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Diagnosing a Hard Drive Head Crash on an Apple Laptop

Apple Laptops are one of the most popular laptop makers in the world. However, they are susceptible to data loss like any other computer. Here's how to quickly tell if your Apple Mac Hard Drive crashed


Even if you're especially careful with your MacBook, hard drive issues can sideline your computer in a matter of seconds. Diagnosing a hard drive failure can be difficult on any laptop, but you can look for a few physical and logical symptoms to decide whether you need help from a professional data recovery provider.

Error Messages and Performance Issues

When Mac users experience computer performance issues, they often run the Mac OS X disk utility to try to diagnose and fix the problem. We do not recommend this, as disk utilities can complicate the data recovery process. However, if you have already used the disk utility, you might see one of several error messages that indicate a hard drive issue.

For instance, an "Error: This disk needs to be repaired" message in the Mac disk utility indicates a large amount of corruption on your drive. This can occur when the read/write heads are offset. In some cases, the utility might present a "hard drive is failing," message, which is a clear indicator of severe physical malfunction; the exact error message will vary depending on your laptop model.

Other logical issues can occur when a hard drive is in the early stages of a mechanical issue. You might be unable to open certain files or folders. Files might disappear suddenly, and you may have trouble running certain programs. Sudden, drastic slowdown can also indicate hard drive issues in some circumstances.

Physical Symptoms of Hard Drive Failure

The physical symptoms of a hard drive failure are roughly the same regardless of the computer's operating system. Listen for clicking sounds, which could indicate damage to the hard drive's read/write heads. Head failures are a serious but relatively common issue that occurs when the actuator heads come into direct contact with the platters. Some head failures cause a grinding or whining noise.

The drive might also make whirring noises if the spindle is damaged. The spindle moves the platters under the read/write heads, and spindle seizures can cause serious platter damage in a matter of seconds. Treat any unusual sounds as serious symptoms; you should immediately turn your hard drive off to avoid accidental damage.

Other physical symptoms that might accompany a hard drive failure include:

  • Your MacBook does not recognize the hard drive
  • You smell burning plastic or solder
  • Frequent operating system crashes
  • Your MacBook gets extremely hot
  • Your drive clicks several times, then turns off

While some of these symptoms indicate a specific type of hard drive damage, you will need a professional media evaluation in order to accurately diagnose your drive's failure.

Steps to Take Following a Disk Failure

If you keep regular backups of your laptop's hard drive, you should check to make sure that you have an up-to-date copy of important files before sending your laptop into Apple or a third-party repair company.

If you do not have a recent backup, you will need to find a professional data recovery company with Mac OS X experience. Unfortunately, while Apple's warranty covers most hard drive replacements, data recovery is not a covered service. By working with experienced Mac OS specialists, you can control your costs and get your laptop up and running as quickly as possible.

At Secure Data Recovery Services, we specialize in treating Mac laptops. We offer free evaluations to definitively diagnose your laptop's hard drive failure. Our specialists can open your drive in a certified Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom to assess the extent of media and component damage, and we can provide you with an accurate price quote and turnaround estimate within a day of receiving your computer.

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