Recently a laptop came in with a broken screen. As I made preparations to replace the screen, I hooked up an external monitor to check the rest of the machine’s health. I found that it was freezing shortly after booting up.
I knew it was a hardware problem, and I decided to do things the easy way: I fired up the diagnostics that the manufacturer (HP) had built into the machine. I found that the hard drive consistently failed its self test.
The ironic thing is that the cause of the freeze-ups was the broken screen. As soon as I disconnected it the freeze-ups stopped. But if it wasn’t for that problem, I wouldn’t have discovered that the hard drive was on the way out.
A problem had turned into a blessing. I found that the machine still has a few weeks on the warranty, so I contacted HP. I expected a long drawn-out process, but they emailed me back within hours with an offer to replace the drive.
I’ve got to say that I’m very favorably impressed with HP’s service. But the lesson here is this: it pays to check your machine out thoroughly periodically. You want to get to that hard drive BEFORE it fails and you lose data and applications. And it especially pays to run the tests before you go off warranty! This is one of those happy occasions in which the problem surfaced right BEFORE the warranty expired, not after.
If your machine was made by a major manufacturer like HP, Dell or Gateway, the hardware diagnostics are kept in a utilities partition on the hard drive, and they are available via pressing a certain key as the machine is booting up. Often it’s F2 or F10. Sometimes it’s included with F8, which is the key reserved for Windows boot options. If you don’t find them check your manual or do an Internet search.
If you’re running a retail version of windows, you probably have no such service partition. But you can still check the hard drive by downloading its maker’s own diagnostic software. To find who the drive’s maker is, right click on it in Windows Explorer, select Properties, and then find it in the Hardware tab.
Unless you bought an extended warranty, chances are your machine carries a one year protection plan. If you bought your own hard drive you’ll have to check the warranty term. I just looked up a Seagate, and it was protected for two years.
If you do the self test on occasion, you may prevent some serious and inconvenient data loss. And if you catch it on time, you may not have to pay for the replacement. Free is good.
But whatever you do, keep that data backed up, just in case. Sometimes drives will die with no warning whatsoever. And you don’t want to be caught short.