Many things can go wrong with your PC, but few things are as challenging as a hard drive failure. The hard drive (also referred to as a hard disk and HDD) stores all of your personal data, program files, and even the computer's operating system. If this fails, your PC is basically useless.
Here are the ways to check your HDD’s health and common symptoms to watch out for. All of these tips are designed for Windows 10 PC users, but Windows 11 users can use most of them, too.
Symptoms of hard drive failure
What does a failing drive look or sound like? The primary symptoms include longer boot-up times from a full shutdown and the dreaded blue screen of death (where nothing shows up on your computer screen but a blue screen). Two more signs are if your PC starts to shut down sporadically or if it provides BIOS errors when you power it on.
Your disk check utility may run automatically when your PC recovers from a shutdown, and this will give you a peek at its issues. If the utility doesn’t run on its own – and you're unsure if the problems are indeed related to your hard drive – use the steps below to rule out hard drive errors.
How to do an HDD health check
After its first error, a hard drive can fail completely within a matter of weeks. It’s important not to waste any time in running these checks to put your mind at ease. Take the following steps to get the most comprehensive look at your hard drive health.
1. Use your HP Support Assistant
If you own an HP desktop or laptop, you’re in luck because your PC includes a hands-free utility that will diagnose disk problems with a few simple steps. To run your HP Support utility:
Type “HP Support Assistant” in the search field of your start menu and click it to open.
On the left-hand side of the program window, choose Fixes and Diagnostics, then launch Run Hardware Diagnostics. If the updated diagnostic tool isn’t on your computer, you’ll see a prompt to download and install it.
Choose the system test appropriate for a hard drive, typically listed as “disk read verify” or similar.
It takes a few minutes for the test to complete, but once it finishes, your HP Assistant will tell you if your hard disk functions properly.
Not an HP user? Your PC manufacturer should include a similar utility or program to test hard drive health. You can always check your computer manufacturer’s website for details or contact their support team.
2. Run Windows CHKDSK tool
Another simple way to check your disk is with a CHKDSK command prompt action. Here’s how to do it:
Type “cmd” into the search field of your start menu. This will allow you to open a Command Prompt window. Be sure to choose Run as Administrator if given the option.
Once the window opens – it should resemble a small black box with white font – type in “chkdsk”.
Hit Enter and allow the program to run.
You will see some text scrolling on the screen until the program finishes. Do not interrupt the process, navigate away from the tab, or power down the computer. An interruption won’t worsen your disk errors, but it may cause you to miss the final outcome of the scan, which is important to know the health of your HDD.
Once you finish the hard drive test, you should see a brief report of any bad sectors on your hard drive or any issues that need fixing. If you see no errors, your HDD is healthy.
3. Check the BIOS
If you’re comfortable with accessing your PC’s BIOS, you have the option to use it to check disk health status. Here’s how:
Turn your PC off and then on again.
Immediately after it powers on and before the OS logo appears, press the F12 key. Note that this key may be different based on your manufacturer. Some PCs require F2 or Delete.
You can now access the BIOS from the boot screen to find a disk check option in the settings. This differs depending on your PC, so you may have to look around your BIOS a bit to find it. An HDD health check scan should tell you the same information as the scan in step 1.
4. Use third-party monitoring software
You can purchase third-party software tools that automate the process of disk scanning and repair. Some antivirus companies may also bundle these with programs that diagnose and handle “PC health” or something similar.
Use any third-party tool at your own caution, because there is no guarantee it will catch something different from your PC’s existing tools. However, if you’re not PC savvy and need to check for a variety of problems at once, a third-party tool may be helpful.
What to do if your hard drive is failing
If your computer passes the checks mentioned above, congrats! You likely have a healthy hard drive. It’s also likely that a failing disk isn’t causing any issues you experience, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. If you continue to see a blue screen of death or other glitches, consider reaching out to a reputable PC repair service.
What can you do if your tests come back with bad results? You should assume that complete hard drive failure is imminent and begin to look for a new hard drive. It’s only a matter of time before it fails, and you don’t want to lose all of your precious files and programs.
You should also consider investing in a new PC if it’s more affordable. If it’s been a long time since you purchased your computer, you may find a new computer is more affordable than a hard drive replacement. This is particularly true if you’re in the market for some of the latest tech features.
If your PC is nearing 3 years old, it's worth looking into how tech has changed since then. There are newer processors, upgrades within Windows 11, and other reasons to consider upgrading. If you were thinking of buying a new PC soon anyway, hard drive failure may be the nudge you need.
Once you get your PC, don’t wait for your original drive to fail. A PC migration is fast and easy, especially with the help of a professional. A quick migration will ensure important files make it onto your new computer before your original drive fails.
How to make your hard drive last longer
Whether you trade up for a new PC or replace your failing drive with a new one, there are things you can do to keep your hard drive working better, longer.
Avoid bumps and bruises
This may seem obvious, but it’s crucial to avoid bumping or knocking around your computer. Shock is bad for the hard drive, which is more prone to damage when it is working.
Make sure your HDD – and entire PC – has proper ventilation. Heat buildup can stress the internal workings of the drive and reduce its lifespan. Check your computer case for adequate airflow and cooling.
Consider a new case
If you play video games or use your PC for many hours each day, consider a case made for gaming. It should have additional fans or cooling accessories to control the temperature. Avoid dust buildup because dust can reduce airflow and become a hard drive killer.
Schedule disk utility for regular use
Don’t hesitate to run a disk utility defrag program regularly. While you may have to remember to do it yourself, some PCs run the program on a schedule. To find the defrag tool for your PC, go to the start menu and search for Defragment and Optimize Drives. Open the app and turn on the scheduled optimization option to run at least once per week.
You can also run a manual defragment as you’re reading this. This will let you select the disk drives to check. You can get a view of each drive, find out when they were last defragged, and their status. If the previous check was successful without any issues, it will read “OK.”
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.
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