How do you know when to replace a hard drive or just format and reinstall?

Posted on 2007-08-07
Last Modified: 2010-04-26
How do you know when to replace a hard drive or just format and reinstall?
Question by:timamartin
    LVL 7

    Assisted Solution

    Typically a replacement would come after you'd done some diagnostics on the drive and could see bad sectors that aren't cured by a deep reformat.

    Symptoms of a mechanical drive failure are crunching, subdued whining and other types of excessive clicking when there should be little drive activity. (It should be noted that these are also the symptoms of a heavily fragmented or unoptimised drive.)

    Generally, if a machines performance is still bad, with the HDD spinning away even after a defrag or reformat/reinstall, then it's time to replace!

    Hope this helps,

    LVL 63

    Assisted Solution

    I would run the HD vendor diags, since they usually tell you when a drive is failing.               Drive Fitness Test               Maxtor & Quantum Fujitsu     Samsung               Seagate                    Western Digital             IBM & Hitachi  DFT

    The last one works on most drives also.

    I hope this helps !
    LVL 70

    Accepted Solution

    The manufacturer's diags do an "okay" job of testing drives ... but the best utility for this is Spinrite, which not only does a very thorough test, but also re-writes every sector on the drive --> eliminating any soft errors caused by gradual degradation of the magnetic signal on the drive.   Spinrite is also able to recover data from failed sectors in many cases ... it can seem like "magic" on some disks.   If you have a copy, it's a good idea to run a Level-4 (Maintenance) Spinrite pass on your hard drives once or twice a year.    Not a free program ... but well worth having:

    As for your specific question ("... How do you know when to replace a hard drive or just format and reinstall?") ....

    As noted above, if your drive is making excessive noise (particularly if you're hearing a lot of "clicking" sounds ... which often preclude total actuator failure) it's time to replace it.    

    Another excellent indication of a failing drive is a notable increase in the operating temperature of the drive ... assuming this isn't caused by clogged filters, excessive dust, etc. in your case.   If you note your drive's "normal" temperatures, and they have risen notable, then it's definitely a good idea to either replace the drive or at least relegate it to a non-critical function [and for SURE keep good backups of anything on the drive].   Here's a good ... and free ... temperature monitoring program:

    If the drive's not making excessive noise, and the temps are normal, then unless you're getting excessive failures on the drive (bad sectors, seek errors, etc.) it's probably fine.     To check these, you should look at the drive's S.M.A.R.T. data before deciding to keep using it ==> there are a variety of S.M.A.R.T. monitoring programs (some real-time; some on-demand).    The S.M.A.R.T. data can be easily (and freely) accessed using Everest Home Edition (discontinued, but still available at => get version 2.20.405).

    If the S.M.A.R.T. data doesn't show any problems, and you didn't have any sounds (clicking, etc.) or temp issues, then the drive is probably fine.    In that case, if you're having performance issues it could be a simple case of the wrong access method (PIO vs DMA), bad fragmentation (just defrag), or a bloated XP system (the easiest fix for that is a reformat & reinstall).

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