Hard drive failures come from a wide array of circumstances. Sometimes it happens suddenly, kind of like the scenario of going out to your car in the morning and it won’t start, even though it worked fine yesterday. Other times you can see the death happen slowly, like when you notice your computer and files are booting up slower and slower. Most of the time it’s not the direct fault of the user, but that’s no consolation if you’re now missing important files and data. So, why do hard drives die?
We at SalvegeData classify hard drive failures in 4 different ways: Logical, Firmware, Mechanical, and Firmware. Each issue has a different level of severity, and method to recover the data.
A logical hard drive failure refers to any case where the hard disk drive is both electrically and physically healthy. The drive is usually operating normally as the manufacturer intended and can be recognized by the computer, but data is inaccessible because the file structure or software is damaged. Logical failures happen instances like through bad data sectors, viruses and malware, accidental deletion of files, or formatting of the wrong drive or partition.
A hard drive’s firmware is its operating system, so without the firmware it cannot operate. On a hard drive the firmware software is stored on the hard drive’s platters, so it can’t just be “reflashed” to repair or update it.
Heat buildup and dropping/mishandling the device are the most common reasons for physical failures. When this scenario occurs, the mechanical innards of the hard drive are malfunctioning. Sensitive internal components such as read/write heads, actuator arms, spindle motors or platters get damaged, rendering it undetectable by the system BIOS. Hard drives experiencing physical failures will frequently develop logical issues as well.
Electrical hard drive failures usually happen when a computer or drive enclosure is subjected to a sudden power surge and high voltage bypasses the computer or enclosure circuits to also damage the hard drives own printed circuit board (PCB) rendering it undetectable by the system BIOS. Signs for electrical problems are usually the drive not being recognized by the computer and/or not spinning at all. There may even be noticeable signs of burnt components on the PCB underside of the hard drive.
Every type of hard drive failure has their own method of data recovery. Data recovery is a very delicate issue, because improperly trying to recover the data can lead to permanent data loss.