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Hard Drive Actuator Assembly

The actuator assembly is an internal set of hard drive components containing read/write heads (or actuator heads), an actuator arm, an axis, a motor and sometimes several other components. The role of the actuator is to read and write information from a set of platters that are coated with a thin magnetic material.

Hard Drive Actuator Assembly

The actuator assembly contains sensitive components that allow your computer to access and interpret data.

When a hard drive's actuator assembly stops working, the drive cannot function. Actuator failures are often accompanied by noticeable physical symptoms.

Common symptoms of actuator issues include:

  • Clicking Sounds or Other Unusual Operating Noises
  • Extremely Slow Operation
  • Missing or Corrupt Files
  • Bad Sector Errors
  • Computer Cannot Mount or Recognize the Hard Drive

Secure Data Recovery Services offers hard drive repair and data recovery services. With a Certified Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom and experienced engineering teams, we provide fast turnaround times and high recovery rates through a large network of offices across the United States.

If you cannot access data due to an actuator failure, contact our customer service team to set up a free, no-obligation media evaluation.

Actuator Heads and Arm

Actuator heads are among the most sensitive components of a hard drive. They read and write data through positive and negative magnetic charges, then amplify those charges and relay a signal to the hard drive's controller board.

Modern hard drives have two actuator heads per platter, one for each side. The actuator heads are on an arm that travels over the surface of the hard drive's platters. When the heads are not in use, the actuator arm rests in a specialized landing area.

While the actuator heads operate extremely close to the platters, they never actually make contact during normal operation. The heads float over the disks on a thin cushion of air, created by the spinning motion of the platters. Actuator heads typically operate about 3 nanometers above the platters, although the exact spacing of the platters and heads varies from model to model. For perspective, the diameter of a human hair is about 60,000 nanometers.

When the actuator heads do make contact following a component failure, they can quickly cause problems for data recovery engineers. Crashed heads often remove the thin magnetic material on the platters, causing permanent damage to the targeted tracks. If a computer user attempts to use a hard drive after an actuator failure, the chances of severe, permanent platter damage rise significantly.

The Actuator Axis

The actuator axis is the central point of the assembly. A motor rotates the axis to send the actuator heads to the appropriate part of the platters, allowing the device to read and write data.

Concentric circles of data on hard drive platters are called tracks, and individual segments of those tracks are called sectors. The first few tracks of a hard drive contain firmware information that tells the drive how to operate, while the rest of the drive stores user data and program data.

Common Problems with Hard Drive Actuators

Actuators can fail due to gradual mechanical error, sudden physical shocks, power surges, blackouts and other events. Read/write head failures are among the most common critical hard drive issues. Slightly offset actuator heads can prevent a hard drive from functioning correctly, and severe failures can even cause permanent platter damage.

Actuator assembly issues include:

  • Actuator Head Tracking Issues
  • Actuator Motor Failure
  • Broken Actuator Arms
  • Broken Pivot Mechanism
  • Actuator Head Crashes
  • Data recovery companies often refer to actuator issues simply as read/write head failures. Most actuator issues require replacement or repair of the heads or the entire assembly, although some minor issues can be corrected by editing the HDD's firmware.

    Because contaminants on the platters or heads can cause serious media issues, data recovery engineers work in certified Cleanrooms to repair or replace parts of the actuator assembly. Secure Data Recovery Services operates a certified Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom, and we perform all physical media repairs in this specialized environment. Class 10 ISO 4 standards allow for no more than 10 particles sized 0.5?m or larger per cubic foot of space.

    Choosing a Certified Data Recovery Provider

    If you need to recover data from a hard drive with a damaged actuator assembly, you should look for a certified data recovery company with an appropriate Cleanroom and free media diagnostics.

    Secure Data Recovery Services has more credentials than any other major data recovery provider. We hold certifications from all hard drive manufacturers, and we were the first data recovery company to earn a SSAE 18 Type II Certification.

    Our certifications include:

    • PCI Security Certification
    • SAS 70 and SSAE 18 Type II Certification
    • GSA Contractor Certification
    • Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) Member
    • Green Business Certification
    • Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom Certification

    Contact us today to set up a free media evaluation.