Hard DriveWhat is a hard drive?

The hard drive (also known as the disk drive, or hard disk) is a piece of hardware located within nearly every desktop and laptop in this day and age. For those who aren’t aware, the term hardware refers to any part of the computer which can be physically held/touched/manipulated (as opposed to software – something like Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop – which is more akin to knowledge).

The hard drive is most often rectangular in shape and is typically about the size of a small book (laptop hard drive’s tend to be a bit smaller as they must fit within a tighter frame).

If you were to open up your computer right now you would likely see something similar to the pictures above. The top and sides of a hard drive are generally quite simple – you will most often see a few flat pieces of metal or plastic. The bottom of the hard drive is somewhat more interesting. On it you will most often see a printed circuit board – a greenish board inundated with small components of varying colours and sizes. You may also see a large metallic circle – this is the hard drive’s platter, the area where all of your computers information is held).

The Role of the Hard Drive

We here at Seymour Computer Repair tend to think of the hard drive as your computers long term memory.

The goal of your hard drive is to:

  1. Permanently store your personal documents
  2. Permanently store your operating system (Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Unix, Linux …) and its settings
  3. Permanently store your software applications (Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Paint, Firefox

The main idea here is that it stores information permanently. Even when you turn off your computer for the night, all of your personal documents, operating system files, and software application files will remain. This is in contrast with random access memory (RAM) which is volatile and erases itself once the power goes off.

Symptoms of Hard Drive Failure

Hard drive failure is usually of 2 kinds: logical or physical.

  • Physical hard drive failure results from problems with the  physical insides of a hard drive. For example, your hard drive may have a faulty or defective: actuator arm, head, platter, or spindle! Don’t worry yourself too much about these details, just note that these are all actual, physical parts within your hard drive.
  • Logical hard drive failure results from problems with the information on a hard drive. For example, your hard drive might have forgotten/lost some of your information or it may simply be unable to access it.

Symptoms of Physical Hard Drive Failure

  • A computer which makes strange noises upon starting up (often described as clicking, popping, or grinding): In situations such as these – there is often something wrong with the actuator arm, head, or platter. I won’t go into too much detail – however, a hard drive acts somewhat like a record player. The actuator arm moves the head in such a way as to read specific information from the platter. When something goes out of alignment, physical problems are said to have occurred and you will likely get strange noises as components bump together unintentionally.
  • A computer which makes no noise whatsoever upon starting up: Usually when a computer is turned on you will hear a small wooshing sound as the computer performs a few diagnostics and starts things up. No sound can mean a number of things – however, one of those possibilities is a physically dead hard drive
  • A computer which makes a strange beeping sound as it starts up: As a computer starts up it performs a bunch of diagnostics designed to check whether all of its critical parts are in working order. If everything is OK then your computer will load up normally. If, however, a critical problem is found then your computer will emit a bunch of strange beeps. These strange, seemingly random, beeps are actually a beep code – a special signal telling you or a computer repair technician why your computer won’t load.

Symptoms of Logical Hard Drive Failure

  • A computer which refuses to load its operating system: When a computer first turns on it looks for a bunch of special start-up files. If, for some reason, it is unable to access any of these essential start-up files, possibly because of hard drive corruption,  it will likely give you an obscure error message alerting you to the fact that it is unable to proceed. Look for a white text error message on a black background referring to missing files. If you see anything like that you likely have a logical hard drive problem.
  • A computer which freezes when you attempt to open particular programs or files:  Sometimes logical problems aren’t hard drive wide; they don’t prevent the whole computer from starting up. Rather, they are isolated to a few small sections of the hard drive. In this case, problems can manifest themselves solely under certain conditions such as when you open a particular program or file.
  • A computer which acts erratically or abnormally: We here at Seymour Computer Repair detest the erratic and abnormal computer because it can be as a result of so many different problems. One of these potential problems is that of a logical hard drive failure. What do we mean when we say erratic or abnormal? It’s oftentimes hard to say – however, if your usually stable computer suddenly starts restarting or giving you error messages or freezing up – you may have a logical problem.

Whew! That was quite a mouthful now wasn’t it! If you are perplexed at this point don’t worry too much – in complex cases , or if you are very uncomfortable with computer repair, then you will have to take your PC into a computer repair expert. In that case, simply think of this as a learning exercise. With all that out of the way – on to the next, and most important section …

Hard Drive Repair

Hard drives can not be repaired in the conventional sense; you can’t simply open up your computer, take your  hard drive out, and fix it with a screwdriver or hammer. Instead you have to approach hard drive repair through the use of software – special programs designed to fix informational problems.

As you are already aware, hard drive’s can run into physical problems as well as logical problems. We will begin our discussion with the former then proceed to the latter.

Physical hard drive repair

Unfortunately, physical hard drive problems are bad! If you have a hard drive with a physical problem – most often exemplified by a machine which emits a clicking or popping sound –  then there is very little you can do. A hard drive is an extremely complicated device and, generally speaking, you can’t simply go and buy a new part to replace the old, broken one. Even if you could you would likely have an extremely difficult time replacing the part!

The best you can usually do in this situation is to take your machine to a reputable computer repair shop. If all goes well, the computer repair expert will determine that you don’t actually have a physical hard drive problem at all. If things don’t go well and you really do have a physically dead hard drive then you will likely need to take your hard drive to a data recovery shop – data recovery shops focus solely on gathering data from dead hard drives and tend to be quite expensive.

Logical hard drive repair

If you are unable to load your operating system then perform a start-up repair. A start-up repair is a general procedure in which Windows goes through its operating system files looking for potential corruption and errors. You can find more about Windows start-up repair here. The general procedure should be as follows (at least for Windows 7).

  1. Go get your Windows 7 CD or DVD
  2. Place it into your CD or DVD tray
  3. Boot your computer via the CD or DVD. Take a look at our booting guide if need be.
  4. Look for something called Startup Repair. Click it!
  5. Let Windows do it’s thing – it will tell you when its done.

If you can access Window but are experiencing weird anomalies
then there may be small isolated logical problems on your hard drive. The easiest way to move forward is to use Windows built in error checking tool which you can read about here. The general steps are as follows:

  1. Click on the Windows symbol in the bottom left corner and click on Computer.
  2. Right click on your hard drive (usually it is C drive) and select Properties.
  3. Click on the Tools tab and click on Check now (located within the error checking area).
  4. Let Windows do its thing. It should tell you if it has found any problems and whether or not it has been able to solve the problems it has found.

If Windows built in error checking doesn’t repair your hard drive issues
then you may want to try a third party solution. One of the best free diagnostic programs is Seagate SeaTools which can be found here. SeaTools comes in 2 flavours: one is a normal Windows program while the other is meant to be booted up from a CD or a floppy disk (assuming you have one – you probably don’t :] ). Seymour Computer Repair generally prefers ease of use so we recommend that you give the normal Windows program a shot. We won’t go into great depth on how to use it but here are the basic steps:

  1. Click on the download link under SeaTools forWindows
  2. Download and install SeaTools.
  3. Load the program and click the check box next to your hard drive.
  4. Click on the Basic Tests tab
  5. Start with Short Drive Self Test. Additionally you can try the Long Drive Self Test.
  6. Follow any instructions SeaTools gives you.

Hard Drive Summary

As has been discussed – the hard drive is probably the most important hardware device within your desktop or laptop. It’s primary purpose is to act as your computers long term memory – allowing for long term storage of your operating system, software applications, and personal information.

Like most physical devices, the hard drive can run into trouble; most often hard drive failure is classified as being either physical (relating to its internal parts) or logical (relating to the information residing on it).  Physical hard drive failure is an extremely serious problem which is unlikely to be serviceable by any normal computer user. Rather a specialized computer repair business or data recovery specialist will likely need to take a look at it. Logical hard drive failure, on the other hand, can sometimes be fixed via simple software programs such as Windows built in Error Checker or Seagate SeaTools.

After reading this article we hope you have come away with 2 important ideas:

  1. You, the casual computer user, can in fact repair some of your computers problems
  2. Back up your personal files in at least one additional location in case your hard drive truly expires.

So there you have it – the computers hard drive!