot less than recovering your data professionally. And with a backup, you’ll never sweat the little things. Even if your drive fails catastrophically without warning, you can be back up and running in no time.

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