Hard Drives with Bad Sectors Living on Borrowed Time

This might seem fairly obvious for those of us in the know but something I thought was worth spelling out for everybody.

A lot of us are used to the concept of reinstall or repairing software when something happens to it as a result of a bad shutdown, loss of power or something else. It can be a fairly simple exercise these days and you can correct most issues with a little bit of time. However, the same doesn’t apply to hardware including hard drives.

The bottom line is that once hardware starts to give out it’s probably not going to survive much longer without repairs if they are possible. Certain kinds of electronic devices don’t lend themselves to end user repairs that easily such as CPUs, video cards and hard drives so in these cases I usually recommend claiming against the warranty if it is still covered.

In the particular case of hard drives, bad sectors are a warning sign of something physically wrong with the drive (be it the physical platters in the drive, the drive heads, the spindle, etc). If things are taking an unusually long time to boot up or performance in general is just horribly slow then these are good indications of something wrong with the drive. If you do happen to run a scan of your hard drive and find one or more bad sectors then you should do a few things:

  1. Don’t switch off the computer if you can avoid it,
  2. Make a backup of all your data immediately (if you haven’t already got one),
  3. Swap out the drive for a new one.

Defects on hard drive platters can occur in clumps that end up affecting adjacent sectors and cylinders and over time their ability to switch on and off reliably and convincingly. Being able to reliably detect what is on and off is important as trying to work out what something that reads as somewhere between the two can cause all sorts of problems (particularly if the data has not been rewritten for a long time and the ability of the sector to hold a charge remains untested).

So if you find that your hard drive has turned up some bad sectors don’t hesitate to do something about it as you are indeed living on borrowed time – it’s not worth risking your data and productivity.

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