Signs of a Dying Laptop Hard Drive

by Christine Wheatley

Few computer problems cause more anxiety than a dying hard drive. Replacing components like random access memory (RAM) and video cards if your laptop is faulty may be inconvenient, but once they are installed your computer will run as it did before. When your hard drive fails, however, you lose important, sometimes irreplaceable data like documents, pictures, videos, emails and games. A laptop often has warning signs when its hard drive is about to fail, giving you a chance to save important data, see a professional and start the diagnostic process.

Abnormal Sounds

A new and unusual sound emanating from your laptop is generally a hallmark of trouble. Most healthy hard drives are almost silent while they are running, although a muted ticking sound is also normal. You will commonly hear new, loud sounds, such as grinding, clicking or whining, when the malfunction is due to a mechanical defect in the hard drive's internal components.

Problems Booting Up

You may turn your laptop on, only to find that your hard drive fails to boot up or boots up very slowly. Your hard drive may spin up as normal but fail to be detected by your laptop's operating system. An electronic failure of the hard drive can cause these problems, due to a malfunction of electronic components on the controller board of the hard disk. Your laptop might have suffered an electrical surge or power spike that affected the controller board. Defects to the firmware -- the software code controlling the hardware of the hard drive -- could also be the culprit.

File Errors

Other signs of a dying hard drive are cryptic and frequent error messages when performing regular activities, such as moving files. Look for scrambled or changed file and folder names, or disappearing folders and files. The information that comes up when you open a file or the information sent to the printer may also be garbled. These signs are most often caused by logical errors, where there is nothing physically wrong with the hard drive, just the information contained on it.

Other Signs

Various other signs can signal a laptop's hard drive failure, including sudden crashes and long waits for files or folders to appear once you have accessed them. These symptoms can be due to a mechanical problem of the hard drive's physical components or a logical error of the data contained on the hard drive.


While some laptops will give warnings signs of a dying hard drive, some may die with no warning whatsoever, therefore it is important to back up all your hard drive data on a regular basis, before your computer starts acting up. If you back up information after the computer exhibits warning signs, you run the risk of saving files that may already be corrupted. And while it is possible your laptop may work indefinitely with a hard drive defect, it is more likely that it will stop working soon -- take it to a data recovery specialist or a computer store that offers repair service for advice.

About the Author

Based in Royal Oak, Mich., Christine Wheatley has been writing professionally since 2009. She contributes to several websites, specializing in articles about fitness, diet and parenting. Wheatley has a Bachelor of Arts in art from Calvin College.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images