How do I start my computer after hard drive crashes?

If your computer hard drive crashes or becomes corrupted, you may encounter issues starting up your computer. Here are some quick answers to common questions about getting a computer running again after hard drive failure:

What causes a hard drive crash?

There are several potential causes of a hard drive crash:

  • Physical damage – Dropping or jarring a computer can damage the hard drive mechanics.
  • Power surges – Spikes in power can fry hard drive components.
  • Overheating – Excessive heat can damage the hard drive.
  • File system corruption – Errors in the file system can render data inaccessible.
  • Bad sectors – Portions of the drive that are physically damaged.
  • Firmware issues – Problems with the hard drive’s controller software.
  • Mechanical failure – Issues with the internal hard drive mechanics.

How can I tell if the hard drive is crashed?

Signs that your hard drive has crashed or is corrupted include:

  • Computer failing to boot up properly
  • Error messages referring to the hard drive
  • Unusual grinding or clicking noises from the hard drive
  • Files missing or unusable
  • “Blue screen of death” errors
  • Difficulty accessing data or programs on the computer

What are my options for recovering data from a crashed hard drive?

If the hard drive is still partially functioning, you may be able to recover data yourself using data recovery software. If the drive is completely dead, you will likely need professional data recovery services to attempt extracting data from the drive platters in a clean room environment.

Data recovery software

Data recovery software scans the hard drive and attempts to assemble corrupted data into usable files. Popular data recovery software includes:

  • Recuva
  • EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard
  • Stellar Data Recovery
  • Disk Drill
  • Ontrack EasyRecovery

Professional data recovery services

Professional data recovery extracts data at the platter level in clean room facilities. This very expensive process is often the only way to retrieve data from drives that won’t power on. Top data recovery firms include:

  • DriveSavers
  • Ontrack
  • Gillware
  • Secure Data Recovery

How can I start up the computer after a hard drive crash?

If the hard drive has completely failed, you will need to replace it before you can boot up the computer again. Here are the basic steps to starting up a computer after replacing the hard drive:

  1. Physically install the new hard drive in the computer. Ensure connections are secure.
  2. Insert your operating system recovery disk or USB drive.
  3. Boot from the recovery media, not the hard drive.
  4. Use the recovery tool to install a fresh copy of the operating system onto the new hard drive.
  5. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete installation and setup.
  6. Once the OS is installed, boot from the hard drive.
  7. Reinstall software programs, restore data from backups, and configure settings.

Tips for minimizing data loss

Here are some tips to avoid complete data loss in the event of a future hard drive crash:

  • Regularly back up important data to an external hard drive or cloud storage.
  • Use a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) to protect against power surges.
  • Make sure your computer is properly ventilated to prevent overheating.
  • Listen for grinding or clicking sounds that can indicate an impending drive failure.
  • Upgrade to a solid state drive, which lacks moving platters.
  • Monitor hard drive health with S.M.A.R.T. tools.

How to choose a replacement hard drive

Factors to consider when selecting a replacement hard drive include:

  • Compatibility – Choose a drive that is designed for your computer make and model. Refer to service manuals or contact the manufacturer.
  • Interface – Common interfaces include SATA, IDE, and SCSI. Select a drive with the right interface for the motherboard.
  • Form factor – Size and shape should match the old drive to fit the computer bay.
  • Capacity – Choose equal or higher capacity to replace storage space.
  • Cache size – Larger cache improves read/write performance.
  • RPM – 5400 or 7200 RPM for most desktops. 10,000+ RPM for servers or high performance.
  • Features – Seek drives with cache, Native Command Queuing (NCQ), and S.M.A.R.T. support.

Online shopping filters and product finders can help find drives guaranteed to be compatible with your specific computer or motherboard.

How to install a new hard drive

Once you have acquired a compatible new hard drive, the basic installation steps are:

  1. Backup data – Save any recoverable data from the old drive if possible.
  2. Install hardware – Attach cables and mount the new drive in the computer bay.
  3. Boot from media – Insert OS recovery disk or bootable USB drive.
  4. Format drive – Use disk utility to format and partition new drive.
  5. Load OS – Install operating system from recovery media onto blank drive.
  6. Install drivers – Install motherboard drivers required for new drive.
  7. Tweak settings – Adjust OS, application, and backup settings.
  8. Restore data – Migrate data back to the new drive from backups.

For step-by-step instructions customized to your computer, refer to the service manual or contact the manufacturer’s tech support.

How to reformat a hard drive

If attempting to recover a failing hard drive rather than fully replace it, reformatting may help repair file system errors. steps include:

  1. Back up data from the drive if possible.
  2. Boot from the OS recovery disk or USB drive.
  3. Use disk utility to find the hard drive and completely reformat it.
  4. Recreate desired partitions on the drive.
  5. Select a file system such as NTFS or exFAT.
  6. Assign drive labels if desired.
  7. Start the formatting process, which overwrites old data.
  8. When complete, exit disk utility.
  9. Attempt to install OS on newly formatted drive.

If formatting allows a crashed drive to boot again, restore data only after ensuring stability over several days.

How to diagnose hard drive issues

To troubleshoot a potentially failing hard drive and narrow down the cause of issues, try these steps:

  1. Listen for clicking or grinding sounds from the drive, which often signal imminent failure.
  2. Check S.M.A.R.T. status with disk utility for detected errors or bad sectors.
  3. Scan the drive for errors using CHKDSK in Command Prompt.
  4. Monitor for overheating issues around the hard drive.
  5. Try rebooting from a bootable USB or disk to isolate the drive as the source of issues.
  6. Update hard drive drivers and firmware from the manufacturer’s website.
  7. Back up data immediately if failure seems likely based on the above tests.

Advanced diagnostics may require removing the drive and using testing tools. Overall, it is best not to wait until catastrophic failure before replacing a faulty drive.

Can you recover data from a dead hard drive?

Recovering data from a dead hard drive that won’t power on requires professional intervention. The drive must be opened in a dust-free cleanroom and the platters removed to extract data by specialist tools. This is an expensive process with no guarantee of success. The chances of DIY data recovery from a dead drive are extremely minimal.

Is it worth getting data recovered from a hard drive?

Professional recovery services for a failed hard drive can cost $500 to $3000 or more. Whether it is worth the significant expense depends on:

  • The value of the lost data based on how critical it is.
  • The specific failure mode and chances of success.
  • The cost of alternatives such as reshooting lost photos.
  • Whether you have backups of some of the most important data.

Often only businesses or those with truly irreplaceable personal data will opt to pay for professional recovery from dead drives.

How can I avoid hard drive failure?

Best practices for maximizing hard drive longevity include:

  • Handle computers carefully to avoid physical shock.
  • Keep drives cool with ventilation and monitoring SMART temperatures.
  • Use surge protectors and UPS battery backups.
  • Perform regular error scans and monthly SMART checks.
  • Securely erase and reformat drives that develop bad sectors.
  • Maintain modern drives with TRIM optimization for SSDs.
  • Keep less than 50% capacity used for best performance.
  • Back up data regularly to minimize losses from failure.

Following drive maintenance best practices and heeding warning signs of impending failure can help avoid catastrophic data loss.

What are the warning signs of hard drive failure?

Signs that your hard drive may be about to fail include:

  • Unusual noises – Clicking, grinding, squealing or scraping sounds.
  • S.M.A.R.T. errors – Warnings of high temperature or impending failure.
  • Bad sectors – Portions of the drive that cannot be accessed.
  • Slow performance – Drive taking a long time to load data.
  • Frequent freezes and crashes – Hardware failures often cause system instability.
  • Difficulty accessing files – Data corruption leads to missing files.

Monitoring tools like SMART can detect imminent failure based on drive errors. But obvious symptoms like noise or crashes require immediate backup and replacement.

How long does a hard drive last?

Typical hard drive lifespans are:

  • Desktop hard drives – 3 to 5 years
  • Server hard drives – Around 5 years
  • Notebook hard drives – 2 to 3 years
  • SSDs – 5 to 7 years or more

Actual lifespan varies based on usage, environment, quality, and maintenance. Warning signs often precede complete failure by months or years. Backup data and be prepared to replace drives showing concerning symptoms.

Can a crashed hard drive be fixed?

Physical damage usually cannot be repaired in crashed hard drives. But logical failures from file system errors or bad sectors can sometimes be fixed with reformatting and reinstalling the operating system. Best practices for attempting to fix a crashed drive include:

  1. Rule out physical damage. If you hear odd noises, the drive was dropped, or overheating occurred, the outlook is poor for DIY fixes.
  2. Attempt repairs only after backing up accessible data from the drive.
  3. Scan for errors and attempt repairs using built-in disk utility tools.
  4. Completely reformat the drive to replace corrupted file system.
  5. Clean-install operating system onto freshly formatted drive.
  6. Monitor drive health meticulously going forward.
  7. Consider SSD upgrade for older mechanical drives prone to failure.

Successfully bringing a crashed drive back online without data loss or hardware replacement is difficult but situationally possible.


Recovering from a hard drive crash can be complex, but by understanding the common causes, preparing backups ahead of time, and carefully replacing or reformatting drives, it is possible to get a computer back up and running. Knowing the steps for diagnosing issues, extracting data from dead drives, and selecting replacement hardware can help minimize downtime next time disaster strikes your computer’s disk.