What To Do When Your Hard Drive Fails

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A hard drive failure is an almost-inevitable part of a computer's life, and it can catch you by surprise. If your hard drive fails your computer will not start properly and may cause other problems like causing files to vanish. In some cases a failed hard drive can be caused by a physical problem, which often means your data is perfectly fine and only needs to be recovered using special software or by consulting a computer repair professional.


Though it may seem strange, the first step is to make sure that your hard drive is actually the problem, or to see if a maintenance procedure can help fix it. If you're still able to boot to your desktop—even if it's only in Safe Mode—scan your computer for viruses. Also try to run CHKDSK, which can also be done from safe mode. Finally, check all your physical connections to make sure all your cables are plugged in correctly and that none of the pins are damaged.

Use Another Computer

There are two different ways you can make use of a second computer to try to recover your data if you have one available:

  1. Connect your failing hard drive to another computer via a USB universal drive adapter or dock. Your hard drive may become visible and accessible through My Computer, at which point you may be able to copy the data on it to the other computer's working drive.
  2. Install the failing hard drive as a secondary drive on the second computer. This is a little different than simply connecting the drive via USB, and it may have a higher chance of giving you access to the data within. However, the caveat here is there is also a chance that whatever caused the other hard drive to fail may affect your working drive if it is not fixed first.

Use Recovery Software

If you can connect your hard drive to a working computer, recovery software may be able to help snag the old hard drive's data even if you can't see it in My Computer or through any other means. Depending on the reason your hard drive failed this may not work; a drive with physical damage or severe logical failures may be too much for at-home recovery software. Before you shell out money for a recovery program, try to find out what's causing the failure in the first place. Getting a professional opinion may be cheaper than buying software, and trying it yourself may be cheaper than paying for the recovery service.

See A Professional

Paying for a professional to try to recover your old hard drive's data can be pricey, but it's often worth it. Data recovery professionals can often pull your data even from severely damaged drives. Still, there's no 100 percent guarantee, but they have tools that can do a better job than basic recovery programs or hard drive swaps. If the data on your old hard drive is worth the price, it's a good service to make use of. Just make sure you call around and get some estimates first.