Skip to Main Content

Hard-drive failure: What to watch out for and how to fix the causes

If your computer’s a shadow of its former self, crawling at a snail’s pace, crashing regularly, or folders and files have suddenly disappeared, this could be a sign that your hard drive is on its way out.

Read on to learn the tell-tale signs that your computer’s hard drive is about to die, what the causes are, and how a tune-up tool like Avira Free Security can help you significantly reduce this danger.


What are the signs of an impending hard-drive failure?

Regardless of whether you’re a Mac or Windows PC user, the tell-tale signs of a hard-drive defect are actually very similar.

  • Odd noises:
    Unexplained clicking, clacking, or grinding noises when using your computer may be a sign of mechanical issues.
  • Slow system:
    If your computer slows down suddenly when you edit files or use programs, this could also be an indicator that the hard drive is defective.
  • Frequent crashes:
    If your computer crashes or freezes regularly, this is another possible sign that points to a hard-drive defect. That said, there are a host of other — fixable — reasons that can cause your PC to freeze up.
  • File and folder issues:
    Disappearing files or missing folders can be a sign of insidious issues that may end in a failed hard drive — that is, unless you accidentally deleted the folders and files yourself.

What issues can lead to a hard-drive failure?

Hard-drive failures are ultimately inevitable because the mechanical parts in your computer will eventually wear out over time due to their very nature of being wearing parts. And if you’re always on your computer, it’s going to be subject to more wear and tear than a device you only use rarely. But there are a number of other causes of hard-drive failure that you should be aware of.

Power issues

If you have your computer plugged in and the voltage fluctuates or there are sudden power outages or power spikes, this can damage the hard drive’s electronics.

And if you just go shutting down your computer in a way that’s not recommended, you can corrupt the data stored on the hard drive or even cause it to fail. As such, always shut down your computer correctly whenever possible.

By the way, did you know that when you regularly shut down your device, you also perform a mini system cleanup? This removes file leftovers stored temporarily on it.

Viruses or malware

We don’t need to tell you that viruses and other malware can cause significant damage to your computer — even causing your hard drive to fail. You’re probably also aware of the many different cyberthreats, such as phishing attempts, that are growing by the number every day and whose methods are becoming increasingly sneaky.

To protect yourself, a tried-and-tested antivirus, like Avira Free Antivirus, should be an absolute must-have on your computer.

Overheating and other physical influences

Your device can overheat more quickly than you think. If you leave your laptop in the direct sun or don’t give your computer’s vents a regular dusting, your device can quickly become too hot. That’s because high temperatures can physically damage your hard drive’s components, shortening its service life and, in the worst case, causing it to fail.

Violent shocks and vibrations can also physically damage the hard drive — so, as we expect you do, avoid dropping your laptop or PC because this can cause your hard drive to fail.

Outdated software and drivers

Occasionally, hard drives can be prone to failure from the start due to manufacturing defects, but this is probably the exception rather than the rule.

However, if you use outdated or even faulty software and don’t update your drivers, this can cause compatibility issues and, in the worst case, even complete hard-drive failure.

The multi-feature tune-up tool Avira Free Optimizer includes a host of powerful tools to easily identify these causes (e.g. outdated software and drivers) and minimize these dangers.

Speaking of which: Cleaning up your PC regularly can put the zip back into your Windows laptop — and proactively keep at bay some of the possible issues that could cause your hard drive to fail.

What tools can you use to check if the hard drive is defective?

Be careful when using hard-drive scanners since these tools access key system components on your computer. As such, back up your data before you start scanning for hard-drive defects.

Many hard drive manufacturers offer their own diagnostic tools designed specifically for their drives. These tools can perform advanced diagnostics and display specific information about your drive.

There are also a number of third-party tools to scan for hard-drive defects. These include:

  • SeaTools for Windows from Seagate shows you your hard drive’s serial number, capacity, cache size, firmware status, and rotation speed in addition to general hard drive health.
  • Ariolic Disk Scanner for Windows is suitable for almost all types of drive, including flash drives, microSD cards, and CD or DVD drives. The scanner works in a read-only mode, so the risk of data loss is quite low.
  • Passmark DiskCheckup uses the SMART (self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology) system to search for defective drives. It can provide you with additional info about the exact cause of a hard-drive failure, including your hard drive’s start-up time, its number of start and stop cycles, the number of operating hours, and the hard drive’s temperature.

What is the SMART hard drive test?

Self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology — or SMART — is an industry standard. This self-monitoring system is built into the latest computers to detect potential hard-drive issues early on.

SMART monitors a range of hard drive parameters, such as the number of read and write errors, the number of start and stop cycles, and the total runtime and temperature of the drive. This tool also monitors the number of sectors that had to be reread due to read errors.

If SMART detects certain parameters are outside accepted limits, this system can alert you so you can take timely action to prevent data loss, such as by backing up important data or replacing the hard drive.

The SMART test may not always be able to foresee all types of failure, but it is in principle a useful monitoring tool and can help minimize data loss.

How to use a SMART test to scan for hard-drive defects in Windows 11

  • Step 1:
    Type cmd or command in the search field on the taskbar and hit the Enter key.
  • Step 2:
    In the Command Prompt window, type wmic diskdrive get status and hit the Enter key again.
    type wmic diskdrive get status and hit the Enter key again.
  • Step 3:
    If you see OK, the Windows 11 scan was unable to detect any defects and your hard drive should be OK.

However, if you see Pred Fail, Windows has found at least one hard-drive defect — and you should immediately back up your files or clone your hard drive.

Scan for hard-drive defects with chkdsk (Check Disk).

If the SMART test scan shows that the hard drive has a defect, you can fix it with another Windows tool called chkdsk (Check Disk).

Check Disk is a Windows utility that scans your hard drive’s file system and metadata for logical and physical errors. It’s a hangover from DOS (disk operating system) and was integrated into the Windows operating system.

Here’s how to use chkdsk to scan your hard drive:

  • Step 1:
    Open File Explorer, right-click the drive (such as the C drive) that you want to scan for errors, and select Properties.
    Open File Explorer, right-click the drive, and choose Properties.
  • Step 2:
    Go to the Tools tab and click Check under Error checking, then click OK.
    Go to the Tools tab and click Check under Error checking, then click OK.
  • Step 3:
    Unless there are errors on the disk, you will usually receive a message that says You don’t need to scan this drive. If so, click Scan drive to continue scanning.
     ChatGPT If no errors are found, you'll likely see a message saying "You don't need to scan this drive." If that's the case, click "Scan drive" to proceed.

By the way, check out our blogpost on how to fix 100% disk usage issues.

How to check for hard-drive issues on a Mac

Although Apple products are considered to be significantly less prone to failure, the same can’t be said of hard drives. That’s because these are ultimately just as vulnerable, which is why you should always give your Mac a thorough clean up and check it regularly for hard- drive defects.

Here’s how to run a SMART hard-drive scan on a Mac:

  • Step 1:
    Open Applications, select the Utilities folder, and then click Disk Utility.
  • Step 2:
    On the left, select the volume (drive) you want to check.
  • Step 3:
    Click Info in the toolbar to view the selected drive’s status. If it says Verified, the scan didn’t pick up any issues with your hard drive.

How can you avoid a hard-drive defect?

The key thing you can do to avoid a hard-drive defect or even failure is to maintain your computer to keep it running nicely and back it up regularly. Avira Free Security can help you do just that with its suite of tools. That’s because this multi-feature tune-up tool helps you with a wide range of tasks, including cleaning up your devices, eliminating data waste, and freeing up storage space. You can also take proactive steps to increase your chances of preventing crashes with this type of clean up tool.


This post is also available in: GermanFrenchItalian

Avira, a company with over 100 million customers and more than 500 employees, is a worldwide leading supplier of self-developed security solutions for professional and private use. With more than 25 years of experience, the company is a pioneer in its field.
Avira logo

Clean up your PC, free up storage space, and tune up its performance with Avira Speedup for Windows.

Avira logo

Clean up your Mac, free up storage space, and tune up its performance with Avira Free Security for macOS.

Avira logo

Get the most out of your iPhone with Avira Mobile Security for iOS and prevent a failure.

Avira logo

Optimize your Android devices with Avira Antivirus Security for Android and protect them from failure.