Common Causes of Hard Drive Failure

Over the years, our data recovery team have examined thousands of hard drives, and come across some unusual cases – but here are the most common physical faults they see.

Head crash
By far the most common physical hard drive fault our data recovery team see, a head crash occurs when the read/write heads come into contact with the magnetic platters. The read/write heads, situated on the tip of the actuator arm, hover a fraction of a millimetre above the spinning magnetic platters. If they come into contact, it can cause damage to the platters and compromise the integrity of the data, potentially causing it to become unrecoverable. In the event of a head crash, our data recovery team will source compatible read/write heads from our library of spare parts and image the drive bit by bit. If you hear a clicking or scratching noise, this is typically indicative of a head crash, and you should consult a data recovery specialist immediately.

Motor failure
When a hard drive’s motor fails, the drives platters will attempt and fail to spin, resulting in a beeping noise. The spindle motor is what powers the hard drive and spins the platters, typically between 7200 RPM for standard drives, all the way to 15,000 RPM for more enterprise-class hard drives. Like all of the internal components of a hard disk drive, the spindle motor is delicate, and incredible susceptible to physical damage, especially after a sudden shock or bump. Additionally, old age and general wear and tear can also play a part in a hard drive’s motor failing. In the event of hard drive motor failure, our data recovery team will source a suitable donor drive, and carefully swap over the platters and PCB board before recovering the data.

Electrical damage
Hard disk drives are also susceptible to damage from electronic failures. Hard drives need a power supply to function, in order for the spindle motor to spin the platters and the read/write heads to move about. These components are typically safe from power surges; however, the PCB is vulnerable to spikes in voltage. The PCB, or printed circuit board, is an incredibly delicate device that sits within a hard drive, and a sudden spike in voltage can kill it instantly. Data recovery from a power surge is more difficult than it sounds. Our data recovery team first have to source a compatible PCB, but each drive’s PCB contains a ROM chip unique to that particular drive. Therefore, successful data recovery is dependent on the ROM chip being undamaged. Our data recovery team will remove the ROM chip from the original drive, installing it into the donor PCB before undertaking data recovery.

Water damage
Electronics and water don’t mix, and it goes without saying that hard drives are no exception. Our data recovery team see dozens of water-damaged hard drives, as well as other devices like phones and USB flash drives, every year. With hard drives, floods are perhaps the most common reason they would come into contact with water, you should immediately take a water-damaged hard drive to a data recovery specialist, and under no circumstances attempt to fix it at home yourself. You may think it a good idea to disassemble your hard drive in order to dry it out – this is a big mistake and risks the chance of your data becoming lost forever. Hard drives are not designed to be opened, and even if you manage to successfully dry out your drive, contaminants could get inside. As mentioned above, the read/write heads sit incredibly close to the spinning platters, so even a small prattle of dust can cause a catastrophic head crash. Our data recovery team will carefully dry out your hard drive in a contaminant-free class 100 clean room environment.

Data Recovery