Data Recovery Following a Head Crash

One of the most common forms of physical damage is the head crash, and more often than not, it will require the assistance of a professional data recovery specialist in order to recover the data. There are steps you can take to avoid a head crash, however.

A head crash occurs when a hard drive’s read/write heads crash onto the surface below – the magnetic platter where the data is stored – making data recovery tricky. Inside your hard drive, there are a number of moving parts and components. Data is written in a series of 1s and 0s on magnetic coated circular platters by read/write heads, located on the tip of the actuator arm. The read/write heads float a miniscule distance above the platters, which spin at incredibly fast speeds – typically 10,000 RPM. If your hard disk drive suffers even the tiniest knock, it can cause the actuator arm to drop slightly, sending the read/write heads crashing onto the platter below. If the platter is damaged badly, data recovery can be next to impossible.

Situations where the device carrying your hard drive is frequently moved or disturbed can lead to head crashes; typically, PCs are at less of a risk because they’re kept in the same place. Head crashes are incredibly common in external hard drives, which are often kept on the floor for backup purposes. An unfortunate situation that isn’t uncommon is a hard drive failure in the machine, and when the user has attempted to restore the backup on the external hard drive, it’s failed due to a head crash-damaged platter. While data recovery isn’t impossible following a head crash, it can be difficult, particularly if there is extensive damage to the portion of the disk where the data is stored. It is often pure luck which files and folders will be intact and recoverable using data recovery techniques.

Data recovery following a head crash is much easier than it once was, thanks to Active Hard Drive Protection (AHDP) technology. This new system is now built into most modern hard disk drives manufactured after 2010, and can detect when a head crash is imminent. When a head crash is detected, the actuator arm and read/write heads are quickly moved away from the platter’s surface, preventing a head crash. While the technology has drastically reduced the risk of head crashes, and made data recovery easier by lessening the damage, head crashes still occur; no technology can stop a heavy knock or bump.

So how can you identify a head crash, and what should you do in the event of one to ensure a successful data recovery is possible? Even if you’re sure you haven’t knocked or bumped your hard disk drive, a head crash is still possible. Hard drives only have finite lifespans, and as time goes on, they become less reliable and are prone to head crashes. A head crash can be detected by a clicking or ticking noise, and if you hear this, you should turn the hard drive off immediately and consult a data recovery specialist to ensure the best chance of getting your data back. 

Data Recovery