Hard Drives, Power Surges, and Data Recovery

While many electronic devices will come out of a power surge unscathed, hard drives are a different matter. In this article, we’ll go over why power surges can be lethal for hard drives.

Hard disk drives need a power supply to function. Inside an HDD, you have the magnetic platters that spin at thousands of revolutions per minute (RPM), the read/write heads that write data to and read data from the platters, and the spindle motor that spins the platters.

What damage can a power surge inflict on a hard drive?
With these components, a power surge isn’t particularly dangerous. Where the danger lies, however, is the printed circuit board, or PCB. The PCB is incredibly vulnerable to spikes in voltage due to its intricate and delicate circuitry, and a power surge can instantly kill it. When the hard drive is next powered up, none of the components – the spindle motor, the platters, the heads – will receive any power. The hard drive will essentially be a lump of metal with the data locked away on the platters, unable to be accessed by conventional means. In devices that use NAND flash chips, such as solid-state drives (SSDs), the PCB converts raw data into data the operating system can recognise; so as with hard drives, a dead PCB in an SSD is a massive problem.

Is data recovery possible following a power surge?
As we mentioned above, the printed circuit board does a lot of work, and is vital for the running of a hard drive or solid-state drive; it essentially acts as an intermediary between the data stored on it and the computer. If your hard drive’s PCB has been damaged by a sudden surge in voltage, you may find that it won’t power up, or that the platters spin and stop intermittently. The key to successful data recovery in the aftermath of a power surge is to replace the hard drive’s PCB, which is harder than it sounds. Replacing a PCB involves more than simply sourcing a donor part from an identical hard drive. One of the chips on the PCB is a ROM chip, unique to that particular drive. Our data recovery team have to source a compatible donor PCB, and then remove the ROM chip from the original hard drive, carefully installing it onto the new PCB. As you can imagine, this is a long and arduous process. So in short – data recovery is possible if your hard drive’s PCB becomes damaged, but it’s a long-winded process and there are no guarantees of success, particularly if the ROM chip has been damaged.

Data Recovery