Dropped Portable Hard Disk Drive ?.

Faulty portable hard disk drives appear regularly on our  monthly job sheets. A significant number of these cases concern clients who have dropped their portable hard disk drives and can no longer access the data stored on them. Typical products involved are the Western Digital My Passport and the Seagate Back-UP Plus devices.

Customers generally express dismay that a product they purchased with the intent of data back-up or secure transportation of data from one computer location to another has proved not best suited for the purpose they intended. The Datlabs Customer Service team tend to agree with these sentiments however we have to also comment that “read the user manual” and “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) also spring to mind. Happily the Datlabs technical team are experts in repairing and extracting data from damaged portable hard drives  and  have an  outstanding level of success in re-uniting clients with their data.

So what goes wrong?

The average computer user is not hardware “tech savvi” and is therefore generally not aware that precision moving parts are installed in their portable hard drive and as such the device they purchased needs to be handled with a degree of care.

In a portable hard drive data is stored on a small circular component called a hard drive platter. The platter surface is covered in a highly responsive ferromagnetic material. The magnetic state of the material is changed to facilitate the storage of digital data by a component assembly called a read/write head. The changed state represents recorded data as minute magnetic patterns. The patterns of recorded data are further arranged in concentric tracks.

The illustration below  shows the basic manner in which data is recorded on the surface of  a portable hard disk drive platter.

Portable Hard Disk Drive Schematic

To give the reader some appreciation of the tolerances involved in the operation of the hard drive, a 1TB hard drive will have circa 100,000 recording tracks on the surface of its 2.5 inch diameter platter. From these figures you can see that any small disturbance in the alignment of read/write positioning over its recording tracks will cause the device to malfunction or catastrophically fail.   When a portable hard disk drive sustains a jolt, knock or drop this can disturb the positioning of the read write heads and adversely affect the correct operation of the hard drive.  The shock or vibrations involved can also damage something called the read write head slider. The slider maintains an air bearing between the surface of the platter and the magnetic pick-up that detects the magnetic patterns that represent the stored data.

Symptoms of a knocked or dropped portable hard drive

The physical symptoms exhibited during our initial diagnosis of faulty portable hard disk drives include:

  • No signs of life on power up
  • Clicking Sounds
  • Buzzing sounds
  • Grinding or rattling sounds.

Symptoms shown by the system

When the portable hard disk drive is connected to a computer via its USB connector it will, in the large majority of cases fail to be recognised by the system software.

Datlabs recommend

Once a client reports that his or her portable hard drive has been dropped or knocked and is exhibiting the fault conditions referred to above our customer services team will strongly recommend that the client refrains from making any further attempts to access the drive.  Repeatedly turning the faulty hard disk drive on and off introduces the possibility of damage to the magnetic recording material of the platters.  Our Customer Service team will also express their disapproval at any attempts by the customer to fiddle with the hard disk drive read write heads in the hope that things will get better (THEY WONT!) Customers with critical data stored on their failed portable hard drive are strongly advised to leave any attempts at recovering data to  those who have the appropriate skills, equipment and specialist facilities needed for the task.

A professional data recovery company will have; dedicated clean room facilities, anti-static compliant workshops, qualified technicians, A certificate from the Information Commissioners Office, have GDPR compliant operations, secure and certificated websites, secure billing and payment facilities, secure customer data bases and have physical and system security in place. When you commit your data to a third party make absolutely certain you are conducting business with a forthright operation and start by Googling their business location using Google Maps. In a lot of cases you will be amazed what you find “behind a fancy web site!”

In shopping around for a suitable replacement there are products on the market that are designed to withstand a drop and as such are quality tested in manufacture to a drop test standard.  Datlabs technical team will  happy to point you in the right direction.

How to recover the stored data

Datlabs technicians will firstly establish if the drop or knock has caused the read write head assembly to functionally fail and will conduct a cursory in-situ test using specialist test equipment. In nearly all cases where a faulty portable hard drive has been dropped, our equipment will return a negative result indicating that the read write heads have indeed sustained damage.

Subsequent to this initial test our technicians will examine the physical condition of the read/write head assembly and also the recording media on the hard disk drive platter surface.

This physical inspection of any hard disk drive is always undertaken in our ESD compliant clean air   facility where the device seals can be broken and the moving components exposed for viewing without the potential introduction of particulates in the atmosphere or the possibility of static electricity discharge that can cause the performance of the read write heads to become compromised or faulty.

This examination generally reveals that the recording media is in good condition and that the read write head assembly has sustained damage. The damaged read write heads are then swapped out for a good compatible item, the device re-assembled, its functionality restored and the recorded data transferred to another portable hard disk drive. The veracity of the data is then auto checked and a listing made available to the customer for his or her approval, eventual shipping and system restore.