Data Recovery Case Study: Seagate PCB Failure

When a client came to us with a hard disk drive that wasn’t being recognised by his machine, our data recovery team identified a faulty printed circuit board (PCB) as the culprit.

The printed circuit board (PCB) of a hard drive allows electricity to transfer between the various internal components, like the spindle motor and acturator arm where the heads are located. As you might expect, then, a hard drive’s PCB is essential for its running. The client approached us with a Seagate BarraCuda SATA hard disk drive, removed from his computer at home. The computer’s BIOS suddenly wouldn’t detect the hard drive, despite the SATA cable being securely plugged in and there being no prior warning of a fault, like a strange noise emanating from within the drive’s chassis. When the drive came into the office, our operations team catalogued it as ‘arrived’ using the job’s unique reference number, assigned when the client originally got in touch; this helps ensure we always know what stage the data recovery is at, wherever the drive is. The HDD was then passed onto our hard drive data recovery team for analysis.

The hard drive was opened in our Class 100 Clean Room, as are all hard drives. This environment is similar to that in which the hard drive would’ve been originally assembled in, and ensures there are minimal particles of dust in the air that could potentially damage the hard drive even further. Our data recovery team found no obvious signs of damage within, as is often the case when a physical fault as befallen a hard disk drive, like a head crash. Upon further inspection, we were able to deduce that the hard drive’s printed circuit board (PCB) had been shorted, possibly due to a sudden power surge, or general old age. One other potential cause of a damaged PCB is the owner using the incorrect power cable, although in this case, the client had only used the SATA cable that came with the hard drive. Nonetheless, be careful when using alternate cables – just because it looks the same and fits fine, doesn’t mean it’s safe to use!

Once the fault was diagnosed, our data recovery team then set about replacing the PCB. Our library of spare parts exceeds 14,000, so a compatible PCB was sourced quickly. But finding a compatible donor drive was only part of the problem. While early models had interchangeable PCBs, newer hard drives use drive-specific microcode for better performance. Using advanced equipment, our data recovery team were able to copy or “reflash” this code onto the new PCB. We provided the client with a list of recoverable files and a quote to complete the data recovery. Later that day, the client got his data returned on a new, blank external hard drive. Altogether, more than 600GB of data was recovered – all the data stored on the hard drive.

Data Recovery