What to do Following a Head Crash

Hard drives are mechanical devices made up of a multitude of components. If your hard drive is emitting a clicking or beeping noise, it could be indicative of a head crash.

When a hard disk drive is powered up, you can expect a short burst of humming as the motor begins spinning the platters, followed by a short burst of ticking sounds as the drive’s read/write heads begin to move into position. This delay can be up to around ten seconds, as the heads will wait for the platters to reach their full speed. After the drive has started up, it should emit a low-level humming noise, with the occasional irregular scratching or ticking noise as the heads do their thing. If you’re experiencing a constant, regular clicking or beeping noise, this could be indicative of a head crash. You can remove your hard drive from your laptop or computer chassis to get a closer listen without the added noise of the cooling fans, but you should avoid keeping it powered up for too long if you want a chance of a successful data recovery. You should also avoid opening your hard drive’s chassis; doing so could cause contaminants to enter, potentially making the problem even worse.

Inside a mechanical hard disk drive, data is stored on circular magnetic platters as a series of 0s and 1s. These platters are spun at incredibly fast speeds – up to 15,000 RPM in higher-end HDDs – by the drive’s spindle motor. Data is read from and written to these platters by the read/write heads, moved into place by the actuator arm, which moves back and forth across the surface of the platters, hovering a fraction of a millimetre above. Hard drives are manufactured in highly sanitised environments known as clean rooms, where the air is filtered to ensure there are no particles of dust. Because the space in between the heads and the platters is incredibly small, even one particle of dust has the potential to cause damage. Similarly, a harsh knock or bump can cause the heads to come into contact with the platters.

A head crash occurs when the read/write heads come into contact with the magnetic platters. Often making a beeping or scratching noise, head crashes can be fatal for your data. Typically, a head crash occurs due to physical shock like a knock, bump or drop, general use over many years, or if the hard drive has been opened up, from a contaminant. Modern hard disk drives have a feature called active hard drive protection (AHDP), technology designed to avoid or reduce physical damage to a hard drive by using accelerometers to detect impacts, although this doesn’t mean head crashes aren’t still possible. The lifespan of a hard drive is around five years, and continuing to use one beyond this point also runs the risk of physical failure.

A head crash can cause catastrophic damage to a hard drive, and render the chance of data recovery impossible; but if the earlier the problem is caught, the greater the chances of getting your data back will be.

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