What is Disk Crash? Symptoms, Causes, Recovery & More

What is Disk Crash?

A disk crash refers to the physical failure of a hard drive or a diskette, which is usually not recovered by the user.

Technically, a disk crash is the result of a head crash, stiction, bad sectors, circuit failure, motor or bearing failures, and other logical and software failures.


  • A disk crash will leave your hard drive and the data and files stored on it inaccessible. This may not be a welcome phenomenon to any user that can cause corruption of files and even data loss.
  • Some of the most common signs of a disk crash are slower performance, issues while booting the system or running the apps, receiving error messages more frequently, overheating and more.
  • Dust, water, shocks, and vibration are all causes of disk failure, shortening of their lifespan, and even crashes, if they are serious. Ideally, there are three most common causes of disk crash such as mechanical, logical, and firmware failures.
  • Proper usage, care, and maintenance of the computer system as well as the hard drive, especially if it is external, can prevent hard drive failure and disk crashes and preserve the data stored in it.
  • There are many ways in which data can be recovered from a crashed hard disk such as with Disk Management utility software or any other third-party data recovery software, Command Prompt, or by professional data recovery services.

Understanding Disk Crash

What is Disk Crash

A hard disk drive crash occurs when it stops functioning even when powered on.

There are lots of reasons for it to happen, right from dust and moisture buildup to technical and electrical faults.

In such an event, the data stored on the disk cannot be accessed by the user or a regularly configured computer system.

Depending on the reasons, the extent of damage caused to the hard disk can be any of the following:

  • Immediate
  • Progressive
  • Limited
  • Total

And depending on the damage, the data stored on the crashed hard drive may be either totally destroyed and completely irrecoverable or partially destroyed and partially or fully recoverable.

A hard disk may crash or fail during its normal course of operation, mainly due to:

  • Head crashes
  • Bad sectors
  • Stiction
  • Other failures.

Stiction is the phenomenon of the head arm touching the surface of the disc platter and causing scratches and further damage to it.

Such a condition may result in different issues with the hard disk, making the data stored on it inaccessible such as:

  • Data and file corruption
  • Disruption or destruction of the Master Boot Record (MBR) of the hard drive
  • Malware destroying the contents of the disk deliberately

A hard disk crash is not a very common occurrence but is surely a possibility. In most cases help from processional experts of data recovery services is required to recover files and data from a hard disk that has crashed, if the built-in utility fails.

What is Disk Crash

Prevention Tips

Events of hard disk crashing may be prevented from happening if you follow some easy steps. These are:

  • Being careful about viruses while loading any software or app
  • Not overloading the disk
  • Monitoring and maintaining the health of the disk
  • Running CHKDSK often
  • Taking care of power surges
  • Preventing dust and dirt buildup
  • Handle the external disk with care and storing it in the right place
  • Connecting and removing the cable carefully from the external disk
  • Ensuring the cooling system is efficient
  • Keeping a proper backup of your files
  • Use a proper and strong antivirus
  • Making sure that the vents are clear to allow proper air circulation
  • Keeping a watchful eye on static electricity in the environs
  • Deleting unnecessary programs and data from the disk
  • Updating the operating system
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Avoiding Data Loss

Though not very common, hard disks can crash or become dead sometimes even without making any sound or showing any symptoms.

Even worse, you may not have been able to take a proper backup of the data on another device.

Well, do not fret because you can prevent data loss from a crashed hard drive by following these tips:

  • Stop using the drive.
  • Unplug or remove it from the CPU.
  • Store it in a safe and clean environment.
  • Check for any marks or hot spots on the outside controller board.
  • Make sure that there are not any damaged or broken drive parts.

Finally, use any dedicated software for data recovery or engage a recovery service, as explained in the later section of this article.

Hard Disk Crash Symptoms

The hard disk will not fail all of a sudden. Instead, it will show some signs of failure well before it does, such as overheating, failure to boot, buggy apps, sluggish performance and more.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of a hard disk crash are as follows:

  • Overheating of the drive and the system as a whole is the most common and significant sign of failure.
  • A hard disk that may crash sooner or later will also emit unusual sounds such as beeping, clicking, and grinding during operation.
  • You will start to encounter corrupted, missing, moved or deleted files, folders, and data on the hard drive more often than before.
  • The system will slow down significantly while accessing and opening applications and files as well, due to issues on the hard drive that may lead to a system crash.
  • Though this internal issue cannot be seen from outside, sometimes the spindle motor may be stuck, indicating a failing hard drive.
  • You will also see error messages, even a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), being displayed much more frequently than before when you try to access files or use your computer system.
  • The computer system may fail to boot or boot frequently when the hard disk faces significant issues that may result in its crashing.
  • You may not be allowed access to specific data, which is mainly due to the existence of bad sectors on the hard disk, and due to the increase in their numbers.
  • You may also see unresponsive or frozen screens quite often, if not blank screens, which is also a sign of a potential disk crash.
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Pay attention to these symptoms and when you experience one or a couple of these hard drive failure symptoms, the best thing to do is turn your system off and call a pro.

What Causes a Hard Drive to Crash?

There are lots of reasons for the life of the hard disk to become short and crash eventually such as dropping the system, exposing it to dust, heat and humidity, power surges, and a plethora of other factors.

The causes of hard disk crash can be typically categorized into three groups such as mechanical failures, logical failures, and firmware failures.

Mechanical failure

There are moving components inside a hard drive that may get damaged due to wear and tear in normal conditions, shocks, and control errors. All these will result in its malfunction and failures.

  • Electrical issues and power surges may cause mechanical issues due to the frying of components inside. In such cases, the drive may be powered but may not show any signs of action and instead emanate knocking or clicking sounds from the disk. Both these sounds indicate that the motor is unable to spin.
  • A faulty fan or blocked air vent may cause heat buildup inside the system and overheat the drive along with the Central Processing Unit (CPU). This will also cause a disk crash. The common symptoms in this situation are clicking sounds, a fan that is not moving, and the system overheating quickly after starting.
  • Water can also cause the hard disk as well as the system to crash due to electrical shorts. Damages caused by water are in the form of spills, excessive humidity or moisture accumulation, and natural disasters.
  • Dropping the drive or an improperly installed drive that experiences shocks and vibrates during operation may also cause issues, which when overlooked may result in a complete disk crash with the components stopping working.
  • A fire in the system, inside or outside, may also cause a disk crash, if not directly, then due to the heat produced by it. Typically, the heat produced will cause demagnetization of the platter, resulting in a crash. Water used in firefighting will only add to the damage.

Logical failure

Any non-physical issue with the hard disk may lead to a logical failure, and, as a result, in a system crash. Some of the factors that may result in logical failures are as follows:

  • Accidental deletion
  • File corruption
  • Unintentional formatting
  • System corruption
  • Software bugs, viruses, malware, spyware, and ransomware
  • User error while editing the operating system registry settings
  • Improper installation or removal of applications

Firmware failure

These are very similar to logical failures but are usually a consequence of manufacturing faults.

Issues with the firmware may not allow the computer system to recognize the hard drive in the first place, or, even if it does, it may not be able to access the data stored in it.

In such situations, the hard drive will have problems while booting up and may result in freezing.

Hard Disk Crash Recovery

A hard disk crash is not the end of the world since there are ways in which you can recover files and data from it.

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You can download and use different third-party recovery tools depending on the operating system, Disk Management utility software, command prompt, and even a professional data recovery service.

Using a software

You can recover data from a hard disk after a crash by using a dedicated software such as Disk Drill. This can be used for both Windows and Mac OS X. The steps to follow are:

  • Download and install the software.
  • Run it and select the crashed hard disk.
  • Click on ‘Search for lost data’ button for Windows and ‘Recover button’ for Mac.
  • Run Quick or Deep Scan.
  • Preview the files from the scan report displaying every complete and partial file found during the scan.
  • Select the files you want to recover.
  • Click on the Recover tab.

Using the Disk Management utility

You can use the Disk Management utility to recover data from a logically damaged hard disk, on both Windows and Mac systems.

The steps to follow on Windows are:

  • Pressing Windows + X keys at the same time
  • Selecting the Disk Management option
  • Looking for the crashed hard drive
  • Selecting it from the Disk Management panel
  • Formatting it

The steps to follow on Mac are:

  • Pressing Command + Space at the same time to open Spotlight
  • Opening Disk Utility on it
  • Selecting the particular hard disk or volume
  • Clicking First Aid

Using Command Prompt

Data can also be recovered from a crashed hard drive by using CMD or Command Prompt. This, however, is a very technical process, which involves running CHKDSK as follows:

  • Pressing Windows + X at the same time
  • Selecting the Command Prompt (Admin) option
  • Typing chkdsk
  • Hitting Enter to analyze
  • Typing chkdsk C:/f /r/x to fix the disk, where C signifies the selected drive

Using a hard drive data recovery service

The technical expertise of a professional data recovery service can get back data and files from a crashed hard disk beyond the abilities of data recovery software.

Ship the crashed hard disk to them, making sure that it is packed carefully to avoid further shocks, vibrations, and static electricity.

They will evaluate the device, provide a failure report, offer a price quote, recover the data, and return it on a new hard drive or flash drive.


A disk crash is not a common event but can be if you do not use your system properly and take care of it, as you can see from this article.

There are lots of factors that can cause a hard disk to crash, such as external factors, logical errors, and even manufacturing faults.

However, usage cannot be excluded completely.

About Dominic Cooper

Dominic CooperDominic Cooper, a TTU graduate is a computer hardware expert. His only passion is to find out the nitty gritty of all computers since childhood. He has over 12 years of experience in writing, computer testing, and research. He is not very fond of social media. Follow Him at Linkedin

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