How do I check my hard drive physically?

There are a few quick and easy ways to check your hard drive physically for issues or failures. First, listen for any unusual noises coming from the hard drive. Clicking, grinding, buzzing or loud spinning noises could indicate a problem with the physical drive. Second, check for signs of overheating – if the drive feels abnormally hot, that could mean impending failure. Third, look for damage to the drive casing like cracks or dents which could allow dust or other contaminants inside. Fourth, connect the drive to a computer and use drive utility software to check the SMART status for readings of reallocated sectors, spin retry counts or read/write errors. Abnormal results from SMART tests likely mean physical problems with the platters or read/write heads.

How to Open Up and Physically Examine a Hard Drive

If you want to take a closer look at the physical components inside your hard drive, you will need to carefully open up the drive housing. This is a more involved process but can provide additional information on the condition of the platters, heads, motors and circuit boards.

Here are the steps to safely open a hard drive:

  1. Disconnect the drive from power and data connections.
  2. Ground yourself to prevent electrostatic discharge damage.
  3. Remove any screws or plastic clips securing the drive housing.
  4. Carefully pry apart the top and bottom casing using a flathead screwdriver.
  5. With the platters exposed, visually inspect for scratches, gouges, or burnt spots.
  6. Check the drive heads at the end of the actuator arm for signs of crashing or scraping on platters.
  7. Inspect motor spindle for bearing wear, melted coils, smoking.
  8. Examine circuit boards for leaking capacitors, burnt spots.
  9. Once inspected, securely reassemble drive housing.

Opening up a hard drive housing can provide more clues about physical damage or component failures. However, this should only be attempted in a cleanroom environment to avoid contamination of the platters and heads. The process usually voids any drive warranty as well.

Signs of Physical Hard Drive Failure

Here are some common signs of physical failure in a hard drive:

  • Strange noises – Clicking, grinding, squealing or loud drive spinning noises point to mechanical problems.
  • Overheating – If the drive is hot to the touch, it could indicate motor issues or drive electronics failure.
  • Cracked or dented housing – External damage may allow dust or debris inside to contaminate platters.
  • Burnt circuit board smell – Indicates electrical failure or leaking capacitors on the logic board.
  • Failed SMART tests – Specifically reallocated sectors, high ATA errors or spin retry counts.
  • Visible platter damage – Gouges, scratches or burnt spots on platters can result in data errors.
  • Stuck actuator arm – If the arm with heads does not move freely, it could be physically damaged.
  • Spindle motor problems – Excess bearing noise, squealing or inability to spin up to operating RPM.

If your hard drive is exhibiting any of these symptoms of physical damage, it likely means the drive has failed or will soon. The best course of action is to immediately backup any accessible data and replace the drive before total failure occurs.

Using S.M.A.R.T. Tools to Diagnose Physical Hard Drive Problems

One of the best ways to monitor the physical health of a hard drive is to use S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) tools. S.M.A.R.T provides insights into internal drive operations and reliability factors.

Here are some important S.M.A.R.T. attributes that can indicate physical HDD problems:

  • Reallocated sectors count – The number of bad sectors that have been remapped. High counts indicate platter surface defects.
  • Current Pending Sector count – Total number of sectors waiting to be remapped due to read/write errors.
  • Uncorrectable Sector count – Sectors that could not be read and remapped due to extent of damage.
  • Spin Retry Count – Number of times the drive needed to retry spinning up the platters.
  • Load/Unload Cycle count – Total number of times heads have loaded onto platters. High counts can mean worn out head assembly.
  • Temperature – Current internal operating temperature. Overheating can lead to disk failure.

Monitoring these S.M.A.R.T. parameters can provide early warning of pending mechanical failures. Allowing you to take preventative action like migrating data or replacing the drive.

Using S.M.A.R.T. Monitoring Tools

There are a number of excellent free and paid utilities for checking S.M.A.R.T. stats on hard drives. Here are some top options:

  • HD Sentinel – Advanced drive monitoring and failure prediction tool for Windows.
  • CrystalDiskInfo – Free S.M.A.R.T viewer and health monitoring software.
  • Hard Disk Sentinel – Hard drive diagnostics and monitoring for health, performance, temperature.
  • SMART Utility – Drive status checker for Mac users to read S.M.A.R.T. attributes.
  • Disk Drill – Includes S.M.A.R.T. monitoring along with free data recovery tools.

Using one of these utilities can provide you with the S.M.A.R.T. insight needed to detect signs of physical hard drive problems before catastrophic failure occurs.

S.M.A.R.T. Tool Platform Key Features
HD Sentinel Windows Health predictions, temperature monitoring, performance benchmarks, advanced drive statistics
CrystalDiskInfo Windows Free S.M.A.R.T. information, drive health status, basic HDD tests
Hard Disk Sentinel Windows S.M.A.R.T. analysis, health predictions, performance tests, temperature monitoring
SMART Utility macOS Read S.M.A.R.T. data, drive temperature, benchmarking, health checks
Disk Drill Windows & macOS Free recovery tools, S.M.A.R.T. monitoring, drive health diagnostics

This table compares the top S.M.A.R.T. utilities for getting advanced insight into possible hard drive physical failures.

Using Data Recovery Tools When Hard Drives Fail Physically

If your hard drive is exhibiting physical problems or has completely failed, data recovery software provides the best chance of rescuing your files and information. Here are some top data recovery tools for physically failing or damaged hard drives:

  • Ontrack EasyRecovery – Advanced comprehensive data recovery for all drive types and operating systems.
  • Stellar Data Recovery – Retrieves data from failed or damaged hard drives and logical drive errors.
  • EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard – Full featured recovery options for HDD physical issues and partition loss.
  • R-Studio – Advanced data recovery with a range of custom scan options tailored for mechanical failures.
  • SpinRite – Specialized HDD recovery tool that repairs damaged sections of the hard drive platters.

These programs allow you to attempt data recovery from drives experiencing physical failure symptoms like clicking noises, bad sectors, spin up issues or platter damage. Special repair tools like SpinRite can assist with repairing drives just enough to copy data before catastrophic failure.

Choosing the Right Data Recovery Tool

When selecting data recovery software for physically failing hard drives, here are some key factors to consider:

  • Support for issues like bad sectors, mechanical failures, clicking drives.
  • Capable of creating full disk images to work with when drive is unstable.
  • Provides access to scan drive platters at the physical level to maximize recovery.
  • Uses advanced repair techniques to access failing drives with bad sectors.
  • Offers data recovery services for difficult mechanical failures.
  • Compatible with different drive manufacturers like Seagate, Western Digital, etc.

Choosing recovery software designed specifically for physical hard drive problems will provide you with the best chance of getting data off failing drives.


Detecting signs of physical hard drive failure early using S.M.A.R.T. tools and data recovery software gives you the best chance of recovering your information before total drive failure. At the first signs of physical problems like unusual noises, overheating or bad sectors – take action quickly. Backup accessible data, turn to professional recovery services if needed and replace the faulty drive to avoid being left with permanent data loss.