Computers are like vehicles. With enough usage their parts start to break down and die. Hard drives in particular are pretty intense pieces of machinery in terms of how they operate, but they manage to have the best longevity for computer hardware. Despite seeming to last forever, even they can start to sputter and die. There are also a number of external risks that can cause the premature death of a hard drive. Here are some of the most common causes of hard drive failure and data corruption.
General parts failure - A motor can only spin so many times and the head can only move back and forth so many times. At some point hard drives die of old age just like everything else.
Viruses - Although rare, there are some viruses out there that can corrupt portions of a hard drive or wipe the drive entirely, making it as functional as a brick. This does not mean the data on it is lost forever though.
Power surges and outages - There are quite a lot of fail safes in modern computers to prevent data corruption from occurring when your power goes out unexpectedly. These aren't 100% effective though and data corruption can occur whenever you are writing or altering data on your drive during a sudden loss of power. A surge of electricity can also fry the components or motor on a hard drive.
How can I tell if my hard drive is failing?
Strange noises - Hearing strange grinding and thrashing noises from your drive usually means it is close to its demise. It could be that the motor is failing or your hard drive is grinding away because of noisy bearings. If you’re hearing strange noises then act quickly—you probably don’t have much time.
Disappearing data and disk errors - Computer won’t let you save a document? Certain you had a file on your desktop yesterday that’s nowhere to be seen today? Programs that always worked suddenly stop working, asking where a file it depends on is stored? These are all indicative of disk errors or drive corruption.
Your computer stops recognizing your drive - If your computer no longer recognizes your drive it's more likely there’s a problem with it, not Windows or the computer.
Computer crashes - Does your computer regularly blue-screen or suddenly reboot? Does it crash often, especially when booting your operating system or writing amounts of files? If this is the case, it may indicate a problem with your drive.
Very slow access times - It shouldn’t take a long amount of time to open a folder in Windows explorer or two hours to empty the trash. Very slow hard drive performance is the biggest indicator of its gradual failure.
What can I do if my hard drive is failing or has failed?
In both cases you're going to have to buy a new hard drive. When it comes to getting the data from the old drive onto a new one, the best thing to do in is to take it to a professional. They can repair any corruption on the drive and transfer everything to the new one. In most cases you won't even have to reinstall windows.
In the case of a dead hard drive, the data is still physically there on the platters so it can be extracted with special equipment and transferred to a new drive. You should not under any circumstances try to open up a hard drive yourself. The insides will be destroyed by dust almost instantly and you will lose your chance to recover the data.