The Most Common Hard Drive Problems We See

When handled and stored correctly, hard drives are fairly resilient. But because they contain moving parts, a whole host of things can go wrong. Here are the most common physical faults our data recovery team see.

The most delicate part of a hard disk drive are the read/write heads, responsible for reading data from and writing data to the magnetic platters. The heads, situated on the tip of the actuator arm, hover mere nanometres above the spinning magnetic platters, where data is stored in binary form as a series of 1s and 0s. Because of this minuscule distance between the heads and the platters, even a small knock or a bump can be devastating. When the heads come into contact with the platter, it’s known as a head crash. While hard drive technology has advanced significantly in recent years – with active hard drive protection (AHDP) to reduce mechanical damage – head crashes are still one of the most common faults our data recovery team see. To avoid your hard drive suffering from a head crash, you should avoid moving it too much. If it’s a hard drive in a desktop machine, this is easy, since it probably won’t be moved around a lot. With laptops and external hard drives, however, you need to be more careful. Data recovery from a hard drive that has suffered a head crash is possible, but the chances of a successful recovery decrease the longer the hard drive is powered up. A head crash can be diagnosed by a ticking or scratching noise, so if you hear this, power the drive down immediately!

Power surges can fry internal electronics in a hard disk drive, and hard drive recovery in this instance can be tricky. The main component that is susceptible to damage from a power surge is the PCB board, which is time-consuming to replace. Replacing a short-circuited PCB involves sourcing a suitable donor part, and soldering the ROM chip – which contains information unique to the drive – onto it. This is an incredibly delicate and time-consuming task, but it’s something our hard drive data recovery team have masses of experience in.

Plain, old-fashioned human error is another common cause of hard drive damage we see in the data recovery lab, and the chief offender is water damage. It goes without saying that mixing water and electronics isn’t the best idea, and with hard drives, it’s no different. People often assume that hard drives are impervious to water damage because they’re sealed, but this isn’t true – hard drives have a breathing hole in order to equalise pressure. This means that even if a hard drive comes into contact with water for a split second, it can become damaged. A small amount of water isn’t likely to do too much damage, but prolonged exposure to water can make data recovery incredibly tricky. A hard drive becoming wet can lead to further issues if you try and dry it with direct heat, like a hair dryer or in the sun. Exposure to heat can cause media degradation, decreasing the chance of a successful data recovery.

Data Recovery