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Hard Drive Diagnostics


A hard drive diagnostics & data recovery process is a rather complicated area requiring professional tools, knowledge, and experience to achieve the best result.

Logical and Physical Data Recovery

All data recovery companies divide the hard drive data recovery services into two main categories; logical and physical data recovery. Logical data recovery services deal with storage devices that do not have any physical problems. In logical data recovery cases, we consider that hard drives are functional, and there are not any physical problems. Accidental data deletion, virus-infected files, damaged file systems are the most common example for logical data recovery cases. These cases do not need special data recovery software-hardware platform or cleanroom to recover data. Physical data recovery services deal with storage devices that have physical problems preventing access to user data. It requires special data recovery platform a cleanroom to replace failed parts and recovery data.

In particular, hard drive diagnostics and the data recovery process is a rather complicated area requiring professional tools, knowledge, and experience to achieve the best result. If you don’t have data recovery knowledge and experience, we do not recommend you to make data recovery efforts which may lead to data loss

How to identify if the hard drive has physical problems

We will consider the most important factors that must be considered when diagnosing a hard drive. Hard drive diagnostics are a key step in the data recovery process, usually carried out by an experienced data recovery engineer. The success of each data recovery case heavily depends on the correct assessment of device malfunction and the reasons that led to the loss of data. There are several reasons for this:

1. Without establishing the reason for data loss, it is impossible to get access to the data.

2. Every attempt to fix the wrong problem increases the risk of data loss.

According to the statistics, more than 15% of cases in which data recovery became impossible, and the data was lost forever were the result of unsuccessful data recovery attempts.

Here are the most important factors to consider when diagnosing a hard drive. Some of these factors may seem obvious, but quite often, these obvious and simple factors are not taken into account. But more complex and time-consuming methods are used to determine the causes of malfunctions of hard drives.

First Step - Assessment of the physical condition of the hard drive

These are the first steps to do when diagnosing a hard drive. You should inspect the hard drive for the following symptoms:

1. Burnt or darkened components

2. Burn smell

3. Signs of water, smoke or dirt

4. Oxidized contacts

Shake the hard drive lightly to detect tangible signs of internal damage to the hard drive. It can be either broken or detached parts of the head assembly or even just filters.

Of course, if you see some burnt or damaged components, or hear some damage inside the hard drive, do not connect such a hard drive until you replace corresponding parts.

If you find oxidized contacts, first try cleaning them. Although in any case it is recommended to clean all the contacts of the hard drive since oxidized contacts are one of the common causes of failure or failure of the hard drive. Oxidized contacts usually lead to unstable operation of the hard drive and the emergence of bad sectors.

If the physical condition of the hard drive is good, it can be connected to power in order to evaluate its performance, before connecting it to any device. Some failed hard disks can cause a malfunction in the computer or other devices, their freezing or failure to start. In such cases, for diagnostic purposes, it is recommended to have a separate power supply.

Your next step to diagnose the hard drive depends on the symptoms you have detected after connecting the hard drive to the power source.

The hard drive makes unusual sounds

If the hard drive makes a clicking noise, it usually means the magnetic heads assembly lost its functionality. The heads assembly can make such sounds once the hard drive connected to the power source. Such a device cannot read servo labels on the magnetic platters of the drive and pushes the heads over its entire surface. Once you hear such noise from the hard drive, you should immediately disconnect the drive from the power source.

The heads of some hard drive may not read the information correctly due to dust stuck to the read/write element. In this case, the hard drive will behave similarly, as in the case of a failed head assembly unit. You can diagnose this malfunction by examining the read-write element of each head under a high-quality stereo microscope. In such cases, the heads should be cleaned which is very precision work and can be carried out by experienced recovery engineers only.

Less commonly, a hard drive may make a clicking sound due to a malfunction of its board. In general terms, clacking signals a loss or low signal quality during the read-write process. This is a signal that passes from the microcontroller to the disk heads.

Many modern hard drives will make clicking sounds if you use a non-native board from another drive even if the drive is the same model because all modern hard drives have unique adaptive parameters. So it is recommended no to misplace the original board of the hard drive.

Some hard drives may click due to the failure of only one of the heads. It is important to determine whether the entire block of heads has failed, or only one of them, or several, since the recovery process in these cases will be different. In some cases, when only one head has failed in the disk, data from it can be restored without replacing the head block.

There are tools with which you can disable a specific hard drive head at the controller level, to determine which of the heads is the cause of third-party sounds in the drive, and restore data using working heads. Since modern hard drives have up to 10 heads, in the event of failure of only one of them, it remains possible to recover a large amount of information.

Lastly, the clicking sounds may be the result of a service module damage in the Service Area.

Hard drive makes no sounds

If the hard drive does not make any sounds at all, then there can be both electronics and mechanical damages.

One of the most common causes of such symptoms of a hard drive is the failure of one of the components of the power chip: it may be a blown a fuse or a TVS diode. Modern hard drives usually have surge protection: a fuse or a TVS diode. Such protection is triggered in the event of a significant voltage drop. Often, just replacing the fuse or removing the TVS diode on the hard drive board is enough to restore its functionality. Besides this, a hard drive board may be affected by the failure of microchips and magnetic head assembly.

Some hard drives that do not make any sounds might have a sticking of the heads or jammed spindle motor problem. In this case, it is necessary to open the hard drive enclosure and check whether the hard drive heads are in the starting position. Then try spinning the disc manually to determine if it is jammed. An easier way to determine the data of mechanical damage without opening the hard drive is to check it using special software. Please note that you need to have a clean room environment to open the hard drives; otherwise, you may easily damage your hard drive magnetic surfaces.

The disc spins up and makes no unusual sounds

If the disk spins up and the sound of its operation does not seem unusual to you, connect it to a data recovery tool for further diagnostics. Most often, disks that do not emit any unusual sounds are affected by a firmware failure or read/write heads errors. The BIOS and the operating system may not recognize the hard drive even in the event of non-critical read failures. The main reasons might be the hard drive internal error handling process, drive loading too long, the drive is too slow a response to a request or other inconsistency in communication with the computer.

Without special system software, it will be very difficult to diagnose the hard drive accurately. You can only identify if it is a firmware failure or damage to one of the components of the hard drive, or is it a non-critical read failure.

In the event of a disk firmware failure, special software must be used to diagnose it. But in many cases, it will be quite simple to determine the sound of the disk.

In this article, we examined the most common symptoms of hard drive failures, as well as methods for diagnosing them and the methods of elimination that are used by PITS Global engineers to recover data. This topic is much broader and deeper; it is necessary to use different areas of expertise and knowledge about the structure of file systems, features of data recovery software.

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