Symptoms: Slow or inconsistent performance, errors when attempting to access files, computer unable to boot, louder-than-usual drive clicking or activity noises (for mechanical HDDs only).
Losing the hard drive in a computer is one the most devastating failures you can experience, since the data is often the most valuable part of it. Even if all of the other components fail, the drive can still be pulled and the data transferred. But data recovery services for failed hard drives can cost thousands of dollars, and they aren’t foolproof. If you don’t have a good backup system in place (and you should: there are plenty of products that do it), you should be checking your drive for errors regularly—detecting a failure early is the best way to prevent data loss.
As with RAM, some manufacturers (particularly business-class systems from the likes of Dell or HP) include their own diagnostic tools with their computers, either in the BIOS or on a disc—if they do, they’ll prefer data gathered with those tools to data gathered by others. Even so, you can generally convince them that you’re having problems if you tell them you’re experiencing one or more of the symptoms listed above along with confirmed bad sectors found by a tool like Microsoft’s Chkdsk. Whatever tool you run, it’s vitally important that you back up any data from a suspect drive before you run any of these scans, as they are quite intensive and may actually exacerbate problems in the process of detecting them.
Chkdsk is normally run in one of two ways, depending on whether you can get your computer to boot or not. If your computer can boot, you can initiate the scan from within Windows. In a Windows Explorer window, go to Computer and right-click the drive you’d like to scan. Click Properties in the menu that pops up. In the properties box for the drive, under the Tools tab, click “Check now” under the Error-checking section, check “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors,” and click Start. The computer will then offer to schedule a disk check for the next time you start the computer; accept the prompt and restart the system.
Running Chkdsk from the command line is actually a bit easier than using the GUI.
The other way to run Chkdsk is from the Windows install media, look here how to do so. Boot to the media and before you do anything, press Shift+F10 on your keyboard to bring up a command prompt window. Type chkdsk c: /r (assuming the drive you want to check is drive C) and wait for the results. Again, anything more than 0 KB in bad sectors on the disk means that it’s time for a replacement.