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Hard Drive Failures: Common Causes and Warning Signs

Our devices are in charge of storing vast amounts of precious, priceless and crucial information, so it is needless to say encountering failures and all the subsequent data losses can be extremely frustrating. While statistics states that 90% of hard drives run past the three year mark, annually thousands of companies suffer financial losses due to the downtimes caused by drive crashes.

Now, since a wide variety of causes can shorten the lifespan of your hard drive, this article will help you to make informed decisions for managing your data in the future.


First of all, here are common pointers that must not be neglected:

  1. Repeated system crashes or reboots
  2. Unresponsive or blank screen
  3. Error messages when trying to access files
  4. Missing files, files being deleted or moved
  5. CPU is unusually slow accessing and opening files
  6. Irregular noises such as clicking, tapping, grinding, etc

In case your computer is experiencing any of the above symptoms, the best would be to turn the device off and consult with an expert.


While being quite reliable, a hard drive failure can be caused even by the smallest fault: physical contact or damage, heat, humidity, dust, power surges and time are the enemies of hard drives (not mentioning frequent user errors).

There are three basic types of issues a hard drive may experience: logical failures, mechanical failures and firmware failures; and since they differ in approach to solving, it is important to be able to recognize which one you’re dealing with — so that you can recover your data safely after a fault. 

Mechanical Damage And Failure

Hard drives represent complex devices that include numerous components: as soon as any of those important parts get damaged due to shock or control errors, hard disk begins to malfunction, and failures occur.

Electricity. Power surges can fry the electrical components in a computer: if one of the boards gets damaged due to power spikes, you lose access to your data. Symptoms: a. drive is powered, yet doesn’t show any signs of function; b. you can hear disk knocking or clicking sounds (both mean the motor fails to spin).

Heat. A malfunctioning fan or blocked vent could overheat your CPU. Symptoms: a. fans don’t move, or move too slow; b. desktop/laptop gets heated soon after starting; c. clicking sounds.

Water. Damaging in the forms of spills, natural disasters and humidity.

Drop. Dropping a hard drive, as well as vibration over time, can cause various part to stop working.

Logical Failure

Logical failure refers to any non-physical issues types, such as accidental deletion, unintentional formating, software bugs, file  corruption, system corruption, malware etc. It can be the easiest or the most difficult recovery job depending on the circumstances that logical failure was caused by.

Software. Malware, spyware, ransomware and other viruses can hold your files hostage.

User error. Editing the system registry or other setting can affect your hard drives ability to be recognized.

Firmware Or Manufacturer Faults

Firmware failures are similar to logical failures; your drive might be recognized by your computer, however, due to problems with its firmware (or the software that controls the device) it won’t be able to access the data. In this event, hard drive might have troubles during booting up (freezes), and to be recognized wrongly/not to be recognized by your computer at all.


Take a quick second to relax.

There are effective ways to troubleshoot faulty hard drives and recover lost data from damaged disks, but first you are going to need to find a data recovery service that works best for you or your business.

Also, please do NOT try and fix it yourself unless you truly are confident in the problem and solution.


Engineers coined the term “bathtub curve” to show the relative life of a population of products, which happens to work perfectly with the average failure rate of hard drives.

Hard drive failure occurs less than 2% of the time on average, but understanding this chart and the free statistics provided by BackBlaze, you will be more confident planning for your future data needs!

Graph of Hard Drive Failure Rates

This graph depicts hard drive failure rates over time, statistics found over years of testing.

Due to manufacturer defects, hard disk drives will have higher failure rates early on, known as “infant mortality” failure. If a hard drive does not malfunction early in it’s life, it will likely last for years with normal use. As drives age, their mechanical parts naturally begin to wear and tear, leading to an increase in failures after year 2 which is shown by the line labeled “wear out failures” on the graph.

Unfortunately, there is no real way to prevent a drive failure, so you can never be too safe when working with your data.

Finally, since there is a million reasons not to mess with it and lose your data, all you have to do is watch for obvious signs of a failing hard drive. And if you think you hard drive needs attention, don’t hesitate to contact us now!