Hard Drive Platter Swap

by RulesOfTom

A Hard Drive Platter Swap is a top end procedure in hard drive data recovery. This is an internal procedure to transfer almost the entire innards of a hard drive to a matching donor hard drive.  This is necessary in a few scenarios, for example a seized spindle motor or seized platters.  We see this physical problem more and more as businesses and individuals try to protect their data with external hard drives – the issues here are:

  1. the external drive is used as an alternative location when it should be used as an additional location (for data redundancy),
  2. the external drive is (if anything) even more vulnerable to damage than the hard drive in the computer…

The number one disaster we see with external hard drives is when they are knocked over or dropped.  Even a tumble sideways on a desk can be enough to make the drive inaccessible to the computer.  IT departments will often remove the damaged hard drive and attempt to access the data directly either inside a computer as an additional internal drive or in an external hard drive caddy.  This will verify that the hard drive is seriously unwell. Software programs are no use here – you might as well rub the hard drive with a tea towel for all the difference it will make. Specialist help is required.

We Perform Hard Drive Platter Swap

Once we’ve verified that a spindle is seized (or sometimes just very sticky – on the path to becoming fully seized), we source a matching donor and perform the Platter Swap.  We do this in-house, using our custom-developed tools, operated by experienced data recovery engineers.

What’s the big deal?

In the Good Old Days, hard drives had lots of space around the platters edges – this allowed the use of cylindrical grippers to grasp the platters while the were detached.  The acute technical risk is that multiple platters will become out of sync if even one of the platters rotates a fraction of one degree (different makes have different tolerances).  But as long as the platters had clear space in a perfect circle all the way around, a cylindrical gripper could get you most of the way there.

Those days are gone now.

Today, as more and more data is densely squeezed into the platter surfaces and internal tolerances become ever finer, the gap around the edge has become very narrow.  In addition, hard drive manufacturers have introduced acoustic bafflers – in the form of plastic spacers between each of the platters.  These remove any possibility of the old-school cylindrical grippers working.

The Holy Grail Of A Hard Drive Platter Swap Tool

Hard Drive Platter Swap Tool Is The Holy GrailThe current Holy Grail in the data recovery industry is a tool to enable Platter Swaps in a reliable and low-risk manner.  There have been a few attempts over the last 18 months, but no commercial solution has yet proven its ability.  Upcoming launches include tools in the US$10,000+ range – their only purpose is to allow an experienced data recovery engineer to swap platters between hard drives.  This is not an environment for the faint-hearted.

As mentioned earlier, we have developed our own proprietary tools and methods.  We do Platter Swaps.  Every Day.

Here’s a quick run-down on three recent Platter Swaps:

  1. Toshiba laptop 40GB – no spacers, 100% clone achieved,
  2. Seagate 250GB – spacers present, near-100% clone achieved (with 24 sectors unread),
  3. Seagate 750GB – spacers present, 3 platters, 6 read-heads parked on-disk. First pass cloning gave us raw data from five heads out of six.  We then performed an additional read-head swap from an exact matching donor resulting in a near 100% clone

There is often secondary damage caused by the users actions following the initial failure.  Most people will repeatedly switch their external hard drive off and on in an attempt to “free it up”. This tends to make things worse.  Many times, the read-head stack will have to be swapped out as well. Once a clone has been achieved, various logical analysis procedures are followed (sometimes on multiple clones in parallel) to finally access the user data.

If you suspect your dead hard drive is not spinning, give us a call.  We do what the Americans call “soup to nuts” recovery – it’s all done start to finish here in our labs, including hard drive platter swaps.  We do not act as agents for other data recovery companies.  We are the real thing and we can help you.

You can see our pricing and contact form here, you can email us or simply call us now local-rate from anywhere in the UK on 0845 094 0027. If you are calling from a mobile, you can use your inclusive minutes to call us on 0131 663 4137 and let’s talk hard drive platter swap.

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