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Data Recovery Blog

What is a Hard Drive Head Crash?

Jul 27, 2021

A head crash is a serious form of damage to a hard disk drive. It requires specialist equipment and expertise to recover data from a drive that has suffered from a head crash.

At Recover My Data, we’ve dealt with hundreds of hard drives and other storage devices with a wide range of faults. Our engineers are experts at diagnosing and troubleshooting complex issues, whether it’s a laptop, external storage drive/USB stick, mobile phone or SD Card, we’re professionals in data recovery for individuals and businesses.

We’ve successfully recovered terabytes of sensitive business data, personal photographs, student work for our customers after a head crash.

A hard drive that has suffered from a head crash is one of the more serious and complex faults diagnosed by our data recovery technicians. This article will explain the serious nature of a mechanical head crash and explain the process for recovery.

If you suspect your laptop, PC or external hard drive is damaged, the most important thing is that you do not try to power it on. This could cause further damage or result recovery attempts more difficult. If you’re unsure, give us a call today and one of our technicians will be able to advise you.

What exactly is a Hard Drive Head Crash?

To understand the seriousness of a head crash, it helps to first have a basic understanding of how a mechanical hard drive works.

Labelled Hard Drive
A labelled diagram of the inside of a hard drive

Your data is digitally stored on these physical platters, which look like a stack of disks. Each segment contains different pieces of data which is read and understood by your computer’s operating system software.

A head crash occurs when the read/write head on the actuator arm ‘crashes’ into the data platters. The platters themselves can become physically scratched, which means that the drive has mechanically failed and the data is unreadable without specialist equipment.

What Causes a Head Crash? Why do they happen?

Shock or impact are the biggest causes of head crashes. Mechanical hard drives are extremely sensitive to impact, while the ‘rugged’ style of hard drives will have extra shock absorbers built into their design, all hard drives are at risk.

Dropping a hard drive has a large risk of causing a heard crash or other type of phsyical damage, including dents and misalignment. Even dropping a hard drive a short height onto soft carpeted floor can cause damage, so it’s important to be extra careful when handling drives that contain your important data!

Many laptop owners don’t intentionally drop their laptops or portable hard drives, but knocks, bumps and drops are still common when devices are carried around in a handbag, backpack or the footwell of the car.

Can data be recovered after a head crash?

Yes, data can be successfully recovered from a device that has suffered a head crash, but this cannot be done at home. Complex data recovery always requires input from a technician with speciailst skills and tools.

Our technicians have successfully recovered data from hard drives with head crashes.

To be able to access the data we would have to do a full check of the device including checking for rings on the platters. We then undertake some fairly intricate surgery on the head drive, essentially completing a transplant of the read/write heads from a brand new, undamaged matching donor drive.

When this is done, we thoroughly test the device, ensuring that the repair is robust and that the data is fully accessible before returning it.

Can I recover my data at home?

After a head crash, a home data recovery attempt is not recommended, in fact, any data recovery attempts risk causing a lot further damage.

The first thing to do and this is the most important thing to do if you suspect your hard drive may have a head crash – do not plug it back into the computer/laptop!

Keep your computer and hard drive powered off and disconnected.

Everyone as an urge to check these things themselves, however you could be doing further, irreversible damage by doing so.

Opening up the computer or hard drive by yourself, in a non-sterile environment can also cause extra damage. Hard drives are also extremely sensitive to dust within the casing, so small specs of dust on the platters may also cause physical damage.

There’s also a large risk of static electricity damaging the other internal componants of the drive when touched. This may damage the rest of your computer in some circumstances.

What can I do to avoid a head crash?

Most modern hard drives have AHDP (Active Hard Drive Protection) to avoid damage from head crashes, however, there are still some steps you can take to avoid your hard drive suffereing from a head crash:

Handle devices with additional care

Be extremely careful when handling your devices that contain mechanical hard drives with spinning disks. Use additional care when picking them up, putting them down and use appropriate padded cases when using a handbag or backpack.

Keep your devices as cool as possible

It’s no secret that computers and electronics generate extra heat. By keeping your hard drive cooler, you’re actually prolonging its life and reducing the risk of issues like head crashes.

Never attempt any at-home repair or recovery

As we’ve previous mentioned, you may be doing more harm than good when attempting to recover data from a hard drive with physical damage.

Always speak to an experienced data recovery professional in the first instance.

Ensure you always make backups

You should never have a single copy of a file, it’s always best practice to have at least 3 copies:

  1. Your working copy
  2. A backup (online backup)
  3. A second backup (offline backup)

If you have regular backups of all your files, you have additional peace of mind that your data is safe in the event of a head crash or critical error with your device.

Consider upgrading to an SSD

An SSD is a Solid State Drive, they use different technology to store your data. Most importantly – they have no moving parts and no data platters, so there’s absolutely no risk of a head crash. However, there are other potential issues with SSDs, but they are generally more robust than hard disk drives.

Read more: Hard Drives vs SSDs

Hard Drive Head Crashes: A Summary

  • A head crash is a serious mechanical error to a hard drive
  • It can happen if the device is knocked, dropped or suffers some form of impact
  • Home recovery is not possible in the event of a head crash and always requires professional intervention
  • Our technicians can advise you further – give us a call today for a no obligation chat about your damaged hard drive

Working with Aaron has been amazing. He kept me informed of the process all the way through and was honest about whether the data could be extracted or whether my hard drive was too damaged to retrieve anything.

Thank you so much Aaron, your service has been impeccable.

Alexis Charkiw

Aaron was amazingly empathetic. I was distraught with the thought of losing everything but he was reassuring whilst managing my expectations very well.

The communication was brilliant. It’s great to be able to speak to a human being who genuinely cares.

I would recommend this business to anyone who needs this level of forensic support. They are brilliantly human and competent.

Shea Heer

Very impressed by the friendly and reliable service. Went above and beyond my expectations plus fantastic value for money! Would highly recommend to anyone.

Donna Clark

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