The speed of disk access has a very noticeable effect on the usability of a computer, at times making it feel painfully slow while you watch the disk access light flash. Such a slowdown in hard disk performance can happen for several reasons, ranging from a hardware problem, file system issues, software, through to virus or operating system errors.
Such problems are extremely unlikely to fix themselves and will almost certainly become worse. Such a condition should not be ignored, but diagnosis is not always easy and if the problem is severe, any attempts to fix it could make the issue worse. If you are unsure of the problem, it is best to seek professional advice. For some problems sending the disk to a data recovery company is the only sensible solution.
Hardware Problem May Cause Total Failure
Unusual sounds coming from the computer may be an indication of the first stages of developing hardware failure. Such noises include clicking and scraping sounds and in some cases a high pitched metallic squeal has been heard. If you are well prepared for the possibility of a failure, you will already have data backed up to other media. However, for a large number of user’s backups are done on an ad hoc basis and any such warning signs of a failure should prompt them to ensure any important data has been securely backed up.
The problem is that by the time the signs are noticeable due to a slowdown or unusual sounds, the damage may already be too severe to allow all your important data to be backed up before a total failure occurs. It is however not unknown for a hard disk to operate perfectly for many years despite making strange noises. If your drive starts to make strange clicking sounds though, it is usually a sign that there are unreadable disk sectors present and a terminal failure which requires data recovery is likely to happen very soon.
Operating System and File System Issues
All read/write requests between the hard disk drive and computer are handled through drivers installed in the operating system, which in rare instances of a damaged driver can cause corruption of important system data which can lead to the incorrect data being written to the disk and if not fixed immediately the problems will worsen. Such problems can be the result of an unrelated system crash, power failure while running or a malware issue.
Data blocks used by a file are allocated by the file system, which often uses the first available block and writes contiguous blocks until it finds a used block, at which point it jumps to the next freely available block. This can quickly lead to fragmentation, particularly as several files can be written to disk at the same time due to the multiprocessing nature of today’s computers. If using NTFS with compression enabled, fragmentation can become considerably worse, as the data is first written in the uncompressed form, with a background process compressing the data. If the files become severely fragmented file access times can increase to a point where they are very noticeable, the solution for which is to defragment the file system. It should be noted that an SSD should be undergo a defragmentation process, as it will provide no benefit and will rapidly increase the number of read/write operations used within the drive.
What Should You Do
It is your responsibility to ensure that if you have valuable data that the file system is in the best condition, such as regular defragmentation and ensuring that no malware which could corrupt files is installed. While these may not stop a drive failure occurring, in the event of requiring a data recovery it may increase the chances of a successful outcome.
In the event of your hard disk drive starting to make strange noises, immediate action is demanded in order to avoid the possibility of a failure from which data cannot be recovered. If the drive starts to make clicking noises, we recommend powering the computer off and seeking a professional data recovery solution. If the operating system is allowed to continue accessing a disk with read errors, the problems can rapidly become worse, as the attempts to re-read a bad sector can be very aggressive.