Hard disk failures

A mechanical hard disk is a complex device. Modern hard drives are fairly reliable, yet they do still fail, when they do they will typically fail in one of the following 4 ways:


Hard disks are made from many components but when they fail mechanically the fault will in most instances manifest themselves as an abnormal noise from the disk. Typically this will be a repetitive clicking from the disk or a laboured sound as though the disk cannot spin up as it should.

Clicking will in almost all instances will mean the read/write heads have failed. The clicking derives from the fact the disk is trying to power on and initialise but cannot, the disk then resets resulting in the clicking noise, most other noises will mean the disk cannot spin normally whether the disk spindle has or has partially seized.


Firmware is a hybrid of both hardware and software. In its simple most form it is a piece of software which is hardcoded onto a piece of hardware. Firmware failed disks can manifest themselves in many ways and can also display the symptoms of other failures such and clicking and spinning with no response from the disk.


When disks fail electronically the disk will not show any sign of behaviour and will appear totally lifeless.

Some, even IT professionals believe swapping circuit boards from a similar disk will result in the disk becoming operative again but this is not true. This can in fact lead to further and more problematic disk failure.

Media Degradation

Media degradation is the fault which will cause all disks to fail over a long enough timeline. Typically it isn't experienced because users of a disk will upgrade before the disk fails in this way but time is in no way the only factor for disks that fail this way. It is uncommon but not unheard of for brand new disks to fail in this manner.

In all instances when a disk fails power should be pulled and advise sought. Consider the importance of the data, if it can be replaced without the need for expert intervention then the data loss is of low importance but if it cannot you need to seek specialised help.

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