What does it mean by hard disk error?

Table of Contents

What is a hard disk error?

A hard disk error refers to any issue or problem that prevents a computer’s hard disk drive from working properly. The hard disk, also known as the hard drive, is a key component in computers and other devices. It is used for long-term storage of data, including the operating system, software programs, and files. Some common hard disk errors include:

  • Bad sectors – Areas on the hard disk that cannot reliably store data due to physical damage or corruption.
  • Read/write failures – The hard disk is unable to read or write data.
  • File system corruption – File system structures on the disk become damaged, resulting in missing or inaccessible files.
  • Disk not detected – The computer’s BIOS cannot detect the presence of the hard disk.
  • Mechanical failures – Issues with the physical hard disk mechanisms, like the head or motor.
  • Logical/firmware failures – Problems with the hard disk’s firmware or interface logic.
  • Blue screen of death – Fatal Windows crash screens caused by hard disk issues.
  • Disk check errors – Errors reported when running the CHKDSK utility on Windows.
  • Slow disk performance – The hard disk operates much slower than expected.
  • Loud clicking noises – Clicking sounds from the hard disk, indicating mechanical issues.
  • High SMART error count – Many errors logged to the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) system.

These and other hard disk errors can be caused by a range of issues such as connection problems, excessive read/write operations, firmware bugs, physical damage, age, viruses, power problems, overheating, and more. Detecting and troubleshooting these errors is important to avoid potential data loss or system crashes.

What causes hard disk errors?

There are a number of potential causes of hard disk errors:

Physical Damage

The platters and moving parts inside a hard disk drive are extremely fragile. Physical impacts, drops, bumps, shakes, or improper handling of a computer can damage the internal components of the hard drive leading to read/write heads misalignment, broken platters, or motor issues. This can cause bad sectors, crashes, and other problems.


Excessive heat is damaging to electronics. If a hard drive overheats due to poor ventilation, cooling fan failures, or excessive disk usage, it can start experiencing data corruption, servo issues, and eventual mechanical failure.

Firmware Issues

Bugs, crashes, loops, and flaws in a hard drive’s firmware can render it unusable or unstable. Firmware handles the interface between the OS and the disk controller. Bad firmware can lead to memory leaks, I/O errors, and file system damage.


Hard disks have a limited lifespan and will eventually fail even with normal use. Older disks are more prone to bearing and motor failures, dead heads, and more errors. Moving parts wear out over time.

Electrical Problems

An unstable power supply, power surges, static electricity, or other electrical issues can damage the printed circuit boards, onboard memory, and controller chips on hard drives. This can severely impact operation.

Corrupted Files

Operating system files or disk structures like the partition table, master boot record, and file system metadata can become corrupted. This can happen due to improper shutdowns, I/O errors, virus infections, bugs, or program crashes. It leads to unbootable systems and inaccessible data.

Excessive Use

Heavy disk workloads, like running resource-intensive applications, reading and writing large files constantly, or having a heavily fragmented hard drive can stress and damage the drive. This is especially true for older disks.

Loose Connections

If cables connecting hard disks to motherboard ports or controllers are loose, improperly connected, worn out, or physically damaged, communications errors will occur leading to detection issues, I/O faults, and crashes.

Manufacturing Defects

Sometimes, hard disks ship with defects from the factory – leaky bearings, weak actuators, faulty heads, etc. This leads to early failures and reliability issues down the road. Careful stress testing by vendors aims to minimize these.

Viruses and Malware

Viruses, especially those that target the Master Boot Record, Partition Table, or file system structures can corrupt data and cause hard disk errors. Worms and malware can also overwrite or modify critical operating system files.

How can hard disk errors be prevented?

While there is no way to completely eliminate the possibility of hard disk errors, there are ways to reduce the chances of encountering them:

Handle hard disks carefully

Avoid physical impacts to computers and hard drives. Do not move them when operating. Keep them well cushioned during transportation. This reduces the likelihood of internal mechanical damage.

Manage vibrations

Reduce vibrations around operating hard drives by using shock absorbers or rubber mounts in computers cases. Vibrations during operation can disrupt disk heads.

Maintain suitable temperatures

Keep computers, and therefore internal hard disks, at reasonable operating temperatures through adequate ventilation, climate control, and preventing overworking the CPU and GPU. Excessive heat causes damage.

Use surge protectors

Use uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) or at minimum surge protectors for computers to smooth electrical power from the wall. This protects sensitive electronic components.

Install new firmware

When available, update hard drive firmware to the latest stable revision to fix bugs and improve performance. Newer firmware versions often resolve compatibility issues.

Scan for and remove malware

Use up-to-date antivirus suites to detect and remove any viruses or system infections. Schedule regular scans to detect new threats proactively.

Defragment regularly

Run the disk defragmenter tool periodically to consolidate fragmented data and files. This optimizes operations and reduces disk stress.

Retire older hard disks

Replace very old hard drives that are past their age expectancy to avoid an unavoidable mechanical failure. Backup data first.

Use RAID configurations

Use multi-disk RAID setups with redundancy like RAID-1 mirroring or parity-based RAID-5. This protects data against a single disk failure.

Check SMART stats

Use SMART tools to monitor key hard disk health metrics like reallocated sectors, spin retry counts, CRC errors, etc. Replace disks showing high error counts.

How to check for and fix hard disk errors

There are a number of ways to scan for, detect, and repair hard disk errors:


The CHKDSK utility in Windows scans the file system for logical and physical errors. It can fix many file system problems automatically. Schedule regular CHKDSK scans to find and fix errors proactively.

Scan with Data Lifeguard

Use the Drive Fitness Test in Western Digital’s Data Lifeguard Diagnostics tool to do a thorough scan on WD hard disks. It helps identify problems before catastrophic failures.

Examine SMART stats

The S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) system monitors key internal hard drive metrics and flags reliability issues. Inspect SMART data using tools like CrystalDiskInfo or Hard Disk Sentinel.

Repair bad sectors

Utility tools like HD Tune Pro can detect and mark bad sectors as out of use. This prevents data loss. But the number of reallocated sectors indicates the disk is failing.

Update disk drivers

Update hard drive controller and interface drivers to the latest stable versions. Incompatible, corrupt or outdated drivers can cause errors.

Fix connection issues

Check that data and power cables are properly plugged into the hard drive and motherboard. Swap out damaged cables. This resolves many detection and I/O issues.

Low-level format

As a last resort, completely low-level format and erase the hard disk with HDD Low Level Format Tool. This refreshes the drive but erases all data. Reinstall the OS afterward.

Replace the hard disk

If the hard disk has mechanical failure or exhausts its spare sectors with no sign of recovery, replacement is the only option. Clone the disk first or restore from backups.

How can data be recovered from disks with errors?

If the disk is degraded but somewhat operational, data may still be recoverable:

Repair the file system

Repairing the file system structures using CHKDSK or a utility like Disk Warrior may make the files accessible again if the underlying storage is okay.

Extract data from the OS

If the OS boots partially, manually copy out as much essential data as possible before crashes or freezes. Don’t overwrite damaged areas.

Use data recovery software

Programs like Recuva, PhotoRec, R-Studio, EaseUS and SpinRite can scan low-level disk sectors and reconstruct damaged files by type.

Boot from a different disk

Remove the faulty hard disk, boot from another, and attach the damaged drive externally. Attempt data copy. The external connection may stabilize it.

Professional data recovery service

As a last resort, experts with specialized clean room facilities can attempt extracting data using custom repair techniques when all else fails. But it’s expensive.

Typical steps to troubleshoot hard disk errors

Here are some logical first steps to troubleshoot hard disk errors:

1. Note down error messages and symptoms

Carefully observe the behavior and record all error messages, codes, disk activity lights. This provides clues to identify the issue.

2. Examine SMART stats with monitoring tools

High or rapidly increasing SMART error counters indicate disk problems. Inspect stats with CrystalDiskInfo, Hard Disk Sentinel or drive vendor tools.

3. Check connections and cables

Loose data or power cables are common causes of disk errors. Reconnect cables properly. Swap cables if damaged. Try another SATA port.

4. Update disk drivers

Update drivers for the hard drive controller/interface to eliminate driver-related bugs. Use manufacturer provided drivers when possible.

5. Scan disk using CHKDSK / Data Lifeguard

Run CHKDSK and repair errors. For Western Digital disks, also run the Drive Fitness Test. Check logs for clues.

6. Monitor disk temperature

High temperature causes stability issues. Check cooling and ventilation. Lower workload if overheating.

7. Attempt data backup and recovery

If possible, backup critical data immediately using disk error handling tools like SpinRite.

8. Low-level format as a last resort

Completely erase, reallocate sectors and refresh the hard disk with HDD Low Level Format Tool. This will wipe all data.

9. Replace the faulty hard disk

If all troubleshooting fails, the disk needs replacement. Swap it with a new one and attempt data recovery from the old.

Best practices for hard disk health

Some good practices for keeping hard disks healthy and improving longevity include:

Allow time for disks to spin up

Minimize directly cutting power to disks. This allows them to properly spin down and park heads before power off.

Avoid excessive portable disk movement

Excessive motion while operating can damage hard disks. Use caution when moving portable devices.

Manage vibration sources near computers

Isolate and dampen sources of vibration near computers to reduce interference with disk operation.

Carefully handle disks during installation

Always hold hard disks by their edges or mounting frame. Avoid touching delicate components.

Use safe removal practices

Never disconnect external hard disks while active. Safely eject them first to flush caches and prepare for removal.

Perform regular system backups

Backups to a separate device protects against data loss in case hard disk errors emerge. Test restores periodically.

Scrub new disks before use

For new disks, run the manufacturer’s disk tool to overwrite the entire disk. This stresses and cleans disk areas.

Avoid excessive disk fragmentation

Defragment disks regularly to optimize data layout and reduce stress from file scatter on the physical disk.

Monitor disk temperatures

Check disk temperatures under workload. Consider adding more cooling fans if operating too hot for extended periods.

Retire disks before expected failure

Monitor disk ages and retire older disks before failure likelihood increases steeply.


Hard disk errors stem from a range of hardware faults, firmware bugs, connection issues, misuse, mishandling, viruses, age, and more. But steps can be taken to prevent problems by managing physical environment factors, monitoring health metrics, updating firmware, running maintenance tools, and backing up data. Should errors emerge, utilities like CHKDSK and SpinRite can fix many problems or recover data. With proper precautions, the likelihood of severe disk failures can be significantly reduced. But it is still vital to maintain backups and have a disaster recovery plan. No computer hardware lasts forever.