Seized hard drive…

So your hard drive has stopped working. It’s not spinning or it is it a horrible grinding noise and getting very hot! You know it’s not the PCB because the drive is getting power. This is probably the worst data recovery problem that we encounter. As with all mechanical data recovery issues, we must first get the hard drive back into a fully working state before we can extract the data.

On the underside of a hard drive is a little round bulge in the chassis which is feed from the PCB. This is the motor that spins the platters. These hard drive platters are spun on spindles at typical revolution speeds of 10,000RPM. The spindle rests within a series of bearings which contain lubricant. This lubricant can often fail, which in turn burns out the motor and causes eventual seizure. To exasperate the problem the floating read/write heads will often not rise above the platters because of the reduced revolution speeds. This contact can cause head and platter damage which is evident in around 70% of motor failures.

Any extensive hard drive platter damage will usually result in a futile data recovery. We can bypass some media damage when we are imaging the hard drive, by simply excluding those sectors from the process and trying to polish out scratching. But, this damage represents data that has physically been scraped off the platter surface and thrown around inside the hard drive. Unless we can piece together dust, this data is lost forever!

If you are lucky, seizure can be relieved by removing the heads and freeing the mechanism. However in most cases a full motor and head transplant from a donor hard drive is required. As the motor is at the bottom of the chassis, this is a complete strip down and rebuild. If it was a car engine, we would be stripping everything down to the crankshaft! The heads, platters, magnets and controller card must all be transplanted into the new hard drive which is hosting the new motor spindle and bearings. The entails disassembling the patient hard drive and the donor into its components and rebuilding the replacement hybrid – all in our clean room!

Bearing failure is often the cause of motor failure. There is little the user can do to protect their hard drive. The top bearing ‘killers’ are inadequate lubrication, heat, improper handling and most commonly contamination. Every hard drive has a ‘breather’ hole to equalise pressure in the chassis. Although there is a filter, dust, debris and even smoke particles can get through and this contamination can be devastating for your hard drive. All the user can really do to protect their hard drive is to keep their computer in a reasonably clean environment. For most this means not placing the CPU or ‘computer tower’ on the floor under your desk, where is collects a huge amount of dust. Keep the fans clean and keep the unit away from radiators. These simple steps will likely prolong the life of your hard drive and computer.