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Recovering from a Head Crash Is Tricky Business


If someone hasn’t created a website devoted to all the unusual, insane, and simply baffling ways that computer users have inadvertently damaged or destroyed their computer hard drives, they really should. The closest I could find was a blog post from several years ago that compiled a few truly staggering examples.

Let’s just say that if helicopters are part of your daily commute, you’ll want to keep a tight hold on your laptop. And to keep with the transport theme a moment longer, an airport runway isn’t a good place to leave your laptop. Last but not least, if your portable hard drive or computer gets infested with ants (and mine has, by the way), you really don’t want to spray the interior with insect repellent.

All kidding aside, physical damage to your computer’s internal or external drives can render stored data inaccessible or permanently lost. Hard drives are fragile, and even slight trauma can damage internal parts. One of the most common causes of data loss from physical damage occurs as a result of a head crash.

What Is a Head Crash?

A head crash is a hard-disk failure that occurs when the read/write head of a hard disk makes contact with its rotating platter, slashing its surface and permanently damaging its magnetic media. You can see visible signs of a head crash if you open a damaged drive. The read/write head carves rings in the spinning platter. This is what causes the data stored in these areas to become inaccessible.

In a normally functioning hard drive, the read/write head floats just above the spinning platter to access stored data or to write data. If the arm on which the read/write head sits gets too close to the platter, the heads will make contact or “crash.”

If you hear a grinding sound when your hard drive spins up, you have almost certainly experienced a head crash. But there are other signs of an impending head crash. If your drive makes a clicking sound when you try to access it, this could indicate damage to the read/write head or the arm on which it sits.

How Head Crashes Occur

The most common way for head crashes to occur is for your drive to sustain physical trauma. If you drop your external hard drive or laptop, the impact can force the read/write head against the platter. Impact damage can also break loose other small parts within the drive that could push the read/write head against the platter when the drive spins up.

Head crashes can also occur in a hard drive as a result of the natural wear that occurs over many years of use. The quality of a hard drive often determines how long it will safely operate. In other cases, a hard drive might contain a manufacturing flaw that causes the read/write head to become damaged during normal use.

Hard drives are assembled in special clean rooms that minimize the presence of dust or other particulates in the air. This is essential for keeping the internal parts of a hard drive as clean as possible. Even a small amount of particulate could cause damage to a new drive when you start using it.

What to Do if Your Drive Clicks or Grinds

You have no doubt been told before on numerous occasions, but the point bears repeating. Backup your data. Any damage to your drive, whether by physical trauma or logical error, could result in partial or complete data loss. Regular backups ensures that you have copies of important documents or precious family photos and videos.

But if you hear the tell-tale clicking, buzzing or grinding, immediately power down your device. Continued use will only cause greater damage to the drive and increase the risk of data loss. If caught early, a head crash does not automatically mean that you’ve lost the data stored on your drive. It does mean that you will need the assistance of a data recovery specialist.

How Secure Data Recovery Services Can Help

For more than a decade, Secure Data Recovery Services has helped customers salvage information from even the most compromised storage devices. If you experience a head crash, you can drop off your device at one of our more than 250 partner locations across North America. Or you can ship directly to one of our labs.

Our certified data recovery engineers will do a free no-obligation diagnostic analysis in one of our Class 10 ISO 4 cleanrooms. We’ll tell you exactly what’s wrong, how we’ll fix it, and how much it will cost. You pay nothing until we successfully restore your data. And our “no data, no recovery fee” guarantee means we stand by our industry-leading data recovery solutions.

Head crashes are among the most challenging data recovery scenarios. Severe physical damage to drive platters makes accessing the stored data in these sectors particularly tricky. But our data recovery engineers have a wide variety of custom tools and utilities at their disposal. And our 96 percent verified success rate means that we succeed where others can’t.

Your first call is the most critical when data loss strikes. If you experience a head crash or other data loss event, Secure Data Recovery Services can help. Here’s how our data recovery process works. Call us anytime at 1-800-388-1266 to open a case.

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