Hard Disk Drive Faults and Fixes.
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Hard Disk Drive Logical Failure.
When a hard disk drive can be heard to spin up and the drive label and or its partitions appear but the files and folders under the drive volume cannot be accessed then in the data recovery industry we call this a logical failure. With a logical failure the hard disk drive electronic components and mechanical components are all functioning correctly but the means by which the operating system stores the data has become corrupt.
The precise manner in which data is organized on a hard disk drive is determined by filing systems or file systems. File systems are operating system dependent, typically; file allocation table 32. ( FAT32 ) used for external media, Windows new technology file system (NTFS) and Apple Mac Hierarchical File System (HFS). In the majority of cases simply accessing the data structures with a valid file system will facilitate the transfer of the data to an alternative storage location or device.
It is however important to determine the primary cause of a logical failure as in most cases corrupt file systems are a consequence of more serious issues such as degraded storage media or bad sectors.
Hard Disk Drive Bad Sectors.
Bad sectors are areas of hard disk drives recording tracks that have become unusable. All operating systems map a hard disk drive’s bad sectors and avoid them during normal operation.
Hard disk drives will have ‘spare capacity’ sectors which can be used as alternative storage locations, accommodating data normally mapped in contiguous locations. Where bad sectors become an issue is when the numbers of errors detected become large or unmanageable. Bad sectors accumulate over the normal life of a hard disk drive. In large numbers the hard drive will spend an inordinate amount of time house-keeping and keeping track of bad sector areas and the computer will become noticeably slower. When the numbers of bad sectors is unmanageable the operating system is overwhelmed with error reports and good sectors to re-allocate data to are no longer available. The operating system has no way of automatically compensating for this loss, potentially leading to data corruption on a larger scale and system instability if the affected data was crucial.
Bad sectors created by recording media instability have a tendency to escalate in numbers rapidly. Since the margin for error inside a working disk drive is minute any damage to the magnetic platter surface will more than likely cause a contagion of errors and read write failures. Fortunately if a hard disk drive fails due to bad sectors then there are means to recover the data, files and folders using specialist equipment, methods and procedures etc.
Hard Disk Drive Clicking Noises.
Clicking noises heard from a hard disk drive are a common indication of read write head failure or a hard disk drive controller firmware fault.
The clicking sound is a consequence of a data read malfunction. The read write head actuator mechanism returning sharply to its home position under a number of failed retry read requests produces the repetitive clicking noise.
At start-up, and during use, the disk head must move correctly and be able to track the data stored on the hard drive rotating platters precisely. If the read write head stack fails to move as expected cannot read the data recorded on the magnetic media of the disk surface, the disk controller will return the head stack to its home position and then initiate a number of retries. The magnet needed to settle the heads in a precise location is small and powerful and if it fails to settle on a specific recording track will return sharply to a home position causing an audible “click” sound.
Assuming there is no permanent damage to the platter surface recording media then we are generally successful in replacing the read write head stack in order to facilitate data read and transfer to a new hard drive.
Hard Disk Drive Making Buzzing Noises.
Due to the intrinsic nature of the materials used in hard disk drives a phenomenon known as “stiction” can occur. (stiction is a portmanteau of the term “static friction”). . In situations where two surfaces with areas below the micro-meter range come into close proximity they may adhere together. The results of stiction is that the read write head ceramic becomes attached to the material coating on the surface of the disk platters preventing the spindle motor from rotating. On attempting to initialise the hard disk drive the combination of seized head actuator and motor constraints results in a defined beeping or buzzing noise.
If the drive is making strange rattling or clicking noises, turn off the computer immediately and seek professional advice in terms of rescuing the data stored on it.
Hard Disk Drive Spindle Motor Failure.
If the hard disk drive spindle motor has become damaged or the motor speed control circuitry is faulty then the hard disk drive will generally exhibit as dead and unresponsive. Of all the cases we receive this is the least common, easiest to diagnose and most time consuming to deal with. You may think that a simple control circuit board swap will resolve the issue but this rarely if ever is the case. In all events a faulty motor may draw more current from a substitute board and damage this item as well. If the original control circuit board is faulty any replacement circuit board needs to be a manufacture parameter match and will also need re-instatement of item specific service elements using specialist capital intensive equipment for successful operation to be restored.
Hard Disk Drive Controller Board Failure.
Common problems with hard disk drives are failed or damaged circuit boards (PCB). In some cases the associated hard drive will present as completely dead and unresponsive and in other cases the motor control will still function and the spindle motor will be heard to spin and the actuator will be unresponsive.
Often a bad computer power supply unit combined with power surge will damage the interface components of the hard drive controller card or corrupt the parts of service control areas stored on the controller card.
Although modern hard drives are designed to be low power consumption they are generally installed in confined spaces and are susceptible to overheating. Heat damage is an issue with windows laptop installed drives particularly in close proximity to power hungry graphics accelerator cards.
The spindle motor control circuit is a part of the controller card electronics and under excessive load such as a seized spindle motor will draw current sufficient to overload components
The USB interface has now been built into the hard drive circuit board of most external drives. On one hand this is a slick design but on the other hand this integrated design leaves the device vulnerable to physical damage when leads are tugged or pulled and will rip the connector from the PCB.
Repair to the controller circuit board requires specialised temperature controlled soldering stations and precision tools and techniques. DIY is definitely not recommended as multilayer circuit board design involves micron thin copper conductor tracks that are easily fused under excessive heat.
Swapping a PCB from a compatible hard drive can occasionally work on older models but the attempt is NOT recommended as this can lead to further damage. Controller cards on modern hard drives are uniquely programmed to the complete assembly as it was manufactured. In our lab we use specialized software and hardware to rebuild the unique parameters or transfer them from one device to another in order to restore operation.