Troubleshooting HDD/SSD problems

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Troubleshooting HDD/SSD problems

Post #1 by huddy » Thu Sep 18, 2014 2:29 pm


It’s a sad truth that most people take for granted that the data stored on their PCs, such valuable pictures, videos etc. are safe when the complete opposite is true. Without sufficient backups, hard drive failures are more likely to end in tears.

In this article, I’ll guide you through how to recognise the symptoms of a failing or failed drive, step you through the diagnosis process and possible rescue your data.

What are the symptoms of a failed or failing drive?

Traditional mechanical Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) are arguably one of the most likely pieces hardware to fail than any other component. Their Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) is considerably lowered because of their mechanical nature and are sensitive to movement and their environment. Sold State Drives (SSDs) on the other hand aren't burdened by the same mechanical disadvantage of HDDs which makes them considerably faster, quieter and more reliable but this doesn't mean they are exempt from failure.

In most cases you'll switch on your PC and your drive will have just failed but often both HDDs and SSDs degrade over time which will effect the performance of your PC without you ever suspecting the storage device.

Symptoms include:

• No operating system found or system no longer recognises your drive.
• Strange noises, grinding noises which are potentially a disk head crashing or cracked bearings (HDDs only).
• Random computer crashes and restarts
• System is generally slow an unresponsive

Check disk space

Available storage space will fill over time and if not monitored carefully, can cause stability and performance problems. Check there is enough free and available capacity for Windows to run freely. Please refer to my Housekeeping section on how to free up valuable resources.

Check connections

If you are building a new PC or have move the PC, check first that your drives power and data cables are physically connected and secure. The connections used on SATA interfaces are known to become dislodged, unlike their IDE predecessors.

If your PC is using older IDE interface and you have just installed a replacement or added a second IDE HDD, then make sure these are configured correctly as Master or Slave depending on their location on the cable. IDE drives not configured correctly are subject to conflict problems. Please read my article about connecting and configuring IDE drives for further information. Make sure the IDE drives are connected to a power source using a standard 4-pin Molex connector for ATA (IDE). Make sure the connection is secure.

If your PC is using the SATA interface, then unlike ATA/IDE it makes no difference to what SATA port your SATA drive is connected to providing is fastened and secure. SATA connections do have a habit of popping out if moved so make sure these are securely in place. It doesn't also hurt to swap around just in case there’s a problem with the port. Make sure your SATA drive(s) are receiving power through either the SATA power connector. Both the data and power connections are L shaped and differ in size (data being smaller) so they can only be fitted one way.

Eliminate any cables by replacing the data cables or IDE ribbons before starting on the diagnosis process.

Disk Checking

If you can access your hard drive either through Windows or a live CDVD such as Bart’s Pre-installed Environment, you can run the standard Windows CHKDSK command which will check the integrity of the files system. CHKDSK (previously known as SCANDISK), checks and reports any physical disk errors and bad sectors.

To run:

1. Click on Start

2. Enter CHKDSK n into the search field ( XP, Vista and Windows 7)
Where n is:

/f – Fixes error on the volume – Needs dedicated use of disk so may perform check next time PC is restarted.

/p – Checks disk even when not flagged to do so – Recovery console only

/r Locate bad sectors and recovers readable data – Implies /f and /p. Again this needs dedicated use of the disk which is why using PEBuilder is a good idea.

Drive diagnostics

On suspicion of a failing drive and you've checked the cables and connections, then you’ll need to run a disk diagnostics tool.

If Windows is still running then download and run HDDTune to perform a generic scan of yur drive. HDTune will work with both HDDs and SSDs to monitor performance and checks for any errors on the drive.

If your system boots but not into Windows, you may have to grab the disk diagnosis tool from the manufactures website. You'll firstly need to identify the manufacturers of your hard drive(s). If this information isn't available to you in the BIOS or start-up screen then you’ll have to open the case and find out. All drives are labelled with the manufacturer, part number and serial number. You may need this information later if the drive is under warranty.

Visit the manufactures website for diagnostics tools. Most of these tools are executed from a live CD which means they’ll boot straight from the CD. This eliminates the need for booting Windows from the hard drive. Change your BIOS so the first boot disk priority is your optical drive. Insert the CD and boot.

Once the diagnostics tool is running, select the options that will perform a full scan your hard drive and report errors. Each utility is different so you’ll need to read the manufacturers documentation or follow on screen instructions carefully. The scan may take some time. If any errors are reported, then the hard drive will be faulty. Replace hard drive or raise an RMA on the drive if it’s still under warranty.

If you have more than one drive from a different manufacturer then you’ll need the diagnostic tools for each.


The owner of the PC above complained that performance was rather "Sluggish". The Samsung diagnostic tool showed a failing hard drive. A new drive soon got things back to normal.

Links :

Seagate (Maxtor) Sea tools : http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/sup...loads/seatools

Hitachi (IBM) Drive Fitness Tool : http://www.hitachigst.com/support/downloads/#DFT

Western Digital Data Lifeguard Diagnostics : http://support.wdc.com/product/download.asp?lang=en

Fujitsu : ?

Samsung ES Tool (successor to HUTIL) :http://www.samsung.com/global/busine...ort_in_es.html

Data Recovery

Unfortunately, recovering data from a failed drive is possible but unlikely. There are specialist companies that can recover data from failed drives but you may not to be able to justify the costs. Hopefully, you would have had adequate backups in place before hand, right?

If you are still lucky enough to access Windows, then start to copy data to an external HDD using Windows backup utilities or simply copying the data across using Windows Explorer.

If you are unable to access you system or data, then it may be possible to copy your data across using another system. Remove your drive from the system and either connect it to another PC using a spare internal connection or use an external drive adapter . I use the superb “Sharoon DriveLink USB-IDE/SATA convertor “ which uses a USB connection. Whichever method you use, once connected you should be able to copy the data to another drive.

This all assumes the drive is still functioning. If not then i'm afraid it's the end of the road for your data.


My trusty "Sharoon DriveLink" saves the day again.

That all said, make sure you have adequate backs in place which can be used in any eventuality, such as fire, flood, theft, and PC hardware failures.

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Re: Troubleshooting HDD/SSD problems

Post #2 by huddy » Thu Sep 18, 2014 2:29 pm

FAQs and common known faults

I bought a 500Gb HDD but it only shows as 465GB?

This is because the manufacturers show the density of drives in decimal (multiples of ten) which is familiar to us (the consumer) when data is actually stored in binary (ones and zeros) or base 2. As 8 binary bits make up 1 byte, then 1 byte can hold a value of 256 (2^8). In terms of computing, when expressing a value of 1000 as a decimal this actually represents a binary value of 1024 because the decimal power is (10^3), so:

• Kilobyte (KB) = 1,024 Bytes (10^3)
• MegaByte (MB) = 1,024 Kilobytes or 1,048,576 Bytes (10^6)
• Gigabyte (GB) = 1,024 Megabytes or 1,073,741,824 Bytes (10^9)
• Terabyte (TB) = 1,024 Gigabytes or 1,099,511,627,776 Bytes (10^12)

Therefore your drive when formatted is correct to show 465GB as 500GB as a decimal is actually 536,870,912,000bytes. If you divide 500,000,000,000 by 1024, then by 1024, then by 1024 again, you get the actual space your computer will use, which comes out to 465.66 GB.

My Hard drive doesn’t show in the BIOS?

Try connecting the drive to a different port and/or change the cable. If you are using multiple drives, then test using one drive connected at a time. For IDE drives, make sure the drive is configured as either Master or Slave. Please read IDE connections further information.

Please note, that original version of Windows XP did not support SATA. You were therefore required to download the drivers from the Motherboards website to a floppy disk, then install when prompted to hit F6 to install third party drivers.

If you have bought a 6gb/s hard drive, then check it’s connected to a compatible motherboard or expansion card that supports 6gb/s drives.

Drive shows in start-up but does not show in Windows

This was more common on Windows XP but I’ve occasionally had problems with Windows 7 too. Make sure the hard drive is a recognised partition and formatted. Go into “Disk management”:

1. Click on Start

2. Enter diskmgmt.msc into the search field ( XP, Vista and Windows 7)

If you see the drive, then right click to crate partition and format. If you don’t see the drive, then follow the advice in previous question.

Windows installation normally gives you an option to format a drive. Make sure you select “Full format as opposed to quick format.

If you are still having problem, then make sure you chipset drivers are fully up to date.

What’s the difference between a Quick and full format?

This misleads quite a few people. Both do the same format. A full format will perform a bad sector scan whereas a quick format doesn’t . If you are installing a new drive, a full format is always recommended.

I keep getting a check disk each time Windows starts?

This is another sign that the drive may be failing, so make sure your backups are up to date. Follow the diagnostic checks above.
I’ve just bought a fast SATA 6 Gbp/s HDD - but it’s nowhere near as fast as I expected/ by accident, will it run on a 3gb/s motherboard.

Generally, SATA 6Gbp/s (SATA III) hard drives are backward compatible with SATA 3Gbp/s(SATA II) hard drives but will only run at the 3gb/s speed.

I have enabled AHCI in the BIOS but I now get an error message when booting "Boot drive inaccessible".

Windows still thinks it's using ATA rather than AHCI. You should set the AHCI when installing windows but if you forgoet or your adding a AHCi drive later, then there is a work around.. See below.

My SSD doesn't run anywhere near the speed it should?

SSDs are much faster than HDDs because there are no mechanical parts, but SSDs also take full advantage of Native Command Queuing (NVQ) which optimizes they way in which commands are received and processed. This is an extended protocol of the SATA interface along with S.M.A.R.T.and can only be turned on by changing the SATA type from IDE (default) to AHCI (Advance Host Controller Interface) in the BIOS. If your SSD in't running as fast as it should be chances are that you haven't turned on AHCI.

If you try and enable AHCI in the BIOS when windows has already been loaded, your system will fail to boot (as per previous FAQ). Typically, the AHCI is set before any windows installation but there is a work around which I've used frequently.

This walk trough will help Setting AHCI in windows

I get the following disk error when booting :


Basically, the system can't find or read the boot partition through any of the listed boot devices in the BIOS.

If you are installing windows for the first time, you'll need to change insert the Windows installation disk. Please see"installing windows for the first time" in the PC Building Guide.

If the message came complete unexpected, then it might be worth checking through the following:

1. Has the CMOS been reset recently? If it has and you have an SSD installed with AHCI enabled then this might have reverted back to IDE. This will give the above error for certain. Head into the BIOS and change the SATA tp to AHCI then retry.

2. Check that the drive connections (both data and Power) are in place and securely fastened. Change any cables if the problem persists to eliminate defective cables.

3. More than one physical SATA HHDs?

Many people have had this error because two or more SATA HDDs are connected. Open the case and disconnect any SATA drives that aren't the primary drive where the OS is installed, then reboot. Did this work? If so reconnect the disconnected drives on to another SATA connector and/or swap the SATA connectors around so that the primary drive is on the SATA-1 connector. This actually resolved the problem although I have no idea why.

4. Windows Repair

a). Change the boot order in BIOS to boot from DVD, save your settings and restart. Some motherboards allow you to hit F8 to select the boot device during POST.
b). Insert the Vista installation disk and when "prompted to boot from CD" then hit any key. This will start the Vista installation process but don't worry, it's not overriding your installation.
c). When prompted, choose the correct language settings, then click Next.
d). Click Repair your Computer.
e). Select the OS you want to repair from the list, providing there is one, and then clickNext.
f). On the recovery option menu, click Startup Repair and follow instructions. A reboot maybe required. Remember to take the install disk out.

5. Use Bootrec.exe to repair your files

If the above didn't work, then you'll possibly need to look repairing the Master Boot Record (MBR), the boot sector or the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) Store. This done using the bootrec.exe command from the Windows Recovery disk or Recovery Environment. [url=Boot Configuration Data (BCD)]Read the official guide from Microsoft on how to "use the Bootrec.exe in Windows RE to troubleshoot startup issues".[/url]

6. Check the drive itself

If any of the above didn't work, then my guess it's a failed drive. Check the HDD manufacturer and download the disk diagnostic tools as mentioned in the diagnostics part of this guide. These will verify that the drive is in working order.

I bought a 3TB hard drive but windows only sees 2TB?

Information concerning how your disk is partitioned is held in the MBR (Master Boot Record]. It also holds other information like OS boot instructions and other disk information so is often known as the "boot loader". The MBR is restricted to 32-bit providing block sizes of 512 bytes therefore only permits upto 2.2TB of storage (2 ^ 32 ^ 512). Formatting your disk into different partitions doesn't solve the problem either.

All is not lost. newer version of 64-bit Windows supports GPT (GUID Partition Table ) which succeeds the aging constraints of the MBR . Your motherboard will need to support UEFI

System won't boot after removing second Hard Drive?

My second hard drive used for data is labelled as system drive. When disconnected or removed from the drive priority in the EFI, the system wouldn't boot.

Apparently, newer UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) compatible motherboards creates two boot partitions as part of the Windows installation and boot process; a GPT (GUID Partition Table ) partition for extended hard drive features and a MBR partition for legacy devices and utilities before the UEFI was introduced ( see above) .

It appears the EFI partition is created on the first drive it finds in the boot priority regardless of the drive you select to install the OS on. Since your data drive partition was the found first, it installed the EFI partition in this partition. Conversely, the MBR partition was created on the drive selected Windows to be installed on. As far as I can see, you can't select which drives these system boot partitions are to be created on during the Windows install.

The problem here is that the boot process is completely dependent on a partition which could be on a completely separate physical drive and if that becomes unavailable, you can’t boot your system.

Apparently, you can re-create the EFi partition on the correct drive using various tools but I found the only quick and safe way was to re-install Windows with all the other drives disconnected during Windows installation and sure enough both the MBR and EFI partitions were created on the same drive as expected.

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library ... 63525.aspx

Hope that helps

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