How to handle a naked hard drive…

Exposed hard drives are delicate and precise instruments. The components are mass produced as cheaply as possible and clearly they are not built to counteract improper handling. Indeed, they are built to never leave their host machine and most people will never need to handle a hard drive – unless they need our data recovery services of course! Be mindful that your hard drive contains all your important information and should be well looked after. The major threat from mishandling is ESD or electro-static discharge.

Firstly, you should never move a spinning drive. When idle the heads sit in a parking zone, often secured in place. So if the hard drive takes a shock or even the slightest bump whilst spinning, you are likely to see some sort of head crash. We categorise head crashes depending on the severity. S.M.A.R.T. technology allows a hard drive to recover from a minor head crash, but even so you have just reduced the life expectancy of the drive. Be sure to ‘eject’ any removable hard drives or flash memory before unplugging them from the USB port. We see a number of hard drive failures each year from improper ‘ejection’ and this is of paramount importance if you are using Mac or Linux operating systems due to ‘write caching’.

On the underside of hard drives is the circuitry which is prone to damage, especially from dirty fingers and ESD. Never touch the circuitry or the connectors. Always handle the drive by the side chassis. Before even picking up the hard drive, ‘earth’ yourself by touching a radiator. Here at Data Recovery Specialists all our engineers use an ESD bracelet or anti-static grounding mat.

When storing the hard drive it is worth using an anti-static bag or shell. Whilst there is some doubt as to the effectiveness, it does keep the hard drive secure and ensures dirty fingers do not touch the circuitry. If your hard drive has failed anyway, don’t worry too much about anti-static packaging. Ideally don’t pack your hard drive in loose packaging material. This generates dust and debris which can easily penetrate the breather hole. Hard drive boxes with foam inserts are the best but simple bubble wrap will also suffice. Lastly avoid pressure on the hard drive. Do not force cables, stack hard drives or press on the chassis. This useful guide from Western Digital will help if you intend removing a hard drive from the host machine.