Archive for October 2015

Coping with the Unimaginable; Your Entire Hard Drive Just Went Belly Up


You’re minding your own business… literally, working at your computer handling your business affairs when suddenly (gasp!) you can’t access the mountains of business and customer data saved on your external hard drive for no apparent reason. Your corporate life flashes before your eyes (including multiple scenes of you accidentally spilling coffee on your hard drive, dropping it on the ground, brushing Cheetos crumbs off of it, etc.) and you consider finally trying to make it as a singer-songwriter.

lady screaming

Don’t do it!

There are people that can help you, and there is some troubleshooting even you can do to potentially save yourself a few hundred bucks on data recovery.


Generally data loss can be attributed to one of two causes. Either you’ve got a software issue, or the problem lies in the hard drive itself. Software problems include issues caused by viruses and malware, accidental deletions, formatting errors and the like. With hardware we’re talking physical damage caused by water exposure, dirt/debris contamination, physically dropping the device, etc. Most of these issues require professional assistance, but there are some things you can try out yourself.


Repeat after me: When dealing with data loss due to software issues, I will never work with the drive in question. This is number one, folks. Every second that the damaged drive is connected to a running system works against your chances at recovering your precious data. Your operating system is in constant communication with your drive, so if it sees free space where you know you saved your niece’s baby pictures, you can count on forgetting how much she looked like every other baby during that precious time of life. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Power off the machine connected to the drive that has suffered data loss. Now that the drive is secure, you can make a copy of the drive and attempt to recover information from the copy. Linux has a drive cloning service, and you can also check out Redo Backup & Recovery.
  2. Scan the clone using recovery programs such as Recuva (free!) or Zero Assumption Recovery ($70 – $200).


Hardware issues can stem from all kinds of damage, so it helps to know a little about the main components of a drive to better understand what might be damaged.

hard drive parts

  • PCB: This is the green circuit board attached to the bottom of the drive. Within it is the main controller. This is the interface that converts 0s and 1s from the platter into data that your computer can actually use and interpret. If you apply power to your drive and hear no noises whatsoever, it’s most likely a PCB issue. If possible, just swap your PCB with one from a matching drive.
  • Platters: Every drive contains one or more thin, disk-like platters. These glass/alloy platters are coated with a magnetic layer and spin rapidly. They contain the media where the data is actually stored. If your drive is spinning up or making clicking noises,  you generally have a platters problem. This is a job for professional data recovery engineers, and it’s imperative that you not apply any further power to the drive or else   risk further data destruction.
  • Head Assembly: Your data is read using a series of read and write heads. These heads never touch the platters directly, but instead remain nanometers above the platters’ surface. There are generally two heads per platter. If these heads are damaged, it can lead to a ‘head crash’ where the heads actually do contact the surface, which is extremely destructive towards your data. If you hear a beeping sound when you power up your drive, you probably have an issue with the heads having become stuck to the platters. The drive needs to be opened up in a lab, so this is another job for the pros.
  • Firmware: The operating system that deals with all your data and the operations required to access it. The firmware is mostly stored on the platters and on the PCB. If your drive sounds normal but is not detected or is detected wrong, you probably have a firmware issue. If you have the well-known firmware bug Seagate 7200.11, there are a lot of DIY solutions you can find just by googling it. If the issue is with a more recent drive, you’ll have to get professionals in on the deal.


Drive malfunctions are no laughing matter, but data recovery is often possible. Don’t freak out, just make sure to turn your drive off immediately upon recognizing an issue and don’t be afraid to bite the bullet and fork some money over to the pro’s- your business could depend on it.