Anatomy of a Hard Drive

Anatomy of a Hard Drive

Why did my Hard Drive Fail?

Why did my Hard Drive Fail?

A-Z of Data Recovery

A-Z of Data Recovery

Send Us a Drive

Send Us Your Drive

Data Recovery Guides

Data Recovery Guide

Data Recovery Guide Volumn 2


Why Did my Hard Drive Fail?

The most frequent question we get asked is "what caused my hard drive to fail?" The reasons for hard drive failure are as varied as they are numerous. Here are some common causes:

Production Techniques / Poor Quality Control = Component Failure:

the pressure on hard drive manufacturers to get the fastest and highest capacity drives to the market often results in compromised component design and quality control. Some finished hard drives are not properly tested before they leave the production line. We have often come across drives on 2-month old computers that have had complete hard drive failure. Most probably, the drives in these systems would have been in the early stages of failure before they even left the factory. The inexpensive deals for laptops and desktop computer systems one sees in Irish media advertisements don't seem such good value after all, when the most critical component in them fails taking all your data with it.

Power Surge:

Many an office worker has thought nothing of all the lights flickering and computer systems momentarily turning off while there is construction or electricity company maintenance works happening nearby. Until, that is when they turn back on one of their computer systems only to discover a blue or black screen greeting them. More often than not, in this type of scenario there has been a power spike on the electricity network and hard drives don't really like sudden drops or surges in power. Power surges can cause electronic and mechanical failure of a hard drive by simply blowing a chip on the logic board of the drive or causing the drive head to stubbornly park on the drive platters.


Heat is the enemy of the hard drive. Hard Drives like moderate and constant conditions. A very common problem we come across is the heat-induced failure of laptop hard drives. The scenario plays out like this.

  • (a)The cooling mechanism fails on a laptop.
  • (b) The user does notice the base of the laptop is quite hot though but thinks nothing of it as the laptop is still fully operational.
  • (c) Eventually, after weeks of the hard drive's delicate components expanding and contracting with each boot-up of the defective system, the delicate hard drive components finally begin to fatigue and eventually fail.

Shock damage occurs when you're hard drive gets a sudden jolt. This often causes the drive head to "park" violently against the drive platters. In the worst case scenario the magnetic surface of the drive platters get damaged due to the scouring effect of the drive heads.

User Error:

A typical example of user error would be when a tech-adventurous user tries to repair their computer with a Windows Installation CD and accidentally formats the whole hard drive in the process. If this has happened to you, you stop using your computer immediately as you risk totally overwriting the data.

Liquid and Fire Damage:

Many a Monday morning our technicians have spent in someone's office after an employee left a tap run over the weekend. This is a typical unexpected event that catches many a computer user unawares. Likewise, a fire damaged drive can get damaged by the heat of the blaze or by minute smoke particles entering the drive.

So Which Computer Manufacturer Makes the Most Reliable Hard Drive?

With the exception of Toshiba, most computer manufacturers do not make their own hard drives. So the question should be which hard drive manufacturer makes the most reliable drives? The simple answer is that there is no one reliable manufacturer of hard drives. Over the years, we have seen some models have higher failure rates than others but taking into the number of units sold / different brands of hard drive, most hard drive manufacturers have similar failure rates and independent research verifies this. There is one caveat to remember however - some hard drives fail slowly and give you plenty of warning that they are "on their last legs" whereas other manufacturers seem to produce drives that experience "sudden-death" catastrophic failure. From our experience, the S.M.A.R.T technology in Western Digital drives can give their users adequate warning that failure is imminent.

I recently installed a new desktop publishing program on an office computer. A week later the hard drive died and my boss has said it's all my fault because I installed a new program. How did this program cause the drive to fail?

It is highly unlikely that a desktop publishing program or any program for that matter will cause a hard drive to die. Sure, partitioning programs like Partition Magic et al if used incorrectly can cause the partition table do disappear but a desktop publishing program - no. It is merely co-incidence that you installed a new program and the hard drive died in the same system a week later.

What is causing the clicking noise?

Usually the "click of death" is the actuator arm moving the drive heads across the platters as the drive goes into a constant "seek mode". In other words, the drives heads are desperately looking for readable data on the platters but cannot find any as the heads, actuator arm, spindle or platters are damaged thus preventing the "read" function. Occasionally, with a faulty PCB board a clicking noise will also arise as the electronics controlling the actuator arm have been damaged.

I've spilt liquid on laptop computer. Is all my data gone?

Most cases of liquid spillage we come across are laptop related. If you have spilt liquid on your laptop, carefully turn it off from the mains power supply. Then turn the laptop off using the Windows shut-down feature. (Start>Shut Down).

Do not attempt to "dry it out" using hairdryers, radiators or convector heaters. A rapid change in the humidity level inside the system can cause further damage. Seek assistence from data recovery experts.

I've lost my data, is there anything I could try myself to retrieve it?

  • If you hard drive is making an unusual clicking or knocking noise shut down your system immediately - if your drive heads are damaged every read attempt will only incur more damage.
  • Stop writing to your hard drive. This means discontinue using all programs which may write new data to your drive and possibly overwrite your lost data.
  • Do not run Disk Defragmenter - there seems to be an enduring myth among your average computer user that running Windows Disk Defragmenter is a panacea for all computer ills. Disk Defragmenter is possibly one of the worst tools you could use on a failing hard drive. Refrain from using it at all costs.
  • As the old saying goes "The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions". From our experience, friendly neighbours, "computer programmer friends" and local "I.T whizzes" that are all self-proclaimed (but well intentioned) "experts" can often do more harm than good when it comes to data recovery. Data recovery is highly specialized discipline of the Information Technology world that takes years to perfect and master.