One of the more commonly encountered hard drive failure symptoms is when the hard drive does not spin-up after power is applied (that is to say that the data platters inside the drive are not being spun). Typically the hard drive can appear to be completely dead or it may be that a high-pitched beeping sound is heard and repeated every 1 to 2 seconds as the drive attempts but fails to spin the data platters inside its chassis.
What causes Hard Drive Failure of the No Spin up Variety?
There are typically three basic causes for a hard drive failing to spin up. These are:
- Electrical damage to the printed circuit board (PCB).
- The seizure of the data platter motor.
- The read/write heads which normally float above the surface of the data platters crash into and subsequently adhere to the platters themselves preventing them from spinning.
In the case of the hard drive failure being due to a damaged PCB you will typically find that on application of power there is no sign of life whatever from the hard drive. In contrast the last two of the causes listed above for a hard drive failure will result in the hard drive making an attempt to spin the platters. This will typically be manifested as a slight pulse felt through the chassis every 1 to 2 seconds and/or a high-pitched beeping sound at roughly the same rate of repetition, as the hard drive attempts to get the platters to spin.
To Deal with Each of these Hard Drive Failure Causes in Turn
Electrical Damage to the PCB Causing Hard Drive Failure
This will typically take one of two forms. Where there has been a voltage spike or some other problem with the power supply to the hard drive itself then typically there will be blackened or obviously damaged components on the PCB. You will often find that this damage presents itself as a short-circuit to the computer’s power supply unit and consequently when you switch the computer on it will immediately switch itself off again (sometimes accompanied by an entertaining sound and light show of bangs and sparks).
Alternatively you may find that your computer remains switched on but there is no sign of life at all from your hard drive. In these circumstances it is more likely that the chip on the PCB which controls the data platter motor has suffered damage. Where this is the case you will commonly find that the motor control chip gets very hot when power is applied.
In terms of mitigating the hard drive failure and regaining access to your data, there is not much which can be safely done without expert intervention. Unfortunately buying an identical printed circuit board will almost certainly not regain access to your drive. The reason for this is that there is firmware information stored on each PCB which is unique to that individual hard drive. It will be necessary not only to obtain an identical PCB but also access to the specialised equipment which will allow the transfer of this firmware from the original to the donor PCB.
Hard Drive Failure through Seizure of the Data Platter Motor
The data platters inside the hard drive sit on a spindle which is rotated by a motor built-in to the chassis housing. This motor is in turn controlled by the motor control chip on the PCB referred to in the previous section. The bearings of this motor are especially vulnerable to impact damage. One of the most common outcomes of an external hard drive being dropped is the seizure of this motor. Once these bearings have become seized the platters cannot be spun and then of course there can be no access to the data on the platters.
Where this has happened, the usual data recovery response is to carry out what is commonly referred to as a “platter swap”. In this procedure a closely matching hard drive is acquired, the platters are physically moved from the seized hard drive to the donor drive along with the read/write head assembly and the printed circuit board. The success of this procedure will often depend upon the severity of the impact that originally resulted in the drive becoming seized.
Hard Drive Failure When the Read/Write Heads Have Become Stuck to the Platters
This particular form of failure is much more commonly found in the laptop sized (2.5”) form of hard drive although it is not entirely unknown among the desktop (3.5”) drives.
In a properly functioning drive the heads will return to a parking area when the drive itself is not in use. Sometimes this will be a set of ramps off to one side of the platters alternatively it may be an area of the platters themselves close to the centre (often referred to as a landing zone). However for this particular form of hard drive failure the heads do not return to their parking area but instead crash into the data area of the platters themselves and literally become stuck there. They then prevent the data platters from spinning up when power is subsequently applied. Usually a slight pulse can be felt as the platters attempt to free themselves of their heads.
As you can probably imagine it is an extremely delicate procedure physically to remove the heads from the platter surfaces without causing any additional damage and consequent loss of data. Commonly the impact of the heads on the platter surfaces will have damaged the heads and they will need to be replaced with a set of heads from a closely matching donor drive.
Regardless of the particular hard drive failure cause, a drive which is not spinning is not necessarily beyond the help of expert data recovery personnel and it is always worth having a chat with them in the first instance.