5 Easy steps to test and repair a Dell computer hard drive

As a leading manufacturer of computer hardware, Dell has definitely made a name for themselves in the computer electronics world. They have and continue to make many lines of personal and business desktop computers and laptops. These include Inspiron, Vostro and XPS, just to name a few.

A common issue that Dell laptop users come across is hard drive failure. Hard drives depend on machinery that needs to be powered to read and write data, and will eventually fail. This may be from damage that impacts its moving parts, or from natural wear. The hard drive will need a repair or a replacement.

When a hard drive does fail, it can be frustrating and annoying, especially for the unprepared. Luckily there are some things you can do to protect yourself from a catastrophic loss of data. For Dell users, there are specific ways to test your hard drive for any problems or failure. Understanding these tools and the right replacement for your hard drive can be helpful for when you do need it.

Want to know more about common hard drive problems? We have other guides that can help you test and repair your hard drive. Even if you own an HP, Apple, or Lenovo computer rather than a Dell, we can help. Error messages like “No bootable drive” or “Operating system not found” can be easily detected and fixed. Check out “Top 8 hard drive issues and how to fix them yourself”.

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Here is a checklist for Dell computer and laptop users to test and replace a hard drive:

1. Use Dell built-in hard drive diagnostics

All Windows PCs have a built-in disk repair tool called “chkdsk”, which allows users to detect HDD issues and attempt repairs. It can also prevent and repair premature failure on hard drives. If the computer still boots to Windows, “chkdsk” can be used for a quick hard drive test.

“Chkdsk” can also find bad sectors on the hard drive, both soft and hard ones. For soft bad sectors that occur from poorly written data, chkdsk can attempt repairs on them. Hard bad sectors that are caused by physical damage are then marked and skipped over. If run regularly, Chkdsk can be a useful disk maintenance tool to detect any issues.

For Dell users who wish to use something for specific to their computer, you may run diagnostics on SupportAssist and Dell Pre-boot System Diagnostics. These tools are customised to only Dell computers.

These two diagnostics are offered to be used in different situations: SupportAssist when system boot is successful and there is an internet connection; Pre-boot diagnostics when the computer cannot boot into the operating system. Both are used to test the functionality of all components.

How to enter SupportAssist

SupportAssist is an application that can identify issues and run diagnostics on hardware. With this tool, you’ll be able to test maximum functionality and perform stress tests on components of your system.

You can find SupportAssist from your start menu, already loaded on your Dell device. If not, you can download the application from Dell Support.

How to enter Dell Pre-boot System Diagnostics

When starting up your desktop computer or laptop, press the F12 key at the Dell splash screen to enter Pre-boot System Diagnostics. Diagnostics will report any hardware issues detected from the overall test performed.

These issues are reported by different error codes, each meaning different issues of the specific component. The code is made up of two sets of four numbers, first “1000” or “2000”, then another set of four numbers. For example, error code “2000-0141” stands for “Hard Drive – No drive detected”. Dell support has a list of error codes. With a little digging around, you’ll be able to find the right solution for your faulty Dell hard drive.

Dell diagnostics error code

Dell diagnostics error code.

2. Test HDD on dedicated free software tools

SeaTools test

By any chance, you might not find what you need to solve your problems from running built-in diagnostics. Or you can’t even get your computer to boot up for diagnostics. Then dedicated hard drive analysis software might be a way to test your hard drive.

Free drive analysis software like Seatools (Seagate) and Data Lifeguard (Western Digital) are tools to help you test hard drives for issues thoroughly. They can only be used to test storage drives, unlike Dell diagnostics that can be used to test all hardware.

For this, you’ll need to take out the hard drive in question and test it from a different desktop computer. An HDD enclosure box is also required to connect the hard drive to the desktop.

First, you’ll need to plug in the drive to the enclosure via its SATA interface. Then the enclosure box will have to be plugged into a different power source from the desktop computer. This gives the drive a sufficient and reliable power source to run. It also makes sure the drive is isolated from the rest of the testing system for a complete checkup.

3. Choose a hard drive replacement

Once you decide to get your hard drive replaced, the next step is shopping for the right drive. This may be something to consider carefully for users who want a smooth computing experience.

How do I find out my HDD type?

Knowing what HDD you currently have can help you choose a replacement. It may be something to be aware of, so you know where to start with choosing a new drive.

If your computer still boots to Windows, you can check the drive model under Device Manager > Disk Drives. You can find out the properties of the drive and do further research on the drive.

Device Manager

Device Manager.

Checking the drive model from Dell BIOS might be the alternative if your computer does not boot successfully to Windows. You can do this by pressing the F2 key at startup.

Finally, a practical method to check what hard drive you have is by actually looking at it. Opening up the back cover of your Dell computer and removing the faulty drive is how you can do that. Seeing is believing, right? DIY is something we encourage, and learning about your device can help you know what you’re up against. This way, you can be more prepared to repair your own computer.

What type of drive should I get?

Some features of hard drives to keep in mind while shopping for a new one include: Form factor, capacity, and speed. These features make up how the drive performs and how you can best make use of it.

Form factor

Form factor refers to the physical size of the hard drive. It roughly represents the diameter of the disk platters. Consumer-grade HDDs come in two sizes: 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch. They are made to fit into different computer types.

Laptops mainly use 2.5-inch hard drives to fit in its smaller and thinner bodies. 3.5-inch ones are used on desktop computers. You may use a 2.5-inch drive in a desktop, but they are usually slower than 3.5-inch ones. This is due to its smaller size that fits in laptops.


Thinking about how much storage you actually need may possibly save you money from buying too much storage space. HDD sizes come in set amounts like 200GB, but it can be difficult to visualise how much that actually is. Justifying practically how much capacity that the drive has can help you choose what you need.

For personal use of files such as documents and photos, anywhere from 250GB to 500GB should be enough. If you want to store larger files like movies or creative projects, look for something that’s 1TB or more.


With the physical and storages sizes down, we can look at the performance speed of HDDS. This is determined by the RPM (revolutions per minute). The times that the platter in a hard drive spins in a minute is measured by RPM.

These days, most hard drives for desktop computers and laptops are run speeds between 5400 and 7200RPM. Rotating platters that spin at higher speeds can read and write information faster, giving you better performance. However, a higher RPM can come with more heat generation, and can be more costly. 7200RPM drives may also not last as long as drives that spin at lower revolutions.

Picking a 7200RPM drive may still be the choice for users looking for better performance. If you are using the drive for general storage, a 5400RPM one should be sufficient.

Solid-state drive VS Hard disk drive

Considering a solid-state drive upgrade? As a very popular upgrade these days, an SSD upgrade can get you the high performance and reliability that you may be lacking from your HDD. It does not contain any delicate machinery like a hard drive does, so it can withstand a longer use. Performance-wise, it also provides much faster read and write speeds than hard drives do.

Still curious? We’ve put together a guide to solid-state drives that might interest you. The basics and benefits of upgrading to an SSD is covered, along with any questions you may have. We also weigh them against hard drives. Read it here.

Where can I buy a new hard drive?

A quick google search can find you tons of options. But which one? When buying a new hard drive online, it may be a good idea to shop from trusted retailers. Dell’s online store offers a range of storage drives to choose from. There, you may also find specific drives that suit your Dell laptop or desktop.

Big brands like Amazon may be a helpful and easy place to shop online. If not, shopping from your local retailer could also be a good place to start.

4. Replacing your hard drive yourself

People who enjoy DIY projects are usually more inclined to fix things themselves. Even so, replacing a hard drive is easy as. With some simple guides, replacing your own hard drive may be a quick and cost-effective solution for you. You’ll be able to save yourself the time of bringing it to a service centre by doing this. Plus, it won’t hurt your warranty either!

Popular tech repair site ifixit offers all kinds of hardware repair guides for almost everything, from computers to cars. There you can find guides and manuals that are specific to your Dell computer.

5. Install Windows on new drive

Now that you’ve put in a new drive, it’s time to install Windows. A simple way to do this is by creating a USB recovery media to install Windows on your Dell computer. All you need is a formatted USB with at least 16GB free space.

You can use Dell’s OS Recovery Tool to create a USB recovery media. The tool takes the model of your device into account in this process. This gets you an OS recovery image that is customised for your Dell computer.

Dell OS Recovery Tool

Dell OS Recovery Tool.

Alternatively, you may also download installation media from Microsoft onto your USB and use that. Buying a licensed Windows installation CD from Microsoft is also another option.

After this, all you need to do is boot your computer from the USB or CD. Press F12 at startup to enter the “one time boot menu”, boot from the recovery USB, and you’re all set!

The final word

Of course, you can decide to not go through with these steps and seek professional advice. This would bring you to a Dell-authorised service centre or a third-party repair company. Our Dell repair services at Safemode Computer Service are highly rated all across Sydney. If you live in Inner West Sydney, drop by and we can definitely offer the right professional service for you :)

We can help you fully diagnose a faulty hard drive and help you pick and install the right drive for you. A thorough diagnosis of your Dell computer can also be done here. These might seem like daunting tasks, or you might be too busy or can’t be bothered with DIY repair. Our technicians can definitely provide you with a computer checkup and a free repair quote (Ts & Cs apply).

Lear more about our computer repair services.

Before that, you may want to do yourself a favour and check your warranty. If your warranty is still valid, you may want to go to a Dell authorized service centre. They usually can offer free repair or replacement services under warranty.

With that said, taking your computer to a third-party will void your warranty. Otherwise, if your warranty has expired and authorized service centres can’t help you, a third-party repair might just be your final option.

Lastly, don’t forget to consistently back up your data. Even before your hard drive starts to fail, it may be a good idea to create regular backups. You’ll feel safer to know that your data is safe from any moment that your hard drive may crash. Happy computing!