When your computer throws up an error message stating there has been an ‘error reading fixed disk’ or ‘hard drive failure’ then do not panic that your computer and all its data are completely lost just yet. Before you send your computer off to be repaired there are some free recovery software tools that can assist you.
The starting point for troubleshooting a hard drive failure is to think of any new hardware you just added. These can cause system conflicts with your drive (effectively making it disappear to the BIOS) that can be resolved by removing the hardware.
Next, if your computer is failing to start properly then try booting up in safe-mode. If this works then the issue is software related, rather than being a hardware issue, which is a positive sign. Make copies of all your crucial data before attempting any repairs.
Your disk may simply have faults with the partition table and master boot record system files. There is a great free tool called Test Disk by CG Security that can automate repairs to these files for you quite effectively.
It is also possible your Windows registry has been corrupted. You can use Windows System Restore tool (in programs > accessories > system tools) to revert your system files back to a set checkpoint. While this will roll back any recent registry damage, it will also affect any programs installed/updated from the version date. This can be remedied though by reinstalling the applications.
Finally, if you feel your data has been lost, deleted or formatted then free recovery software such as Recuva or PC Inspectors Smart Recover can help identify files still left on the the hard drive.
If these steps do not help or you feel there is a mechanical fault in the hard drive (bearings/reading heads seized, etc.) then data recovery experts have the requisite disk reading tools and specialist recovery software to read even broken disks.