Why You Should Never Open A Hard Drive

See our video below to find out why you should never open a hard drive.

Transcript

Instead of a needle, hard drives use tiny magnets to read and write data. The heads don’t actually touch the disc.

But you’d only see that if you got close

Super close

The heads float just three nanometers above the disk

In comparison, a spec of dust in the air is 166 times bigger than the gap.

It would be like trying to kick a football through a gap the size of an ant

So if that giant spec of dust can’t fit through the gap, it will hit the read head

Bouncing it into the disc spinning at over 100mph

And scraping away chunks of disc within seconds

Up close the tiny scratches look like mountains

The heads can’t get past the damage so just scratch it even more

Until there’s nothing left but dust

This is what we call a head crash

Why You Should Never Open A Hard Drive

And This is Why You Should Never Open a Hard Drive! (Unless You Have a Cleanroom)

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How To Troubleshoot Western Digital Elements External Drive

How To Troubleshoot Western Digital Elements External Drive

Elements is the basic brand of external drives from Western Digital. These no-frills disks are usually great value, but when they fail have a few quirks that can make recovery a little awkward. For example the small pocket sized drives usually have a soldered USB port that cannot be removed. There is also automatic encryption, even if you’ve never set a password.

Symptoms of WD Elements Failure

  • LED permanently lit / blinking
  • LED not lighting at all
  • Clicking / ticking noise
  • Disk is not formatted. Do you want to format it?
  • Unable to see your data in Windows or macOS
  • Unable to copy or read files

Troubleshooting Ideas

If you have problems with a WD Elements drive, you should make some checks to see if you can narrow down the fault. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty with Western Digital. If there is important data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery advice before you try anything.

That’s the warning out the way, so lets have a look at some troubleshooting.

  1. First check all cables are plugged in securely, and not damaged or frayed. If you have an identical spare cable you can try it, just be gentle.
  2. If trying a different power supply, make sure the voltage matches exactly. Amps can be higher but not lower.
  3. There is little point dismantling a WD Elements drive, as there is usually no SATA connection inside. Even if you manage to bypass the USB Port, your data will be encrypted.
  4. It’s worth plugging the external drive into another computer. If it seems to work you should copy the data off straight away. The drive could still be faulty & fail again soon.
  5. Whatever you do, don’t dismantle the actual hard drive. Hard drives are built in controlled clean-air environments and even the smallest spec of dust can cause permanent damage to the drive.
  6. These external drives are quite unique in the way they work. It is not possible to replace the circuit board (PCB) on these disks, as your PCB contains important encryption keys. On the offchance that a replacement PCB worked, your data would be scrambled anyway without access to specialist decryption tools.

If you are looking for a data recovery service for your external hard drive have a look at our external drive recovery services.

Troubleshoot WD My Passport External Hard Drive

Troubleshoot WD MyPassport External Hard Drive

Unlike most external hard drives, WD (Western Digital) My Passport drives are more than just a simple wrapper around a regular hard drive. WD have integrated the USB port straight onto the main circuit board. This means if your external drive fails, you can’t easily remove it to attach to a PC.

Symptoms of WD MyPassport Failure

  • LED constantly flashing / blinking
  • LED not lighting at all
  • Clicking / ticking noise
  • Disk is not formatted. Do you want to format it?
  • Unable to see your data in Windows or macOS
  • Unable to copy or read files

Troubleshooting Tips

If you have problems with a WD My Passport drive, you can make a few checks to see where the fault lies. Be aware that opening the external drive case will probably void your warranty. If there is important data on the drive you should seek professional data recovery advice before you try anything.

That’s the warning out the way, so lets have a look at some troubleshooting.

  • First check all cables are plugged in securely, and not damaged or frayed. If you have an identical spare cable you can try it, just be gentle
  • There is no point dismantling a WD MyPassport drive, as there is no SATA connection inside.
  • It’s worth trying the external drive on another computer. If it seems to work you should copy the data off straight away. The drive could still be faulty & fail again soon.
  • Whatever you do, don’t dismantle the actual hard drive. Hard drives are built in controlled clean-air environments and even the smallest spec of dust can cause permanent damage to the drive.
  • These external drives are quite unique in the way they work. It is not possible to replace the circuit board (PCB) on these disks, as your PCB contains important encryption keys. On the offchance that a replacement PCB worked, your data would be scrambled anyway without access to specialist decryption tools.

If you are looking for a data recovery service for your external hard drive have a look at our external drive recovery services.

The Worst Head Crash Ever?

Worst Head Crash Ever
I’ve seen some pretty serious head crashes in my time. The worst part of my job is knowing I’ll have to tell someone their data is gone forever. Sometimes media damage can be subtle enough that it’s impossible difficult to even detect by eye. Other times the damage is obvious. Today was one of the clearest I’ve ever seen. What’s worse is that we got two of these identical disks from the same Mac Pro, with identical damage. You have to see it to believe it…
Worst Head Crash Ever?
Worst Head Crash Ever?
It’s difficult to know how long these damaged disks were left spinning, but it looks like months! If you look closely, you can see that the centre of the disk is worn right through. That black dust everywhere was once the shiny disk surface that stored the data. Nobody in the world can recover data from disk dust.
The easiest way to avoid such serious damage is to power off your hard drive as soon as you hear clicking. If we got these disks sooner it’s possible we could have recovered them.

Seagate Barracuda Ramp Weakness

Seagate Barracuda Ramp Weakness

During a recent RAID 5 recovery attempt, John made an interesting discovery inside the two failed disks. The plastic ramp that the heads park onto when idle had snapped in the same position on both drives. We don’t know if the heads got damaged first, and then broke the ramps during parking, or if the ramps broke first, damaging the heads as they parked. The client told us the disks were not dropped or jolted. Whatever the cause, both disks had scratches to the delicate magnetic surfaces. In this case, two failed disks from a four disk RAID 5 means the data recovery is not possible.

Old vs New

The other two disks in the RAID had different firmware and don’t show the same fault. We don’t know if these disks have the other (older?) more robust ramp system that we’ve seen in similar disks.

Seagate Barracuda Head Ramps
Seagate Barracuda Head Ramps

More Problems With Seagate Drives

These ramp problems are the latest in a long line of faults for Seagate.

Disk Info

Failed Disk Working Disk
Model Number ST3000DM001 ST3000DM001
PN 1CH166-306 1CH166-302
FW CC29 CC26
Date 14354 13407
Site Code TK TK

Interestingly, the surviving disks in this RAID array were dated 2013, and the failed disks 2014. I would have expected the older disks to fail first.

Top 3 Coffees in Portsmouth

Safe Data Recovery

It’s probably worth a quick explanation here. Why is this data recovery blog so interested in coffee? Well personally I love coffee, but I also often recover data from hard drives that have been for a drink (or a swim). So there’s my excuse, now back to the coffee!

Fortunately for caffeine addicts in Portsmouth like me, there are plenty of places to get your fix. I’m the sort of person that finds somewhere I like, and then just keeps going back there forever. Sometimes though, it’s worth having a look at the other options. My current top three places for coffee in Portsmouth are below in no particular order. I’ve chosen three, but I’m always happy to try more places so let me know if you’d like me to give your coffee a try!

Portsmouth Coffee

Coffee#1

Coffee#1 is a small chain of coffee shops spreading like wildfire from Wales, across the South West, all the way down to the South Coast of England. The local branch is in Palmerston Road, Southsea. They do great snacks, cakes & lunches (Sausage & Relish roll anyone?) I usually go for whatever single-origin coffee they have in, and I’m never disappointed. They also have beans & equipment for sale. I recommend the Brazillian beans if you can get them. They are my current favourite for grinding & Aeropressing at home. Visit the Coffee#1 Website

Home Coffee

I’ve only just found out about this place, but I’m so glad I did. I recently went for lunch here & had a big granary doorstep sandwich, an Americano, & an iced ring doughnut. I couldn’t have been happier with all those things.  The cosy shop on Albert Road is just a few steps away from the Kings Theatre, but they are set to open a new store on Cosham High Street, much closer to home for me! They have lots of info about their coffees on the blackboards and are more than happy to have a chat with you about brewing at home. They sell kit & beans too which is handy, although I’ve not tried the beans myself yet.(Update – The beans are great!) Visit the Home Coffee Website

Soprano’s

A bit of a wildcard entry here, and also a hearty recommendation if you like quality fresh Italian food. The Peroni on-tap is always delicious, and their after-dinner coffees are the perfect way to finish a meal. Booking is advised as the cosy restaurant is always bustling with customers whenever I’ve been there. Visit the Soprano’s Wesbite

So there you have my top three coffees in Portsmouth. If you’ve spilled coffee, or any other drink on your hard drive or computer, get in touch. We can help recover the data, and you can tell me if the coffee you spilled was any good!

What Is A Clean Room

Some parts of our data recovery process require us to open a hard drive for internal repairs.

John In Cleanroom

We have a walk in clean room area on site, that allows us to carry out the necessary rework. It consists of an overhead air shower unit with a sealed enclosure that cleans and circulates the air within a specified tolerance. To keep particles to a minimum we wear a gown, gloves, and face mask to prevent contamination from outside.

All hard drives are built in a clean room environment. Keeping small air particles out is crucial due the the complexity of the internal mechanism and tiny tolerance between the moving mechanical parts and internal disc surface that holds your data. When a hard drive requires any internal repair, it is critical that this work is carried out in a clean room.

See our video about why you should never open a hard drive without a cleanroom.

Another Successful Dropped Hard Drive Recovery

No Chance Data Recovery

Last week I was working on another dropped hard drive recovery sent into us by one of our Data Recovery Partners. I immediately took the hard drive into our clean room and removed the top cover for internal inspection. Although the hard drive had been dropped there were no visible signs of physical media damage. I replaced the damaged internal heads, rebuilt the hard drive and successfully recovered the data for the customer and Partner.

Thankfully the partner had advised the customer to stop trying to access the hard drive as described in our blog. When they received the hard drive from the customer.  They sent it straight to us, without attempting anything themselves.
These actions by the customer and partner were critical in the eventual successful outcome.

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired.
Back up as much of the data as possible and replace the disk. See an authorised Apple dealer for more information.
S.M.A.R.T. Status : Failing

If you see the message above, your hard disk or SSD has started to fail and has reported faults to the Mac. If caught early enough, these disks can usually be recovered. You can try to copy important data to another disk but if the copy process gets stuck for a while, it’s safer to stop. If you leave a failing disk in that state it can deteriorate until the disk is ruined.

If the data is really important, and you’d rather not take the risk, you could have a look at our Mac Data Recovery Services. We have been dealing with these sorts of problems for years and have a developed a really safe way to get the data off in good condition.

This drive has a hardware problem that can't be repaired

Whatever you decide to do, don’t ignore this message. The broken disk cannot repair itself, and will only get worse. In many cases, the disk won’t even be readable by the time you see this warning.

It doesn’t matter if the disk is still inside your iMac or MacBook, we can remove it for you, and even replace the drive at the end of the recovery process if you want. Ask about our Mac Setup service if you are interested.

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Successful 8 Disk RAID Recovery

This was a RAID recovery with a challenge. The customer could only find seven of the eight disks from the RAID and two of them were not accessible. To make the challenge even more difficult, the customer did not the RAID level or any of the configuration. All we knew was the disks were from an old Dell Server.

The RAID Recovery

We first managed to overcome the failed disks and imaged all disks to our server. Once complete we analysed all of the images to determine the RAID settings and configuration. We found two different RAID’s with completely separate configurations. We used the settings to create virtual copies of the RAIDs and were able to carry out a successful recovery from both RAID Volumes.

The client was gobsmacked by the outcome. You can see his comment below:

DataQuest are amazing, we sent 7 HDD’s in a unknown raid configuration and with a failed hard drive, they managed to recover all the information we needed and more! I believed it was an impossible task, but obviously these guys know their stuff and are miracle workers! I thank the team at DataQuest and would recommend them to anyone! – Matt Bayley – February 29, 2016

We had a very satisfied customer as well as very satisfied RAID recovery Engineer. Well Done Dan, give yourself a pat on the back.