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Common Broken Hard Drive Failure Scenarios
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Common traits of a broken hard drive.

Most households have several hard drives in computers, DVRs, portable music players and other devices, and many businesses have hundreds of HDDs on premises. While modern hard drive technology is extremely advanced, the current generation of hard drives uses the same basic principles to store data as the first hard disk drives developed in the mid-1950s.

Common Broken Hard Drive Failure Scenarios

Mechanical hard drive failures account for a large percentage of all data loss scenarios.

Secure Data Recovery offers hard drive repair and recovery in these instances, using tools like a Class 10 clean room and proprietary recovery software to restore missing files and folders from a broken HDD.

In our experience, computer users often ignore common hard drive failure symptoms simply because they do not recognize the symptoms as problematic.

Some of the most common traits of a broken hard drive include:

  • Clicking, Clunking, Whirring and Other Sounds - Hard drives can emit a range of sounds after physical failures. Clicking sounds are the most common reported symptom. Sounds may occur intermittently or constantly while the hard drive operates.

  • Failure to Spin - When a computer powers on, computer users often hear the sound of the hard drive spinning depending on the computer's case, the HDD model and other factors. If a hard drive does not spin up properly, it may stay silent during boot-up procedures, which indicates a failure.

  • Electronics Smells - Many of our clients report the smell of burning electronics or solder. A hard drive may present a burning smell while appearing completely normal in other respects.

  • Onscreen Error Messages - When a computer cannot access files on a hard drive, it will often return "File Not Found" errors and other messages to alert the user to the problem. Onscreen error messages cannot be used to definitely identify the problems affecting a broken hard disk drive, but error messages can be valuable for diagnostic purposes when combined with other symptoms.

In order to understand why hard drives present these symptoms, you should understand the basic components of a hard drive and what happens when they fail.

What Breaks in a Hard Drive?

Hard disk drives consist of a few basic components. For over half a century, hard drive manufacturers have improved these components to allow for higher levels of storage and greater reliability, but the basic parts of a new hard drive are essentially similar to the parts in older models.

HDD components include:

  • Read/Write Heads - The small, magnetic heads of a hard drive reside on an actuator arm that sends the heads to highly precise positions on the platters. The heads read and write information as positive or negative magnetic charges.

    When the read/write heads fail, a hard drive may present unusual noises, including the aforementioned clicking sound--often casually referred to as the "click of death" by IT professionals. The actuator itself may also make loud motor noises. However, failed heads do not always create a sound.

  • Platters - The platters consist of coated glass, plastic or metal. The read/write heads process information written to the platters while the platters spin on a high-speed spindle.

    The platters cannot fail, but the spindle and the spindle motor can fail, resulting in a total lockup. Some hard drives with spindle failures make grinding sounds.

  • PCB - The electronics board of a hard drive interacts with the computer, transferring information and sending commands. Most manufacturers now optimize each printed circuit board for each individual hard drive. If a hard drive has PCB issues, a data recovery company needs significant experience and firmware repair equipment to complete the data recovery.

    A failed PCB may cause a burning smell, prevent a hard drive from powering up or may not present any noticeable physical symptoms.

Physical and Logical Data Recovery Techniques

If all of a hard drive's components function properly but users cannot access their files, the drive has a logical (non-physical) issue.

To recover data from logically damaged hard drives, data recovery engineers need to use specialized software. Experienced engineers will often restore damaged files manually through low-level editing programs. Logical recovery techniques vary depending on the nature of the failure; for instance, our engineers use different techniques to recover corrupted files than they would use for deleted files.

We treat all physical hard drive issues in a Certified Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom. The Cleanroom protects all of the components from contamination, particularly the extremely sensitive read/write heads and platters. We replace damaged components, perform necessary firmware repairs, copy the data to another drive and perform any necessary logical recovery procedures.

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