Is my HDD shot?

Okay, a little background.

I left my laptop on for a while, well, a week or two. Or three. Anyway, one day I get back from class, to find a black screen with the dreaded words: “Non System or Boot Disk” (or words to that effect). Whoa. I restart the laptop, and same thing.

Getting a little freaked out. Turn off the laptop for a few hours, and when I turn it on again, it’s working fine. Okay. But the problem is, every couple of minutes (I dunno, 20?) the HDD’ll start seeking. Maybe you can call it thrashing. And it’s not the normal sort of seeking, because all system process will stop while the HDD seeks. Winamp will stop, IE will stop, everything stops for a few seconds.

Is my HDD shot?

I don’t know, but if I were you I’d start pulling backups of anything you want to save before you troubleshoot.

Sounds to me like a power problem – HDDs take a lot of power to turn their motor (more if there’s dust or grit adding friction). If your power supply can’t keep up, then your processor might be slowing down while the HDD draws power. Likewise, on boot, when everything else is drawing power for its startup sequence, your HDD might not be getting enough power to spin up, and send back the “I’m okay” signal that lets you boot.

That said, back that sucker up. ASAP. Make a disk image, then send the laptop in for repair or replacement.

It’s kinda hard to diagnose stuff from far away, but I’m betting on your hard drive, not a power problem. I’m betting the reason everything comes to a grinding halt while the drive is “thrashing” is that it’s the operating system trying to do a page swap or something similar, so that no other task can run until the OS finishes doing its thing, and it’s having some sort of error while it’s trying to do whatever it is it’s trying to do.

The problem could also be in the interface chip on the motherboard, but the symptoms to me sound more like the HD is failing, not the controller. It’s much more common when the controller goes that the drive simply stops responding, not thrashing.

Fluctuations in power will usually cause a processor to corrupt its internal registers somewhere and go into a processor fault of some kind, not slow down. Power fluctuations might explain a reboot or a crash, but not a slow down.

Laptops tend to run a little hot, and sometimes it’s more than a little, and in computers, heat kills. Make sure that the bottom of the laptop is sitting on a desk surface or something similar where it can get the tiny amount of air flow it depends on to keep itself reasonably cool. You wouldn’t think that little eighth of an inch of air underneath the case would make much of a difference, but it does. If you sit the laptop flat on a book or something, it can cook itself to death. The two things that are most likely to die first if it’s been running hot are the CPU and the hard drive.

What OS are you using?

With Win 2000, NT, XP you should be able to check the system logs and see if you have read/write/seek errors during HDD accesses. I’d tell you where to find the logs, but I don’t have a MS machine handy. If you were on SuSE Linux you’d just hit CTRL ALT F10 the next time your PC pauses and you’d see right away.

You’ll probably have to go through the control panel to find it. In German the thing you want is called “Ereignisprotokoll.” I’ve been here so long, I’ve never seen that particular part of the system in English - when I came here we were all still using MSDOS V2.11

That was just terribly helpful now wasn’t it?

An excellent idea.

In Win2K, Start -> Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management will get you to (naturally) the Computer Management “console,” which includes a tree-view on the left. In the tree view, pick Computer Management (local) -> System Tools -> Event Viewer. You’ll probably want to look at the “System” log.

In WinXP, the procedure is probably extremely similar, although the exact path to the System log may be very slightly different.

Wow! Excellent information, I never knew this thing existed! As suspected, hundreds of disk errors, with “The device, \Device\Harddisk0\D, has a bad block.”

Guess it’s HDD replacement time, huh?

Quite possibly. However if you’ve backed up all your critical data and want to fiddle, try running a chkdsk; right-click the drive in My Computer, choose Properties, Tools, Check Disk For Errors and have it automatically fix everything that it finds wrong. You’ll have to reboot and let it perform the check which will take a little time (15 minutes plus, depending on size of the drive).

If you’ve just got some bad spots on the drive this may fix the problems, mark those spots as unusable and let you go on.

However the last few times I’ve seen this, it was only a temporary fix and the drive needed swapping out soon thereafter…

All too true.

Modern HDs automatically compensate for bad sectors. They have extra sectors, and move data into that area when a regular sector goes bad. You don’t see an error until the HD itself no longer has extra sectors - which means you’ve already got a shitpot full of bad sectors before you notice. This is why you really need a program that can check the SMART data from your HD. These programs can warn you when your HD is getting ready to crap out. But nobody seems to have them …

Here is a free one:
Download HDD Health.

I can’t tell you how good it is. I’ve never used it, since I’m on Linux.

I belive in either OS you can also right-click on “My Computer” on the desktop and select “Manage” to get to the MMC.