The hard drive or hard disk drive is a large component in your computer that stores all your user software and all the files you create. There are two sizes predominantly - the 3½" size for desktop computers and the 2½" size for notebook computers. For the average user, a new hard drive is expensive at around 10% of the total cost of the computer.
For more information see also "How a hard drive works".
Unfortunately hard disk drives have a limited life span. Somewhere between 3-5 years is the normal life span of a hard drive, depending on how much work it does on a day to day basis. Environmental conditions also play a significant part in determining the life duration of the hard drive.
Principal causes of failure of hard drives include:
As a computer user you must take account of the fact that a hard drive has a limited life span. It is very likely that one day your hard drive will stop working without warning. If this is due to mechanical or electronic failure of the hard drive, you will lose all the information on it unless you have made a back-up.
If you are lucky, you may get a warning. You may get a message from the computer saying that "hard disk failure is imminent". If this happens , then you must take immediate steps to back up your user files and seek technical assistance.
Other signs of possible hard drive failure include:
The very best thing you can do if you think there are signs of hard disk failure is to create a full image of your hard drive. There are two ways of doing this but you will likely need an experienced computer fixer to carry out the following.
Method 1: You can install software such as Acronis True Image on the computer to create the full image of the hard drive and then attach an external hard drive on which the image is stored.
Method 2: Take the hard drive out of the computer and attach it to another computer that has Acronis True Image installed already by using a hard drive docking bay. Then use the image creation software to create and store the image either on the second computer or an external hard drive atttached to it.
You need to create this full image while your operating system still boots up. If you can do this, you have survived. You can purchase a new hard drive to which the image can then be transferred.
If your computer no longer boots up but the hard drive appears to be still working, then repairs to the operating can be attempted before creating an image. If the repairs to the operating system are successful then create the image as soon as you can.
If the hard drive appears to be working but repairs to the operating system fail, then the best strategy is to copy the user files to a new location as quickly as possible before the hard drive stops working completely. When you purchase a new hard drive you will need to start from scratch and reinstall the operating system and all the software you previously had on the old hard disk. Then put back all your user files which you saved from old hard drive.
If the hard drive appears to be no longer working i.e. it makes clicks or other funny noises, then basically you have lost your data. While it is possible to take the disks (platters) out an put them in another identical hard disk, this procedure requires a dustless environment, special tools, lots of knowledge and a steady hand. In reality, this is not something that computer fixers do, and the cost could be in the 1000's if you can find the appropriate experts.