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What is the Primary Cause of Hard Drive Failure?

Common hard drive failures include fire damage and corrupt files, but some scenarios are statistically proven to be the primary causes.


Hard drive failure can happen for a variety of reasons and the primary cause can constantly change depending on how people treat their devices. At a basic level, the main cause of any hard drive failure is either physical or logical. Either the moving parts of the drive broke, or some type of error occurred within the operation of the drive that prevented data from being viewed, transferred, or accessed. 

While the primary cause of hard drive failure may be hard to pinpoint, we have outlined some of the most common hard drive failures that we see in our labs and how users can avoid these scenarios.

Common Hard Drive Failures

While there is a variety of hard disk drive (HDD) failure types, a recent article stated that damaged recording surfaces are responsible for 70% of HDD failures. This is caused by a head crash after the drive experiences physical damage, and a head crash will damage the platters, and in turn, the stored data. The next most common failure point is printed circuit board (PCB) failure, which occurs after moisture enters the drive or static electricity causes the board to fail. 

The scenarios above were two of the top drive failures in 2019, but there are other scenarios that are regularly seen in the lab, including:

  • Thermal Damage: When your hard drive does not have proper ventilation, is overworked, or is burned in a fire, thermal damage occurs. This can cause melted or charred components and will require recovery in a Cleanroom environment.
  • Power Surges: When lightning strikes and the power goes out, or there is a temporary outage where power is off and returned soon after, a computer may crash, and the read/write heads will not function, resulting in inaccessible data.
  • Corruption: When a program is closed improperly, a computer is shut down in the middle of an action, or a virus is found on your drive, corruption occurs and the files on your drive will need to be recovered professionally to avoid further damage.
  • User Error: Hard drive users may attempt to rebuild their device after a failure or accidentally delete files off of a drive. Each of these actions can result in permanent data loss if not treated immediately.

Protecting Your Hard Drive

The general issue that all hard drive failures have in common is damage to the platters and the read and write heads that read the data on them. In order to protect your hard drive from this fate, treat your drive and the host device it’s in with care. Do not drop, jostle, or bump your drive and avoid excessive heat or areas where your device may fall into water. When a thunderstorm is coming, unplug your device from the wall to prevent a power surge. 

As far as logical damage, be careful about what you install and ensure that you allow your hard drive to power down correctly and complete data transfers before unplugging. Overall, if your HDD experiences a failure scenario like those listed above, the best course of action is to power it down to avoid further data loss. 

The next step is to call a data recovery professional like Secure Data Recovery. We work with all hard drive makes and models and have a 96% success rate in recovering data. Call our customer service line 24/7 at 1-800-388-1266 to start your case today.

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