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Hard drive failure – Symptoms and Troubleshooting

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Broadly speaking a hard disk can fail in four ways that will lead to a potential loss of data:

  1. Firmware Corruption / Damage to the firmware zone 
  2. Electronic Failure 
  3. Mechanical Failure 
  4. Logical Failure 

Combinations of these four types of failure are also possible. Whether the data on the hard disk is recoverable or not depends on exactly what has happened to the disk and how bad the damage is. All hard disks also develop bad sectors which can lead to data loss and drive inaccessibility.

1. Firmware Corruption / Damage to the firmware zone

Hard disk firmware is the information that is used by the computer that allows it to correctly interact with the hard disk. If the firmware of a hard disk becomes corrupted or unreadable the computer is often unable to correctly interact with the hard disk. Frequently the data on the disk is fully recoverable once the drive has been repaired and reprogrammed.

2. Electronic Failure

Electronic failure usually relates to problems on the controller board of the actual hard disk. The computer may suffer a power spike or electrical surge that knocks out the controller board on the hard disk making it undetectable to the BIOS. Usually, the data on the hard disk has not suffered any damage and a 100% data recovery is possible.

3. Mechanical Failure

Usually worse than electronic failure, mechanical failure can quite often (especially if not acted on early) lead to a partial and sometimes total loss of data. Mechanical failure comes in a variety of guises such as read / write head failure and motor problems. One of the most common mechanical failures is a head crash. Varying in severity, a head crash occurs when the read-write heads of the hard disk come into contact, momentarily or continuously, with the platters of the hard disk.
Head crashes can be caused by a range of reasons including physical shock, movement of the computer, static electricity, power surges and mechanical read-write head failure.
Mechanical failure can usually be spotted by a regular clicking or crunching noise. It’s not necessarily a head crash, the most important things to do if you suspect mechanical problems is to switch off the drive immediately as further use will make matters worse.
4. Logical Errors
Often the easiest and the most difficult problems to deal with, logical errors can range from simple things such as an invalid entry in a file allocation table to truly horrific problems such as the corruption and loss of the file system on a severely fragmented drive. Logical errors are different to the electrical and mechanical problems above as there is usually nothing ‘physically’ wrong with the disk, just the information on it.

Beep Codes:
Error Code:

Remedial procedure

Some of the steps involved in the remedy of the Hard drive failure are given below:

  1. The first thing to check for is whether or not the hard disk can be seen by the hard disk controller; usually on a true hard disk failure, the disk will not be detectable by the controller (but this is not always the case). Assuming you have an IDE hard disk, enter the BIOS setup program and use the IDE detection facility of the BIOS to see if the disk’s parameters can be detected. If the disk cannot be auto detected using the auto detect feature in the BIOS program implies immediately some sort of hardware problem.
  2. If you can see the hard disk when you auto detect, the problem is more likely to be software than hardware. Remember that you cannot usually boot a brand new hard disk until it has been partitioned and formatted. 
  3. See if the disk will boot up. If it will not boot, then boot from a floppy boot disk and then use the FDISK command (or other partitioning software) to see if you can see the disk. 
  4. If the drive will boot up, then you should be getting a more specific error message of some sort, or a more specific failure mode that you can use for troubleshooting. 
  5. If the drive is detected in the BIOS setup but cannot be booted or accessed when booting from a floppy disk, then there is a good chance that the disk itself may be bad. If possible, try connecting the hard disk to another system and see if the problem is present there as well. 
  6. If the hard disk is dead and needs to be replaced follow the procedure given below:

a) Remove the screws that hold the drive in the bay.
b) Remove the defective hard disk

c)Remove the IDE cable
d) Select a good hard disk, connect the IDE cable and replace the hard disk.
e) Secure the hard disk on the drive bay slot by tightening the screws.

Scandisk:

This is a maintenance procedure built into the Windows operating system that checks the hard drive to determine if there is physical damage or damage to the file system.
If the computer reports that it has corrupted, damaged, or missing files and the programs no longer operate properly, then this is the first step to try and fix the problem. Also, if the computer seems to be running slower than usual, sometimes this procedure will provide a fix. It is a good idea to perform this operation often.

Scandisk procedure

  1. Temporarily deactivate any screen saver. Click on START then SETTINGS then CONTROL PANEL then DISPLAY then SCREEN SAVER. Set the Screen Saver to NONE and click OK. 
  2. Click on START then PROGRAMS then ACCESSORIES then SYSTEM TOOLS then SCANDISK. 

NOTE – Depending on what version of Windows you are running the above labels may be slightly different, but not so different that you will not be able to find it.

The following window will open on your screen.

  1.  Be sure to select “C:” from the drop down box if it is not already chosen. Then click on the radio button for Standard under Type of test. Next check the box (click on it) labelled Automatically fix errors. The Thorough test option should not be selected unless you suspect the physical hard drive has been damaged. I suggest always running the Standard scandisk option first. Then If you still have problems rerun it with the Thorough option selected. Also, if you do not select Automatically fix errors the computer will stop and wait for you to answer some rather confusing questions. 
  2.  Click on the button labelled Advanced… to launch the following sub-window. 
  3.  Be sure to click on all of the radio buttons and check boxes EXACTLY as shown. Then press the OK button. This will return you to the former screen where you can press START. The Scandisk process usually does not take long unless there are serious problems with the hard drive. Do not be concerned if the procedure restarts itself. 
  4. When the entire procedure is completed, you can reactivate the screen saver and then start working with applications. It is not necessary to restart the computer. 

Reformatting a Hard disk

This procedure explains how to setup a new hard disk.
Warning – if you are setting up a hard disk which contains data, the following procedure would completely erase your hard disk and the data would be unrecoverable.

Before a new hard disk can be used it needs to be setup. This involves partitioning and formatting the hard disk. Windows 98 or ME boot disk contains the required software to perform this procedure. FDISK.EXE and FORMAT.COM are the files required in your bootable floppy disk.

  1. Start the partition and format procedure by booting your PC using a Windows boot disk. 
  2. Make sure you set the BIOS so that the boot sequence is set to detect the floppy disk first. If your system has no problems booting you will be presented with a Windows boot disk menu. This gives you the option to start the system with or without CD-ROM support. Choose the option to boot without CD-ROM support. You should end up in the MS DOS prompt A: (A drive). 
  3. From A: command prompt type fdisk. You will be presented with following message: 
  4.  Choose “Y” to enable large disk support.You will now be presented with the FDISK main menu as shown below. 
  5. From the menu, choose option 1 – Create DOS partition or Logical DOS drive. Another menu will present the following options. 
  6. Choose option 1 – Create primary DOS Partition. FDISK verifies the integrity of your drive and will ask you if want to use the maximum available size of your hard disk to create the primary partition and set it active. To keep things simple we will create one large partition. 
  7. Choose “Y” to use maximum available space. When the partition has been created successfully you will be notified by the system. Your drive is now known as C: (C drive). Press “Esc” to return to the menu. Press “Esc” again to exit FDISK. You need to restart your system for the changes to take affect. Leave boot disk in the drive. 
  8. When the system reboots, choose start without CD-ROM from the boot disk menu. While booting from floppy disk you might get error message like “Invalid media type reading drive C” this is OK for this stage as the hard disk is not formatted. 
  9.  From A: command prompt type format c: 
  10. You will get a message saying “WARNING, ALL DATA ON NON-

REMOVABLE DISK DRIVE C: WILL BE LOST. Proceed with Format (Y/N)?”.

  1.  Since you do not have any data in the new hard disk. Choose “Y”. The format will proceed showing a progress indicator. The time it takes to format a hard disk depends on the size and speed of the drive. This could be around 5-30 minutes. Restart system after format is complete. 12. Install an operating system.

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