What is a Hard Drive Crash?


There is a difference between an operating system crash and a hard drive crash. If your operating system crashes it is a Logical Failure. If the hard drive itself malfunctions, that is a Physical failure. Either way your data is not readily accessible but it is still there. Of course you should backup your computer often just in case but if you forget; there is still hope for your precious data.

A hard drive is the disk inside the computer that holds Windows, Program and your data (like its filing cabinet). It is in most cases it’s a mechanically spinning metal disk with a magnetic coating. The best analogy I can give is a very high speed record-player using a spiral cassette tape. Not a 78 but a 7500 very fast.

The best way to prevent damage from a hard drice crash is to take a proactive approach and back up the data stored on the drive. My favourite backup programs is Genie Timeline Backup http://www.genie9.com/home/home_solutions.aspx

Determine what is Causing the Crash

The first thing you need to do is figure out if the crash is caused by a physical or logical failure. That is the tricky part and something you might well need help with. If your computer will not boot and you hear a grinding, clicking or whirring noise, that is not a good sign meaning it’s caused by a physical drive failure. At this point you should stop trying to boot the computer and call for help. If it sounds normal but will not start then it’s a logical error and a disk repair utility needs to be run.


Physical Hard Drive Failure

If your hard drive crash is caused by a malfunction of the hard drive itself, there is a very good possibility that the data is still intact and accessible. You will know if it is a physical failure by the noise the drive will make. You will hear a clicking, clunking, grinding or whirring sound coming from the hard drive. Do not mistake the sounds for a malfunctioning cooling fan.

If you can still boot the computer but the drive is making a lot of noise, you could try to copy the files to an external drive. If you can retrieve the data, great – problem solved? Now all you have to do is buy a new hard drive and reinstall your operating system and all of the applications. That is not a fun task. If you were able to retrieve the data, you may still be able to take an image or clone of the drive and transfer the image to a new drive again you might need some help with this.

If the physical hard drive crash is so bad that the computer will not boot or another system cannot see the hard drive, then you may need to send the drive out to a specialist data recovery company. This option is extremely expensive and the data would have to be very valuable to warrant this, it typically costs more than 300 euros.

Logical Hard Drive Failure

A logical failure occurs when the hard drive is healthy but you cannot boot into the operating system. This can be caused by many different factors, a virus, system driver conflict, human error or a software malfunction. When this type of failure happens do not try to reinstall Windows, run the operating system tool like CHKDSK (check disk) or call for help.

Just because you cannot access your data on a crashed hard drive does not mean that it is not still present on the drive. What you do from here depends on the importance of the data that is stored on your computer. If you are like most people in this technological age, part of your life is stored on your computer and that data is important, you will need help to retrieve it.

It is possible to run data recovery software to retrieve the data but this should be done at the earliest opportunity and BEFORE reinstalling windows or copying the data from the backup, the earlier the recovery software is run the more chance of recovering the lost data.  

I hope you never have a hard drive crash but they are still a mechanical device and prone to failure and the best way to protect your data is with a proactive approach that is to backup, backup and backup some more.