What to do if your Hard Drive Fails

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Richard M. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

My hard drive has been making strange noises for a time, and today, it finally failed.

The drive will boot up only to a certain point and then stop altogether; I cannot access my desktop or anything else. I ran a Windows 98 startup floppy and managed to do a scandisk, but when it scans the hard drive for surface errors, it stops at 21% and the noise from hard drive starts up again; it won't allow any further scanning.

I tried using a program designed to fix hard drive's called 'PC Beginner' and it failed as well. I was wondering if there were any way I could recover just 'My Documents' from this defective drive? Could I install a new hard drive with a new operating system, leave the defective drive in place, then access info on it from the new one? Or is there another file recovery program I could try, keeping in mind that I no longer can boot up anything on the defective drive. Your comments will be appreciated! Thanks a lot! "

My response:

Since the drive keeps failing at 21% on a surface scan, that would suggest to me that you have a bad sector on the drive (rather than perhaps that your motherboard has a bad hard drive controller).

As for your suggestion: installing a new [temporary] hard drive, formatting it, installing Windows, and copying over the contents of your old drive is the same route I would take. Note that if your hard drive is corrupt in more than one area, the data you copy over may not be valid. Nonetheless, it's worth a shot.

RE: What to do after your data has been copied over

1. Format the old hard drive using a low-level format. MaxLLF works great for this an it operates under pure DOS. It will basically format the drive by putting a "0" in each sector of the drive, testing the consistency of the drive as it moves along. It will no doubt take a long time to process. If MaxLLF fails at any point, then most likely your drive is toast. In that case, proceed to Step #2.


Get a bootable Windows 98 SE boot disk here:


2. Visit your hard drive manufacturer's web site and download a diagnostic utility that will tell you if the drive is defective. If it is, the software should also provide information on how to send the device back for repair; otherwise this information would be available on the manufacturer's web site (probably under "RMA return", or such).

Also note that most hard drive manufacturers will do an advanced swap whereby you give them your credit card # and they send you out a new unit, and you mail yours back in the same packaging. If you don't send your unit back in time then they charge your credit card for the price of the drive.

One more note: if you want to upgrade your hard drive at this point, ask if they can send you a bigger drive and you'll pay the difference. I've done this in the past ;-)

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