How do I fix a corrupted hard drive and recover files?

Dealing with a corrupted hard drive can be incredibly frustrating. Important files suddenly become inaccessible, and your computer may not even boot properly. However, in many cases it is possible to fix corruption issues and recover data from the drive. Here is a comprehensive guide on troubleshooting hard drive corruption and file recovery.

What causes hard drive corruption?

There are a few main causes of hard drive corruption:

  • Faulty hardware – Issues with the physical hard drive itself, like bad sectors or failed components, can lead to data corruption.
  • Sudden power loss – If the computer loses power suddenly, for example from a power outage, it may corrupt files that were open at the time.
  • Driver conflicts – Incompatible or corrupt drivers can sometimes interfere with the file system, resulting in corruption.
  • Malware or viruses – Malicious programs can intentionally corrupt files and cause widespread damage.
  • File system errors – The file system itself can become corrupted if there are errors or inconsistencies in the disk’s metadata.

Additionally, human-caused errors like accidental deletion, drive formatting, or forceful shutdowns while the drive is being written to can also lead to file system corruption. The most common symptoms of a corrupted hard drive include frequent crashes, the inability to boot into Windows, missing or inaccessible files, and strange error messages when attempting to open files.

How to check and diagnose hard drive errors

If you suspect your hard drive is corrupted, the first step is to diagnose and confirm the errors. Here are some ways to check for drive corruption:

  • Run CHKDSK – The CHKDSK utility built into Windows scans the drive and attempts to repair any file system errors. To run it, open the Command Prompt as administrator and use the command “chkdsk C: /f” where C: is the corrupted drive letter.
  • Check S.M.A.R.T. status – S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) is a monitoring system built into hard drives. You can use free tools like CrystalDiskInfo to read a drive’s S.M.A.R.T. data and check for detected errors.
  • Check Event Viewer – Windows Event Viewer logs disk errors and crashes. Look for warning signs like disk read/write errors, NTFS corruption, boot issues etc.
  • Check advanced properties – In Windows Explorer, right-click the drive, select Properties > Tools tab > Click Check. This scans for file system errors.

These basic checks should reveal if file system corruption is present and whether Windows is able to repair it using CHKDSK. If the drive is still inaccessible even after using CHKDSK, it’s likely facing physical corruption that requires more advanced recovery methods.

Attempt data recovery before reformatting

If the drive has hardware issues or file system corruption that CHKDSK cannot repair, your data may still be recoverable using data recovery software before attempting to reformat or replace the drive.

Data recovery software scans the drive sector-by-sector and reconstructs files from the raw data. Even if the file system is severely corrupted, tools like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard are often able to recover data files in many cases. The steps to recover data are:

  1. Download and install reliable data recovery software like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard.
  2. Scan the corrupted drive thoroughly using the software.
  3. Preview found files to identify ones you want to recover.
  4. Select the files and recover them to another healthy drive.

Recovering data before reformatting gives you the best chance to rescue your files. Attempting repair without data recovery risks permanent data loss if the process fails.

Repair the file system using CHKDSK

After backing up data, the next step is attempting file system repair using CHKDSK. CHKDSK scans the drive for errors and then tries to fix logical file system errors. To run CHKDSK:

  1. Open the Command Prompt as administrator.
  2. Enter the command: chkdsk X: /f /r /x where X is the drive letter, /f fixes errors, /r locates bad sectors, and /x forces dismount first.
  3. Restart your computer and let CHKDSK run at startup to repair errors.

CHKDSK will display a progress bar as it goes through phases of scanning. If it successfully repairs corruption, the drive may boot up normally again after restarting. If CHKDSK is unable to fix errors, you’ll need to move on to more advanced repair techniques.

Scan and repair bad sectors

If CHKDSK indicates there are bad sectors on the hard drive, the next step is scrubbing those sectors. Bad sectors are physical areas on the platters that can no longer reliably store data due to damage or manufacturing defects. To locate and repair them:

  • Use the /r parameter in CHKDSK to locate bad sectors.
  • Use hard drive repair software like HDD Regenerator to scan the drive surface and repair identified bad sectors.
  • Use HDD Scan to double check the drive for any remaining bad sectors.

Repairing bad sectors can potentially fix corruption issues if they were caused by damaged areas of the physical platters. The drive may function again if the corrupted data was limited to the bad sectors themselves.

Low-level format and full erase

If CHKDSK, bad sector repair, and data recovery attempts all fail, the last resort is to low-level format the drive. This completely erases and recreates the hard drive’s partitioning and file system. To low level format:

  1. Use HDD Low Level Format Tool. Select the correct hard drive and choose Quick or Full format.
  2. Click Start to begin the format. All data will be erased so ensure backups were made.
  3. When finished, partition and format the now empty drive in Disk Management.
  4. Reinstall Windows or restore backups to the formatted drive.

Low-level formatting is essentially starting from scratch with a blank slate. This can fix even advanced corruption, but renders data recovery impossible. Only use this method if all else fails and data is backed up.

Replace the hard drive

In cases of severe physical damage like mechanical failure, a replacement drive may be necessary:

  1. Buy a compatible new hard drive that matches the capacity and type of the corrupted one.
  2. Use HDD Raw Copy Tool to clone the corrupted drive onto the new one sector-by-sector.
  3. Swap the new drive into the computer in place of the old one.
  4. Attempt data recovery and scanning for errors on the new drive.

This preserves the drive contents intact while providing a new healthy drive. Replacement maintains the chance of data recovery if corruption issues persist.

Send the drive to a data recovery service

For severe corruption that prevents DIY recovery, a professional data recovery service may be able to repair and recover data from the damaged drive. Services like DriveSavers use specialized tools in cleanroom environments to physically access and diagnose drive components. This gives them the best chance of salvaging data, but costs several hundred to thousands of dollars.

Prevent future hard drive corruption

To avoid corruption issues in the future:

  • Always eject and disconnect drives safely to avoid file system damage.
  • Use surge protectors and UPS battery backups to prevent sudden power loss.
  • Keep your drives and file systems healthy by regularly scanning for errors.
  • Maintain backups of important data so it can be restored if needed.
  • Handle drives carefully and protect them from impacts, drops, liquids etc.

Being proactive helps mitigate common causes of corruption like unsafe ejection, power failures, and physical damage from impacts.

Can corrupted files be repaired?

It depends on the type and extent of corruption. If the file system itself is relatively intact, data recovery tools can often reconstruct corrupted files by assembling fragments recovered from the drive. Severely corrupted files may be unrecoverable though, especially if critical file system metadata needed to reconstruct them is damaged.

Why does CHKDSK fail sometimes?

CHKDSK may fail to repair a corrupted hard drive for several reasons:

  • The corruption is beyond CHKDSK’s repair abilities. It can only fix logical file system errors.
  • There are physical defects like bad sectors that need mechanical repair.
  • The drive has severe file system damage, like corrupt partition tables.
  • Important metadata needed by CHKDSK was overwritten.
  • The issues are caused by malfunctioning hardware components.

If CHKDSK fails, physical repair, low-level formatting, or replacing the drive itself may be required for full repair.

Can a hard drive be too corrupted to recover data?

Unfortunately yes, extensive physical damage or complete file system corruption can potentially make data recovery impossible:

  • Failed or burnt out components like read/write heads can make data inaccessible.
  • Severely damaged platters may have unreadable sectors.
  • Corrupted partition tables or master boot records can block data access.
  • Failed low-level formats destroy file systems entirely.

In extreme cases where critical data is unreadable, professional recovery services may also be unable to salvage files from the drive.


Dealing with a corrupted drive can be a frustrating and potentially disastrous experience. However, in many cases it is possible to repair corruption issues and recover important files using the right tools and techniques. Start with diagnostics like CHKDSK, then attempt data recovery software before reformatting. More serious physical issues may require professional data recovery or drive replacement. Prevention is also key – use safe drive practices and backups to avoid corruption happening in the first place.

With persistence and the correct troubleshooting steps, you can often get a corrupted drive functioning again or retrieve critical files. Just don’t attempt risky repairs without first backing up irreplaceable data – once unreadable, some data may be lost forever.