How To: Diagnose a hard drive issue in Windows 10

PC performance issues can be difficult to diagnose sometimes. In my experience the hard drive is the most common culprit. Now, I am only talking about a hard drive. Not a solid state drive. Solid state drives have a different set of diagnostic tools because of the nature of their inner workings. This blog post is only for those needing to troubleshoot hard disk drive based PC performance issues.

Task manager is your friend

Yes, I know. This one is obvious. There are some hidden nuggets in the new task manager I wanted to cover for this bit of troubleshooting.

First one is the disk utilization percentage. It will give you a quick and dirty way of looking to see if the performance issues are disk related. If this percentage is high (above %30-40) you can see what process is doing it. If it is not a normal disk intensive process then you can go further into the troubleshooting process for disk issues.

Task manger for disk util

The second nugget is the performance tab and disk overview. This can show you the response time and transfer rate from the disk in question. This is another layer in the picture of how your drive is doing health-wise. If the average response time is several hundred ms then you need to investigate further.

Task manger for disk performance


Waiting in the “Queue”?

So now that we have some red flags to check quickly, the next red flag indicator is one click away from the Task manager performance tab. Click Resource Monitor at the bottom to get a further look into the disk indicators.

Resource manager link

In the resource manager, click the disk tab, then expand storage. The column on the far right is Disk Queue. This is the number of disk operations that are waiting the be executed by the disk controller. This number should periodically dip below 1. If it stays over 2 and never catches up you have a performance bottleneck at the very least and should consider replacing the drive for an upgrade. If the number is constantly 5 or more, the drive mechanics may be failing.

Resource manager disk queue


How S.M.A.R.T. are you?

So if we are seeing some high disk queue numbers we should proceed to getting the S.M.A.R.T. diagnostics report from a utility that can extract this information. S.M.A.R.T. is a technical standard for recording disk health parameters in the disk controller memory to be queried by software that needs to assess the health of a hard disk. There are a ton of tools to do this for free but one that never fails me is CrystalDiskInfo. It is really powerful for its size and it is free. However, I wanted to show that you can check this within Windows 10 without any additional tools.

Open a command prompt.

Type wmic and hit enter.

Type diskdrive get status and hit enter.

It should read OK for each physical disk in the PC. If it reports anything other than OK, you need to backup your data and replace the disk as soon as possible.



Still having disk trouble and with no SMART errors?

If you went through the above steps and you weren’t convinced that the drive is failing, then there are some other things related to the hard disk performance that may be the cause.

Paging Dr. Disk

What does your page file setting look like? If you have one that is too small, it may cause your system to constantly move data back and forth from the disk to memory.

To check, right click the Start Button and click System. Then click Advanced system settings. Then under performance click the settings button. Then click the Advanced tab and under virtual memory click change. It today’s world of high memory machines a good rule of thumb is to always have room for the same amount of memory. So if you have 16GB of memory, set your page file to at least that size. This way if you needed to troubleshooting any Windows crash events, you can dump the contents of memory into the page file for creating a full debugging dump file.



Power Saving settings

What do the power options look like? If your using a desktop PC I would no doubt always change your power options to High Performance and disable any sleep or hibernation mode. Sleep and Hibernation mode can cause all kinds of performance issues. Plus if the power options are set to anything other than high performance or similar custom power options, then Windows 10 may be turning off extra performance enhancements like Intel’s Turbo Boost.

Compression and Encryption

Lastly, if you are compressing any file in your system disk this can cause serious performance issue. You know they are compressed if they are blue in the File Explorer view.


Disk encryption can also give your disk a performance hit although this is less than most people think. Honestly if your disk encryption is causing your disk performance issues, then you need a faster hard drive or a better encryption mechanism.

I hope you found this simple guide helpful.

Happy Disk Drive diagnosing!



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