Crashed Hard Drive - How to Recover Data from Failing Drives

It is a pain to deal with crashed hard drive, especially when you're working on a tight deadline. Luckily, we are here to help!
Almost all of us have encountered at least one software crash in our lives, but did you know that a hard drive can crash too? After reading this article, you will understand the causes of hard drive crashes and know the steps you need to take when you encounter a crashed hard drive.

First, what does a hard drive crash mean? Simply put, hard drive crash – also known as hard drive failure – means the hard drive has encountered some kind of malfunction and fails to operate correctly.

The term hard drive crash originally meant a specific issue where the read/write head of a hard disk touches the platter inside it, according to PC World. Today, this problem is better known as a “head crash”, and we describe a hard drive as having crashed when it encounters any of the many types of hard drive failures.

A hard drive crash might in the least severe case only slow down the operating system on your computer. However, even the smallest signs of hard drive failure shouldn’t be ignored as it could result in a dead drive and lost data and files.

Let’s start by exploring the signs and symptoms of hard drive crash, so that you a sudden loss of data will not take you by surprise.

What Happens When a Hard Drive Crashes?


A broken hard drive sliced in half

The actual mechanics and causes of a crashed hard drive vary from case to case. A hard disk may crash for any number of reasons, but generally the causes of a crashed hard drive can be split into two broad categories – physical and logical crashes.

It’s important to be aware of this distinction, as it can affect the options available to you for repairs and data recovery. Here we will take a closer look at both of these failure categories.

Physical Hard Drive Crash

A physical hard drive crash occurs when something goes mechanically wrong with your hard disk. A traditional hard disk drive (HDD) has several moving parts inside of it, and they can break because of age or user error just like the parts of any mechanical device.

The aforementioned head crash incident is one type of physical crash. The read/write head usually glides over the hard disk platter on a thin air cushion, according to HowStuffWorks.

If the head moves over a dust particle, for example, the air pocket disappears, causing the head to scratch the platter. As your data and files are stored in sectors across the platter, this event can easily destroy an entire hard drive.

Other causes of physical crashes include read/write head misalignment, circuitry failure or degradation, and water damage. While any of these cases can be fatal, usually the stored data can be recovered.

Modern SSD drives, which are increasingly popular, don’t have any moving parts inside them, and as such they are immune to most physical hard drive crashes. However, they can still encounter different kinds of physical failures.

An SSD drive contains a capacitor and power supplies, and a power surge could easily fry some internal components, says MakeUseOf. Both HDD and SSD drives are also vulnerable to rough handling, overheating, and water.

Logical Hard Drive Crash

In the case of a logical hard drive crash, it is the computer’s operating system that has encountered a failure and not the hard drive. As such, some experts don’t consider logical crashes a type of hard drive failure at all.

However, a logical crash can cause problems similar to a physical cause, such as data loss or corruption, according to UGetFix. It is good to be aware of the possibility, in any case!

Logical hard drive crashes can be caused by viruses, drive conflicts, or by simple human error in operating a computer.

How Do I Know My Hard Drive Has Crashed?

Internal Mechanics Of A Hard Disk Drive

In the most extreme case, you will know your hard drive failed when your computer suddenly stops working. This is when it’s time to start data recovery procedures to try and minimize the damage.

However, there are many symptoms that precede total hard drive failure and data loss. It’s good to be aware of these ailments, since it is very likely that you will eventually encounter at least one of them. According to ExtremeTech, 20% of hard drives will crash within their first four years of use.

Here are the six most common symptoms of hard disk problems:

  1. Strange or unusually loud noises.
  2. Computer crashes or fails to boot up (e.g. Blue Screen of Death).
  3. Slowness and extended loading times.
  4. Frequent error messages (e.g. read/write errors or data access error).
  5. Corrupted or lost data and files.
  6. Appearance of bad sectors.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, your drive may be at risk of failing. While none of them alone is a sign of a crashed hard drive, failing is only a matter of time if you encounter them on a regular basis.

Can I Fix a Failing Hard Drive?

If your hard drive is showing signs of hardware failure but hasn’t crashed yet, you may be able to fix it yourself. Your first step in this process should be to run a health diagnostics test with a free tool, like CrystalDiskInfo.

If the tool shows that your hard drive is indeed at risk, you should determine the type of failure. Slow load times and software crashes are indicative of a logical crash. In this case, reinstalling the operating system on your computer or using registry clean-up tools like CCleaner can possibly fix your issues.

If you hear strange noises from the drive or the drive runs extremely hot, you are most likely dealing with a physical issue. If you decide to try and fix this kind of a problem yourself, there are online sites like iFixIt that provide DIY repair instructions for many devices.

However, you should make sure to handle your hard drive with utmost care if you attempt to repair it yourself. Hard drives are highly sensitive devices, and without exaggeration a single wrong move could destroy the drive and make data recovery impossible.

If you don’t know how to fix a crashed hard drive, it is best to turn to data recovery professionals for help.

Can I Recover Data from a Failed Hard Drive?

A hand holding an opened hard drive
If your drive has already failed and your computer won’t read the data – or start up at all – you still shouldn’t panic. It is highly possible that your data and all your files are still safe; you just can’t access them.

Performing crashed hard drive data recovery on your own is possible, and there are many free tools available, like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard. Again, logical crashes are more suitable for DIY data recovery methods.

But, depending on the type of issue, home remedies might not cut it even with logical crashes. Data recovery software can also be difficult to use without at least intermediate knowledge of computer file systems.

In the case in which you’re dealing with a true physical hard drive crash, it is best you do not attempt crashed hard drive recovery on your own. Even with expert knowledge, opening your hard drive improperly is the quickest way to ensure your data and important files are gone for good.

Why Should I Trust TTR to Recover my Files?

Companies offering professional crashed hard drive data recovery services, like TTR Data Recovery, can ensure that you will get your precious data back, no matter what kind hard drive problems you’re facing – be it a virus attack, hard disk failure, file system crash, hardware failure, or problem in the power supply.

When it comes to dealing with physical hard drive crashes, TTR has precisely the tools needed to ensure full data recovery. All TTR Data Recovery technicians are fully ISO 9001 and SOC Type II-certified, and all repairs are done in an ISO 5 Class 100-certified cleanroom.

TTR is similarly well-positioned to deal with logical crashes. Without professional diagnostics and tools, commercial data recovery software can only do so much.

To determine the precise issue affecting your hard drive and the appropriate cause of action to recover your important data, TTR offers a 100% free diagnostics service. If we find your hard drive to be beyond redemption, it will be shipped back to you free of charge.

Having read this guide, you can now recognize when your hard drive and data are in danger. If you think your hard drive could be crashing, request help from TTR Data Recovery.

Tommy Khamoushi - Data Recovery Expert for TTR Data Recovery

About the Author
Tommy Khamoushi, Data Recovery Expert

Tommy Khamoushi is an IACRB-certified Data Recovery Engineer and a Certified Forensic Computer Investigator. He has more than 20 years of experience in data recovery including providing technical support for the House of Representatives.

Tommy leads a team of data recovery engineers and experts at TTR Data Recovery to recover highly sensitive data for government agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and enterprise businesses using advanced and proprietary techniques and processes.

Connect with Tommy on LinkedIn.