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Computer Hard Drive Troubleshooting Guide

Dan earned his CompTIA (CIOS) certification in 2010 and worked in the computer repair/networking industry for several years.

Consumer hard drives have changed over the years.

Consumer hard drives have changed over the years.

Troubleshooting Your Hard Drive

Consumer hard drive use has changed in the past decade. Solid-state technology is phasing out magnetic disk storage. Troubleshooting the individual storage types is different in some respects, but the method for problem isolation is the same.

Various glitches can occur when a hard drive begins to fail. Stop errors, freezes, and slowness are a few of them.

Pre-Troubleshooting Evaluation

Before troubleshooting, however, data stored on the drive must be evaluated. If it is mission-critical, it's generally recommended to steer clear of attempting troubleshooting or recovery yourself. Merely applying power to a failing drive can advance damage and render data inside impossible to recover. Data recovery specialists can efficiently do the job with minimized risk.

Isolating the Problem

Bypassing the hard drive by booting from a USB flash drive is one way to begin troubleshooting. Download and install a "live" version of Linux onto a USB flash drive from a working computer. Insert the drive into the problematic computer and boot from it — make sure the BIOS settings on the computer are set to allow booting from USB and that boot priority is given to the USB flash drive.

TIP: Keep in mind that there are different methods and even programs available to help install a bootable version of Linux onto a thumb drive. A site where Linux is available typically provides a tutorial for the procedure. Sometimes if the site is unclear on a certain point, other sites can be referenced.

If the computer starts up and displays Linux onscreen, all parts of the computer except for the hard drive are ruled out as the culprit. The hard drive is bypassed in the boot process and the result is a functioning computer with Linux running.

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Therefore, the hard drive and/or software on it must be the problem. If booting Linux doesn't work, it's an indication something else is wrong on the computer — not the hard drive.

Ruling Out Software Issues

After the problem has been isolated to the hard drive, further troubleshooting must be done. It's possible the hard drive (hardware) is not the issue, but instead a corrupt partitioning scheme, file system, operating system files, or virus — all of which are software. Options at this point are numerous. Free repair tools can be downloaded and installed onto a USB drive for use, similar to the way Linux can be used from a USB flash drive.

Operating system files can be checked, the partition or file system can be repaired, and viruses can be cleaned out.

Check Storage and Disable Programs

If all of these problems are ruled out, check the amount of space available on the hard drive — a minimum amount of free space is required for computers to run efficiently. It might be time to move files off the device. Disabling programs set to run at startup can also help with performance — too many programs running at the same time can cause various conflicts.

If the software repairs don't resolve the issue or stall while applying them, the hard drive (hardware) is likely broken. Hard drives are more often replaced than repaired.

What Else?

Intuition and experience also play a role in computer troubleshooting. The above guide can be used as a reference and not always a rule. There are different ways to troubleshoot depending on the system and symptoms. Manufacturer documentation and recall notifications are sometimes displayed on websites and can shed light on a problem.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dan Martino

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