Avast Academy Performance Hardware How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

How to Check if Your Hard Drive Is Failing

Hard drive failure can have catastrophic consequences, but monitoring your hard drive’s health can help you avoid critical data loss. Keep reading to learn how to test your hard drive, and how a performance optimization tool like Avast Cleanup can keep your disk tidy.

Written by Anthony Freda
Published on August 2, 2021

Start by conducting a S.M.A.R.T. hard drive test

S.M.A.R.T. is a hard-drive monitoring system that tests whether your storage device is about to fail. You can check any hard drive for errors with this tool, including on Windows, Mac, or Linux. S.M.A.R.T. is even included on other large-capacity drives like SSDs.

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This Article Contains:

    S.M.A.R.T tests provide the quickest and clearest answer to the question, “Is it time to replace my hard drive?”

    The S.M.A.R.T. test will not tell you if it’s time to back up your data, as the answer to that question is almost always yes.

    What does S.M.A.R.T stand for?

    S.M.A.R.T. stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology. A S.M.A.R.T. test predicts the lifespan of your drive. Run it if you suspect your drive is about to fail, and act quickly if you get a negative result.

    How to run a hard drive S.M.A.R.T. test on Windows

    Running a hard drive check on Windows 10 is an absolute cinch. Here’s how to run a S.M.A.R.T. hard drive test on PC:

    1. Type cmd in the taskbar and click Command Prompt.

      A screenshot of a PC user entering "cmd" in the taskbar, and the Command Prompt app is circled.
    2. Type or paste the following command: wmic diskdrive get status.

      A screenshot of the command prompt, with the command input and ready to be executed: "wmic diskdrive get status."
    3. Results will read either “OK” or “Pred Fail.” The first line of results applies to your C: drive (the main partition of your hard drive), while the other results apply to any other drive you’ve got connected.

      A screenshot of the SMART test results in command prompt; a line reading "OK" appears below the input, which is "wmic diskdrive get status."
    • OK means just that: you’ve got nothing to worry about.

    • Pred Fail is bad news, and it’s a sure sign that you should back up and replace your drive. When the included software diagnoses a problem, you’d better listen.

    Hopefully you got good results on the S.M.A.R.T. test for Windows. Now clean up your PC to keep everything running smoothly.

    How to run CHKDSK in Windows

    To run CHKDSK in Windows, type CHKDSK in the taskbar. CHKDSK can check the health of your drive and look for corrupted data. It will even fix the problems it finds, if it can.

    A disk check probably won’t improve the results of a S.M.A.R.T. test, but it’s a good idea to do everything you can when your data is at stake. If your S.M.A.R.T. test returns the Pred Fail result, run CHKDSK to repair and back up as much data as possible. After that, replace the hard drive immediately.

    How to run a hard drive S.M.A.R.T. test on Mac

    Running an HDD test on Mac is just as easy as on PC. Here’s how to run a S.M.A.R.T. test on Mac:

    1. Go to /Applications/Utilities and open Disk Utility.

      Opening Disk Ulility in Mac to run a hard drive test.
    2. Select the disk you want to test on the left side of the window — pick the disk itself, not one of the subcategories underneath.

      Running a S.M.A.R.T. test in macOS.
    3. Look at the result next to S.M.A.R.T. status. “Verified” is good. “Failing” is bad. Anything with “fatal,” “problem,” or “error” is very bad, and you don’t have much time to back up your files before the drive fails.

    When you get a good result on any disk maintenance software, you feel reassured that everything will work as it’s supposed to for the foreseeable future. Why not go a little further by cleaning up the hard drive on your Mac?

    How to tell if your hard drive is failing

    Signs of hard drive failure are often noisy and unusual. You’ll notice new behavior that seems off, and it should be clear that something isn’t right. Let’s look at each of the symptoms of hard drive failure and find out what they mean.

    Signs of hard drive failure

    These are the hard-drive failure symptoms that should prompt you to think about replacing your hard drive, or at least running a S.M.A.R.T. scan.

    • icon_01Overheating: Your hard drive can overheat for many reasons, like dust collecting or a fan getting old and dirty. The subsequent heat can damage the components in and around the hard drive. If you’re feeling lots of heat, it may be time to replace these components.

    • icon_02Strange noises: Unusual sounds, like grinding or whining noises, can indicate an internal component on its last legs. A fan or hard drive might be struggling against the weight of overuse. You might not need to replace the whole system, but a data loss could happen if you’re not careful.

    • icon_03Corrupted data, files, and folders: One of the surest signs of a dying hard drive is data corruption. Data becomes corrupted when the disk itself is having problems retaining information. If part of the disk has started to degrade, there’s a good chance the rest is soon to follow.

    • icon_04Blue Screen of Death errors: Error screens are usually the result of data becoming unexpectedly inaccessible. A computer can fix this automatically by moving essential system files to a new part of the drive. Repeated blue screens mean your hard drive is failing, and your computer is having a difficult time keeping your files safe.

    • icon_05Freezing or slowdowns: A slower computer could mean that your files are becoming harder to access. Corrupted sectors can build up and cause files to split into fragments. This makes it harder for your drive to open a file and increases mechanical wear.

    • icon_06Stuck spindle motor: Physical trauma to the machine while it’s in use can ruin the mechanism that spins up the disk. Either the spindle fails to turn, or it stutters as it turns. This doesn’t necessarily mean the data is irretrievable, but you definitely won’t be using this drive anymore.

    • icon_07Bad sectors preventing data access: Bad sectors exist on virtually every hard drive, but age correlates with more bad sectors. Inaccessible segments of the hard drive can ruin important data and decrease the amount of usable space on your hard drive. If the number of bad sectors has spiked recently, the usable space on your drive will continue to shrink.

    • icon_08Frequent error messages during normal operations, irregular system crashes, and disk errors: These can often occur because of bad sectors, where the computer expects to find certain data and finds only gibberish instead. These sectors may be fixed by the CHKDSK tool, but sometimes they can’t. One or two bad sectors are nothing to worry about. But if they start to increase, you’ve got a serious problem.

    • icon_09Operating system unable to boot: A hard drive can become so compromised that it fails to boot system files at all. Data may still be retrievable, but you’ve run out of grace periods at this point. It’s time to recover your data and get a new hard drive.

    Avast Cleanup regularly declutters your drive to help prevent the issues described above. It cleans up the registry, deletes unnecessary files from old versions of apps, and optimizes the usage of your drive. Try it for free today so you never have to worry about your HDD suddenly melting.

    Free hard drive testing programs

    S.M.A.R.T. test results tell you only whether the drive is likely going to fail soon. If you want a more in-depth analysis of your drive’s performance, you’ll need to scan your hard drive for errors with a third-party program:

    • CrystalDiskInfo for Windows

    • iStat Menus for Mac

    • GSmartControl for Windows, Mac, and Linux

    • HDDScan for Windows

    • DiskCheckup for Windows

    • Ariolic Disk Scanner for Windows

    These apps provide results to a whole range of smaller tests — some of which correlate more strongly with an impending hard-drive failure than others. Don’t worry about the specific numbers in the example screenshot below, because those are chosen by and for the manufacturer. The color-coded symbol tells you everything you need to know.

    Each of these tools provides a table of results similar to this:

    The results table of a S.M.A.R.T. test run through the app HDDScan. Several different attributes are listed with a green light next to each, indicating that they're ok.Testing your hard drive with HDDScan for Windows.

    The table above is helpful if you or a hired technician needs a specific piece of raw data. If not, just go by the result given in the command prompt. Don’t feel pressured to install any of these apps unless an expert says you should, or if you want to take advantage of the tools’ other features.

    In addition to more detailed HDD S.M.A.R.T. test results, these apps can check the status of your RAM and monitor your CPU temperature.

    Back up your hard drive before it fails

    Imagine a scenario where your hard drive seems invincible. You run a S.M.A.R.T. test every day for a year and you get a bad result every one of those days — and still no failure. Could you still be forgiven when, on the 366th consecutive day of running this test, your hard drive fails? Avoid catastrophic data loss by backing up your hard drive now.

    Storage drives have been decreasing in price, both HDDs and SSDs, and the backup process couldn’t be easier: all you need to do is copy the contents from one drive to another. A failing hard drive doesn’t need to be the end of the world.

    Make sure to completely wipe the old hard drive so that your personal information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Bear in mind that some data can still be recovered if you format your hard drive, so it’s not the same as wiping it.

    Does none of this apply to you? Is your drive still working as well as the day you bought your computer? If you’ve run the S.M.A.R.T. hard drive test and everything checks out, regular maintenance can extend the life of your drive. This can involve defragmenting your PC (you can defrag a Mac, too, though you shouldn’t need to) and freeing up disk space.

    Revive your hard drive with Avast Cleanup

    What if you’ve run the test and everything comes back fine, but your computer still moves at a headache-inducing crawl? What if you just want to keep hard drive issues to a minimum?

    Enter Avast Cleanup. Avast Cleanup can identify and throw away anything weighing your computer down, whether that means flushing the cache in your browser, emptying the recycling bin, or uninstalling unnecessary apps. The sudden difference in performance and speed will make it feel like your drive has been completely revived. Try Avast Cleanup today to feel the difference.

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    Anthony Freda