Alarm bells: when you'd better take your drive to repair

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Excluding acts of God, problems with your drive or flash stick rarely arise all of a sudden. Typically, there are a number of signs - symptoms of the nascent disease. In this review we are going to talk about which alarm signals should be given attention to and what they might mean.

Mechanical damages to the drive

The first thing you should call your attention to when working with a drive is its visual appearance, this applies especially to portable devices. Make sure that there are no dents on the drive, deformation of the housing and HDA cover, cracks on the electronics board, damage to sealed fabrication holes (a material like aluminum foil) - you should be especially careful with them during the drive installation to, or removal from, the system unit. One of the holes is almost completely closed with the electronics board, so it is difficult to be damaged. But it is not protected by anything on the frontal surface:

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If there are any of these defects, you must disconnect the drive from the computer and bring it to us for analysis. In no case should such a drive be turned on; otherwise unplanned loss of files is assured.

HDD makes weird sounds when working or at start-up

Three types of sounds can be an alarm signal: squeaking, grinding or clicking. When electric power is supplied to a drive, the motor starts up, heads unpark, the drive is initialized. If everything goes correct, successful, the hard drive is detected by the computer and works normally. A hard drive may make a quiet squeaking noise if the electronics board and the motor windings are good, but the spindle does not rotate the platters. This mostly happens when the motor is stuck. This is very common in Toshiba 2.5" drives (spontaneously, due to technological characteristics of drives and due to reasons beyond the user's control), Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1-1.5TB as well as in Hitachi 1-2TB; in Seagate and Hitachi, it appears, in most cases, after being dropped. Other HDDs may make the same sound when the magnetic heads are stuck on the platters. 2.5" and 1.8" form factor hard drives are basically subject to this, but there are also 3.5" devices with such a diagnosis. The reasons can be: unsafe removal of external storage devices, transient power line surges or a bad power source. The sound is the result of buzzing of motor windings.

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A scratch on the magnetic disk, caused by a contact of the faulty head with the platter.

If you hear grinding or clicking sounds, disconnect the drive from the computer immediately. The grinding sound is caused by a contact of the read head with the magnetic disk.

The third sound is clicking. It is caused by the heads that can not settle. The cause could be the failure of the electronics board or the MHA malfunction. If the drive clicks a few times and stops the spindle after being turned on, it indicates that one or more heads broke. As a result, the magnetic layer is destroyed and platters get scratched. The drive may be damaged entirely and permanently. It is either impossible to recover data from a such damaged drive or very expensive - dozens of times more expensive than the device itself.

The disc disconnects / reconnects spontaneously during operation

Disconnecting during operation is characteristic of hard drives, especially the USB ones. One would think it is a trifle. Automatic HDD disconnection and reconnection can be caused by power surges, when the flow of electricity is interrupted, then started again.

Flash drives and SSDs may face either file record errors, which leads to drive space loss, or file read errors, when the program gets incomplete or incorrect data.

But HDDs may face severe breakdowns. Disk heads do not have time to stop in the parking area, fall on a rotating platter and, as a result, a scratch develops. This leads to assured loss of files. Power problems can be caused by several devices:

  • a power source is too old - low power output of the power source or unstable voltage level; as a result, power is not enough for all devices on the computer
  • the motherboard is faulty - the problem is in contacts or capacitors
  • a hard drive board is faulty
  • a hard drive cable is damaged

Each of these devices should be checked and replaced, or repaired in the event of a fault.

Files are lost or randomly modified

If you found that files on your device are lost or opening errors pop up when attempting to open them, it can be a reason for you to trouble about the condition of drive clusters. Broken (or bad) clusters are not so rare and appear in all drives sooner or later. At first, you can not determine whether a cluster is bad or not. When a file gets there, it can be read improperly; however, a bad cluster may perform as a good one when the next recording is fulfilled, and give the correct data when reading. But this does not mean that the cluster repaired itself; it will become more and more unstable later on and will eventually completely fail. Bad clusters can be disabled, and so nothing will be recorded on them, unless they are service clusters that contain the hard drive logic. Watch your files closely, pay particular attention to open errors and their content. And do not attempt to do anything with bad clusters, especially if you have never worked with them. You can not repair bad clusters, and it is almost impossible to read data from such a hard drive at home.

The operating system can not read the drive

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Error when reading the drive with unrecognized file system on the Windows operating system.

Most often, the operating system can not read the drive for the reason that it can not recognize the drive file system and therefore can not build a hierarchy of files and folders. If the file system is corrupted slightly, then Windows runs the Check Disk. Otherwise, Windows offers to execute the drive speed formatting (regardless of OS version). The files physically remain on the drive and can be recovered by using specialized software. If formatting has ended successfully, but the OS still keeps barfing about the wrong file system, read the previous paragraph about bad clusters of service areas and take your drive to the service center.

The operating system does not see the mapping a drive

This problem can be caused by two reasons. Firstly, this may be caused by the above mentioned failure in the drive power. The other possibility is a bug or corruption in hard drive firmware due to which the drive can not be turned on, run the self-test; HDDs do not start motor for rotating magnetic disks and, therefore, the device is unable to receive the signals, to read/write data. Firmware failure is very common on Seagate F3 Architecture HDDs: 7200.11, 7200.12, ES.2, LP; Momentus 5400.6, 7200.4. On Samsung drives manufactured starting from 2011, as they contain Seagate architecture, and Western Digital Green 3,5" drives. At home, you can only check for the power by replacing the drive connector cable, the hard drive port or by connecting the drive to another computer.

What to do if the bells rang

The key is not to delay. Prevention of data loss is better than its recovery. The delivery and diagnostics in DataRetrieval.com are free, so just call at 800-399-7150 and the courier will pick up your drive or flash stick in New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Houston, Toronto for free and deliver it to us. If everything is alright with your drive, you'll just have to collect it from our office in your city.

Last modified on Thursday, 21 May 2015 16:06
Data Recovery Expert

Viktor S., Ph.D. (Electrical/Computer Engineering), was hired by DataRecoup, the international data recovery corporation, in 2012. Promoted to Engineering Senior Manager in 2010 and then to his current position, as C.I.O. of DataRecoup, in 2014. Responsible for the management of critical, high-priority RAID data recovery cases and the application of his expert, comprehensive knowledge in database data retrieval. He is also responsible for planning and implementing SEO/SEM and other internet-based marketing strategies. Currently, Viktor S., Ph.D., is focusing on the further development and expansion of DataRecoup’s major internet marketing campaign for their already successful proprietary software application “Data Recovery for Windows” (an application which he developed).

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