An unpleasant fact about hard drives is that they can suddenly die at any time. Your computer can perform drive self tests (DSTs), either automatically or because you initiate them, to give you advance warning of any potential problems. These tests fail when they encounter a problem with either your hard drive's hardware or software that could cause the drive to fail.
Hard drive problems can stem from mechanical problems or issues with data corruption. Mechanical problems trace to the workings of the hard drive's spinning of its magnetic platter or the functioning of the spindle that reads data from the platter. Data problems have to do with critical pieces of data being corrupted in such a way that the hard drive could cease to function. Problems with data corruption are reparable with specialized software; mechanical failure is irreversible.
The DST will not leave you completely in the dark about why it failed. When the drive's self test encounters a problem, it will try a repair on its own. If the problem is beyond what the DST can repair, you'll see an error code that specifies the problem. You can discover the problem behind the test failure and receive any relevant warranty assistance by writing down the number and contacting technical support for your computer's manufacturer.
It is important to note that DSTs fail when the drives think they have a problem. Your drive could have the problem associated with the error code it reports, or it might not. However, it's still better to be warned of a potential problem than to have your drive fail without warning. An error code is a sign that you need to investigate the problem, not that your hard drive is necessarily dead.
Save Your Data
When your DST fails, immediately back up any important files on another drive or a cloud storage service. While an error doesn't mean you should immediately write off your drive, err on the side of caution with your data. Once a hard drive begins to fail it can become completely unusable at any time. If your drive is going to die, you don't want your data trapped on it when it does.
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