By Karim Salmi / BlogData Recovery / 0 Comments

Data recovery services are one of the three natural expansion paths for computer service businesses (the other two being mobile device repair and business IT services). Unlike the other two, information retrieval has a high financial barrier of entry. That’s because storage devices that have failed are usually unreadable by a computer. Indeed, a motherboard knows to communicate with healthy devices but is not even remotely equipped to navigate defective drives. As a result, there are three types of equipment necessary to even have the means to provide this service.

The first is a set of desktop computers with data recovery software. Theses are used to transfer data between healthy drives and manipulate data if necessary. For example, these computers will help retrieve photos and documents that have been deleted or find partitions that have been lost due to formatting or other high level issues. We also use these to transfer data from recovery drives to destination drives. Most computer shops can provide this sort of service.

The second level of service is what we call an advanced recovery. It provides access to failing drives and gives the technician the means to analyze the failure and read the drive in the safest way possible given the damage. You will need a disk imager and a forensic analysis tool such as PC3000 to work with drives that need an advanced recovery. They allow you to do anything from building a heads map to repairing or reconfiguring device firmware. The starter packages for each unit will cost at least $8000 and add-ons will be required to manage the workflow and work with as many devices as possible (including USB interface only drives).

clean room for hard drive repair

The final level of service is clean room recovery. When drives suffer physical trauma, they need to be opened in a dust free environment where a careful hardware swap can take place to restore functionality to the drive. Once healthy again for reading, even if temporarily, the drive is moved to the advanced recovery station to read as much data as possible. An ISO class 5 workbench is required because so much as a spec of minuscule dust could permanently ruin a hard drive. These are also the most expensive recoveries as they require expensive parts, a professional recovery lab and an experienced engineer to navigate the repair and retrieval.

Unfortunately, few organizations provide training in the data recovery field. On the other hand, self training is often impossible due to the financial burden of purchasing the equipment necessary and the high likelyhood of destroying dozens and dozens of drives while attempting to disassemble them.

It is important to develop a standardized workflow and organization method when processing a drive for recovery. From diagnostic to final transfer, drives are likely to move back and forth between various stations to complete each part of the retrieval. Technicians should be constantly verifying the health and speed of the recovery and double checking the integrity of the recovered media. Whenever possible, a recovered file list should be provided to the client for review to avoid costly repeat work.

As usual, if you have any questions about the process, feel free to reach out to our rockville data recovery service.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / BlogData Recovery / 0 Comments

The news was released yesterday that the FBI has managed to access the data on the San Bernardino gunman’s iphone. If you haven’t been following, there has basically been a fairly public struggle between the FBI and Apple in the news because the FBI has been requesting Apple’s help in unlocking an encrypted phone. The electronics giant refused on the grounds that the government cannot be trusted with such a tool and cannot be expected to limit their use of it to just judicially approved devices. So, to keep millions of iPhone users safe from prying eyes around the world, Apple has stood their ground.

According to news reports, this whole issue might have been avoided if the FBI had handled the phone properly and not locked themselves out of it to begin with. Apparently, their incompetence is to blame for this fiasco. I would like to touch on this point from the perspective of a data recovery engineer. The most basic of first steps when trying to perform a recovery, let alone a forensic recovery, is to secure the device and image it in its entirety. In fact, it will have probably been imaged multiple times to begin with so that their agents can easily work with a perfect copy of the phone without risking compromise to the source device.

fbi logo

We have seen how quickly the FBI is able to deploy its resources, search through vast amounts of data and locate their suspects. In recent memory, the Boston Marathon bombers were located within hours of the act and cornered shortly thereafter. That level of speed and effectiveness would not be possible without a very skilled and coordinated organization. So I don’t believe for a second that their data specialists are technologically impaired and would have shot themselves in the foot by locking themselves out of the device in the first place. I don’t appreciate why the FBI would have made such a public attempt at calling for Apple’s help either. They must know how the public feels about data privacy after whistleblowers like Snowden have shared the truth about mass surveillance.

All this to say that this looks like theatre. I would take everything I hear from these organizations with a grain or two of salt. As time goes on, we discover more and more of the governments technological advancements. They seem well thought out and placed years before anyone even suspected they existed. What was the point of this debate and how did they access the phone in the end? Who knows for sure? I am convinced that none of this was done by accident so until we discover the motives behind this very public dispute, I would withhold judgement.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / BlogData Recovery / 0 Comments

What ended up as a benign suffix for technology, “ware” is now being tacked on to a long list of nasty words. Ad-ware. Malware. Bloatware. Ransomware. It has become a short hand way to reference some new development in the software world. While the first three co-exist in a space designed to force product advertisements in front of unsuspecting users, ransomware is in a league of its own because it sells a very particular product: your own data.

Ransomware is a type of software that uses encryption offensively to deprive you of your data. If you’ve been watching the news, you may have heard of the FBI v Apple debate that is on-going in reference to a cell phone whose data cannot be read because it is encrypted. Cryptography brought us this technique when messages were at risk of interception. In order to make sure enemy agents cannot read your message even if they get their hands on it, individuals and organizations have turned to ciphers to lock the data away from unauthorized access. It was only a matter of time before it became a common computer feature because online interactions are easily intercepted as your messages are sent from your computer and routed through dozens of hops before reaching their intended recipient.

fbi ransomware virus

Lo and behold, one day you turn on your computer and a seemingly convincing message from the FBI pops up claiming your computer has child pornography or worse on it. You’ve violated federal law, your data has been locked (via encryption) and you have 3 days to send $200 or more in a money order in exchange for dropping the charges and regaining access to your pictures and documents. If you’re not the only person using this computer, you might be even more likely to believe this is a real FBI message. Afterall, they have your city and state shown below the logo and who in their right mind is going to impersonate the FBI?

Sadly, there’s only one way to get your data back. You need the key to the encryption. If you’ve been struck by an older version of this cryptolocker virus then you might be in luck! Many of the keys used have become public and you can “easily” unlock your data. In one particular case of lazy programming, the author of one of these viruses re-used the same key for all infected users. If you aren’t so lucky, then you better hope you have an offline backup of your data. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay the ransom and trust that these crooks will uphold their end of the bargain and give you a working key.

Why did we mention an offline backup? It is because many online backup services such as carbonite or dropbox synchronize your files in the cloud immediately. As soon as a change is detected to your files, they are quickly copied to the company server. While that’s convenient for most situations, it is decidedly counterproductive in the case of ransomware. Your local data and your online backup will both be encrypted. The only way around that problem is if your online storage provider keeps multiple copies of recently changed files just in case something like this happens.

If you’re against the idea of being blackmailed, you can try your luck with a data recovery service. Encryption is extremely effective only if it has been correctly implemented. Some of these viruses are not mathematically sound and thus the cyber defense community has had quite a bit of success in developing tools to reverse their effects. To protect yourself against this threat to your data, it is critical to keep an offline backup of your data. In case anything happens to your computer and online back-up, the offline storage will be your saving grace.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / BlogData Recovery / 0 Comments

If you’ve recently lost files on your Mac—whether because your hard drive failed or simply because you accidentally deleted a folder—you might be wondering what options are available to you for data recovery. If you don’t have a Time Machine backup and don’t use an external hard drive or a cloud service to back up your files at all times, know that the process will be more difficult. It’s not tough to see why many Mac users will start backing up all of their files after going through a data loss scare.

Still, while an incident like this might push you to buy an external hard drive and start preserving your files, such a solution will only save your data in the future. It can’t retroactively recover any lost data that you did not already have backed up.

 

imac data recovery

Data Recovery Strategies

Luckily, external hard drives, cloud-based services, and Time Machine backups are not the only options for data recovery on a Mac. On the contrary, there are a number of methods out there that you can use to find, access, and recover files that you thought were deleted. Even after you’ve deleted a file and emptied the trash, that file isn’t completely gone. On the contrary, as this Cult of Mac article explains, until you write something new to the disk, a vacant spot is kept open where the deleted file used to be. As long as this vacant spot remains, data recovery is completely possible.

Unsurprisingly, many app developers have created data recovery tools to take advantage of these new technologies. As such, if you need to recover data from your Mac’s hard drive, there is no shortage of apps that you can use to make the attempt.

Still, recovering your data is not as simple as downloading a recovery program directly to your hard drive and clicking run. The more you do with your computer after deleting a file (or losing a whole slew of them), the more new data is going to be written onto your drive. The more new data that is written to the drive, the more difficult it will be to recover the deleted files because they may be overwritten entirely. For this reason, most experts advise that you largely stop using a computer if and when you realize that data recovery is necessary. Close your email client; shut down your apps; do everything you can to minimize new data writing.

If you are going to try a data recovery program, do not download it to the disk that requires the recovery. Instead, download it onto an external hard drive or USB flash drive and then run it from there. Data Recovery Guru, EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard, and Prosoft Data Rescue are among the more acclaimed data recovery tools for Mac. All of these programs will scan your disk and create lists of deleted files—often sorted by different file types. You can search through the files to find your deleted data and then back it up to the external disk you are using to run the recovery tool.

The Drawbacks of Data Recovery Tools

Data recovery tools, while far ahead of where they were just five or so years ago, are not foolproof or especially user-friendly tools. They can be used to recover deleted data, but they aren’t particularly useful if you don’t have an external disk to run them from, can take hours to scan if you have a lot of files, and are sometimes fruitless anyway. Not all recovery tools find the exact same files, which means you might have to use several to recover everything you are looking for. They also don’t usually recover filenames, which can make finding your deleted file like searching for a needle in a haystack.

In order to avoid the frustration of using data recovery tools—or worse, the permanent loss of your data—you might consider hiring a professional data recovery team to do the job. If you don’t feel comfortable running programs from external disks or sorting through lots and lots of deleted files, skip the DIY process and call Vital Tech instead! Our senior technicians will delve into your system and find your deleted data, with the experience and self-assurance that you might not necessarily have for this kind of project. Call us today at 240-813-0692 to get our help.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / BlogData Recovery / 0 Comments

Data recovery isn’t exactly a service you use everyday. As a result, you’ll probably end up searching the internet for answers. While free tech support and tips can be found online easily for computer issues, data recovery questions all over the world tend to end with “take it to a professional.” The reason for that is pretty simple: computers weren’t built to work with failing hard drives. If an area of your drive can’t be read, your computer will just lock up while waiting for that process to time out. Besides, if your drive does have damage, trying to force a read isn’t going to make things better. It’s going to make things worse.

While data experts are not literally saving lives, it’s easy to explain data retrieval by drawing a parallel to hospitals. In our metaphor, the average person with a first aid kit and some basic knowledge of CPR can take care of minor scrapes and bruises. But once things escalate even a little bit higher than that, it’s time to see a doctor (or in extreme cases, a surgeon).  Professionals have two things the average person doesn’t: decades of built up knowledge and very expensive machines. The data recovery world is no different. To work with storage devices, you need expensive imaging hardware designed to communicate with failing hard drives and expert technicians that won’t compromise your data.

professional data recovery
The matrix-like view data recovery professionals see.

Data recovery businesses come in three flavors:

  • Level 1: The vast majority of businesses in this field are level 1 centers that can handle logical recoveries and no more. They only work with healthy drives to recover deleted files or revert formatting issues. They don’t have the tools or expertise to work with damaged drives so they need to outsource 80% or more of their work to another service. Reasonable cost: up to $200.
  • Level 2: The bulk of data recovery work is done on damaged hard drives and level 2 centers have the tools and staff to recover data in those conditions. When a drive has sector damage, cyclic redundancy errors, LBA mismatches or worse, these teams examine the drive head by head and sector by sector to find the sources of damage, correct them and retrieve the data. Reasonable cost: up to $800.
  • Level 3: Also known as disaster recovery or mechanical recovery, this level of service requires opening hard drives to repair or replace parts. Unfortunately, the internal data platters cannot be exposed to open air so providers need to work in a Clean Room Environment. Drives that have been dropped or are making strange sounds are likely candidates for this tier of service. Reasonable cost: $1200-$2000 on average.

Because of the expenses required to become a level 2 or level 3 service, these tiers are crowded with expensive nationwide companies. They have much higher overhead and rely on their satellite offices to mail hard drives in to their main repair center much like a level 1 service would. However, you can save time and money by finding a local data recovery provider like VitalTech in Maryland.

So how do you sort through these companies and find out which are doing the work and which are just an unnecessary middleman? Ask the tough questions:

  • Do you have a clean room at your location or do you mail drives out?
  • Do you use data recovery hardware to work with drives or just software?
  • What is the turnaround time for recovery?
  • How many technicians will be working on my drive?
  • What happens if recovery is impossible or unsuccessful?

Data recovery is hard work and the tools are expensive. Be wary of a mismatch between the level of repair needed and the price you are offered. No one in the world is doing clean room work for $200 and no one should pay thousands for deleted file recovery. Find reviews, check experience and get a quote up front.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

In our final article of the series we’ll look at external hard drives so you have a better idea of what’s out there, what’s involved when it comes to external data recovery, and what to do if your external drive has been damaged, typically from being dropped.

These days, through really cost effective external drives PC consumers can dramatically increase the amount of data in their lives and keep it better protected by backing it up. Almost all modern PC-tech allows for one to multiple external drives so they’re worth getting to know.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: Through the hyperlinked titles below you can browse this blog series easily without getting lost and cover each base.

Article 1: Your Hard Drive (How It Works and What Causes It to Crash)

Article 2: The Basics of Modern Hard Drive Disk Failures

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

an external hard drive, usb thumb drive and hard drive

With these products you just need to figure out which external drive is best for you, providing the right amount of space and performance (speed) to suit your needs, and then match it with the right input connection. Let’s look at common drives first, then we’ll talk a little bit more about input.

The 3 Common Types of External Drives

  • Desktop Drives: These are going to require an adapter and come with 3.5-inch mechanisms inside so typically they’re kept stationary v. carted around. When possible, we advise people invest in desktop drives that have a built-in cooling fan to extend the life of the external drive as much as possible. Simply because people tend to leave their desktops on longer than mobile PCs. In terms of space they can go as high as 6 terabytes, but through multiple mechanisms (similar to ram sticks) they can get up to 8 TBs – or two 4TB drives.
  • Notebook-Class Drives: Common size for these smaller 2.5-inch mobile-friendly external drives is 500GB-1TB, but 2TB capacities are out there.
  • External Solid-State Drives: Because of their much higher ticket price, shock resistance, and increased complexity, SSD notebook-class external drives are rarer. And they’re on the smaller end of data capacity (64-512GB) which is why a fair amount of DIY’ers use them as internal drives instead.

In terms of input, as discussed in Article 6 of this blog series your common external cables are going to be USB 2.0/3.0, FireWire 400/800, and eSATA. Then there’s the more exotic options like USB 3.1/USB-C or iSCSI.

In his informative PC Mag article, “How to Buy an External Hard Drive” Joel Domingo does a great job of summarizing basic information on the USB and FireWire connection options:

External drives typically have a USB port, which is a good thing since even convertible tablets and ultrabooks have at least one USB 2.0 port with its theoretical 480Mbps throughput. Less common, but ostensibly speedier, is the FireWire port, in both 400Mbps and 800Mbps formats. FireWire 400 and 800 are signal-compatible (they can use the same wires), but they have different FW400 or FW800 connectors on the ends of those cables. FireWire can be daisy-chained; i.e., you can connect several drives or devices up to a single FireWire port when you connect them together first.”

While we could go much deeper into eSATA and advanced stuff like Thunderbolt from Intel, or even G-Tech options with much steeper pricing, but that would be a bit much for this setting. Besides, there’s other things to consider when choosing your external drive like style/coloring, included software, and warranty!

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

In this 6th installment of the VitalTech hard drive and data recovery blog series, we’ll cover the common internal connections between hard drives and PCs and then talk a little about the typical issues you can encounter when they experience some sort of a problem.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: To move to different articles within the series, simply click any of the hyperlinked titles below. And don’t worry, each corresponding article has the same list so you won’t get lost.

Article 1: Your Hard Drive (How It Works and What Causes It to Crash)

Article 2: The Basics of Modern Hard Drive Disk Failures

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

What good is having a fabulous hard drive filled with gigs of text files, images, videos, programs, preferences, gaming glory and your operating system if it can’t interface with your PC? This communication happens through a relatively small amount of internal connections, outlined below.

up close view of SATA hard drive port

  • SATA: Internally, within your hard drive, the standard Serial Advanced Technology Attachment connection accommodates all formats and makes it possible to transfer data at incredibly high speeds.
  • USB: The Universal Serial Bus is a very common way to connect a hard drive or external storage device to any PC, comes standard on just about all desktops, laptops and popular gaming systems.
  • eSATA: Some PCs come boosted with more advanced, high-performance eSATA connections which make even higher data transfer speeds possible from external drives. These are superior to USB and…
  • FireWire: This is an increasingly well-known upgrade to USB connections that makes data transfer faster which can be very important for people or businesses who deal with much larger files – graphic artists, web designers, programmers, movie makers, etc.

Listen, as technology progresses, in general so does the amount of data we transfer. Consider the amount of internal data transfer on your typical hard drive from 2006 v. those of today. So from USB, to Firewire to eSATA, and outdated connections upgraded to the modern SATA.

Some of the components involved are the different hard drive connection panels along with their corresponding connection power and converter cables, themselves mini-marvels of engineering. As with anything else involved in 21st century PC-tech, all this can get crazy complex in a heartbeat. So with that said let’s talk about 3 sure signs there’s an issue brewing.

3 Common Hard Drive Connection Errors

  1. The hard drive suddenly isn’t recognized by the computer, indicating that there’s an internal disconnect.
  2. Your computer begins asking you to (re)format the hard drive which will destroy all the data that hasn’t been backed up on an external drive or storage device in the process.
  3. Your computer is letting you see files but you can’t open them, which again, is a clear sign of disconnection between your hard drive and PC.

In some cases, when people know their way around hard drives, exchanging one cable or converter with another isn’t the hardest thing to do in the world. But for most folks, like PC owners who reach out to VitalTech, this is all a grey area where they don’t know what kind of cables they need, how to assess/repair them, or what choices are best to suit their computing needs.

And with that said, we’ll move on to the last article in our hard drive and data recovery blog series that deals with external drives.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

In this 5th article in the VitalTech Hard Drive and Data Recovery blog series we’ll tackle the printed circuit board (PCB) so you can see how it controls power and firmware. And why replacements have to be very specific, the same version, from the same factory of manufacturer and prouduced within 1-2 weeks of each other.

While within the general and computer electronics worlds PCBs are incredibly common and well understood, outside these circles folks typically have no clue. At least not until they have to contact companies and data recovery experts like VitalTech.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: Each of the titles below are hyperlinked so you can quickly move around the blog series at your leisure.

Article 1: Your Hard Drive (How It Works and What Causes It to Crash)

Article 2: The Basics of Modern Hard Drive Disk Failures

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

What a PCB does is make it possible for power to move between the physical components within a hard drive. They’re complex feats of micro-engineering that took over the show from point-to-point wiring in older hard drives that were very susceptible to aging, cracking, and all sorts of other issues.

close up view of a hard drive pcb

Now, to be frank, all the science and engineering involved with PCBs is very dense. We could write a book on them, easily, but for the purposes of this short tutorial skip ahead a bit and go through the most common telltale signs of a hard drive PCB failure.

5 Signs of Hard Drive PCB Failure

  1. Unresponsive: Right, so if the PCB is faulty or fails there isn’t going to be power properly getting to where it needs to go so you won’t hear or feel the drive spin up.
  2. Burning: Because of how they’re composed and put together, often when PCBs take a dirt nap they’ll actually get so hot that they catch on fire. Not in a scary way, but enough to do serious damage and to where you’ll be able to smell it. Sometimes the damaged chip can be repaired while other times the whole board needs to be replaced.
  3. Firmware Failures: The data that tells the computer what this device is and what it does is no longer working. This is an interfacing failure that we see frequently!
  4. Surges: Perhaps the most common reason PCBs fail is through Mother Nature in the form of electrical surges thanks to sudden power outages and electrical/thunder storms.
  5. Disappearance: A less common PCB issue happens when without warning, the hard drive essentially disappears from your computer’s operating system.

Simple enough so far, so now let’s address the difficulties people run into when they try to replace a faulty or failed PCB with a shiny new one. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, to work properly there are three requirements:

  • Same firmware version.
  • From the same production plant.
  • Created within a few weeks, at most, of each other.

As you can see, it’s all about compatibility. The global PCB industry is absolutely mind-blowingly huge. There are so many out there it’s insane, so many versions, and then there’s all the “second hand” options and so forth. Furthermore, you want to be sure that the board has been fully tested before being shipped, right?

VitalTech is part of a board exchange with other professional data recovery services to allow quick part sourcing and a fast turnaround for data recoveries.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Bonjour! In this fourth installment of the VitalTech hard drive and data recovery blog series we’re going to cover the basics of hard drive file saving and retrieving to give you a better understanding of how it works. While you may think files are nicely and neatly saved in tidy Matrix-like cubes, it’s actually a bit more interesting than that.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: Feel free to use the hyperlinked titles below to move through the series in your own way and at your own pace.

Article 1: Your Hard Drive (How It Works and What Causes It to Crash)

Article 2: The Basics of Modern Hard Drive Disk Failures

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

From original hard drives in the 50s like the gargantuan IBM RAMAC 305, to modern versions that can fit in your back pocket as thin as a pancake yet possess enough capacity to hold hundreds upon hundreds of CDs worth of music files, videos, images, and more…we’ve come a mighty long way.

internal view of a hard drive platter

All of that computing evolution sits on a foundation of magnetism and bits, or binary digit sequences of 0s and 1s that are then divvied up into billions of sectors on your hard drive disk (HDD) platter. So even when the computer isn’t on, or the data is on an inactive external drive or device, it’s still there embedded into a magnetic plate.

A Closer Look at Hard Drive Disks

Made of hard glass or aluminum and coated on each side with an extremely thin layer of metallic material capable of being (de)magnetized, the hard drive disk is where all the data is stored and retrieved.

Remember we’re talking billions of microscopic bits of binary code spread out all over the disk, which is why it has to spin so fast, up to 10,000 RPMs to allow the read-write head and mechanical arm to instantly access it. That said, the vast majority of the work isn’t writing the data, but retrieving and filing it.

Let’s talk about how your data is saved. There’s basically three parts.

  1. Tracks: As the plate spins in a clockwise motion, data-bits are arranged in concentric patterns or pathways which like on a music record or CD are called tracks.
  2. Sectors: Tracks are then further broken down into much smaller sectors or specific areas, some grouped together.
  3. The FAT: Finally, the computer meticulously keeps a map of data, and each sector, so it knows what space is used and what’s open for new information.

Just try and imagine what happens when even one speck of dust happens to lands on and sticks to the plate. Then let’s say that speck causes the read-write head to bounce and then make contact with the plate when it comes down. Even one tiny scratch can impact hundreds if not thousands of files.

Sometimes signs of disk problems are noticeable, if you’re lucky, but oftentimes disk crashes just happen…boom! That’s where VitalTech comes, to run diagnostics, check software for corruption, inspect the mechanical components and take care of hard drive data recovery.

Now that we’ve taken a gander at how hard drive file saving and retrieving works, in our next article of we’ll look at the printed circuit board which acts as the central nervous system of your hard drive.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.
By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Welcome to this third article of the VitalTech hard drive and data recovery blog series. We’re going to look at the hard drive mechanical arm and go through the common issues you may face that can include unexpected contact with disk platters (scratching), reading wrong areas, and degrading when reading over a dent in disk platter at 5400rpm or more.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: Each of the titles below, when clicked, will transport you directly to that information.

Article 1: Your Hard Drive (How It Works and What Causes It to Crash)

Article 2: The Basics of Modern Hard Drive Disk Failures

Article 3: Hard Drive Mechanical Arm Failures 101

Article 4: How Hard Drives Save and Retrieve Your Files

Article 5: Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

Article 6: An Intro to Internal Hard Drive to PC Connections

Article 7: External Hard Drives and Data Recovery

Clicks, scratching or grinding noises, low and degrading disk RPMs, popping sounds, computer freezes, oh my! Oftentimes the first signs of hard drive trouble come about as a result of the mechanical arm and the components that make it possible for it to do its job.

up close view of a hard drive mechanical arm and head

Actuators are there to move the arm, the central spindle spins the platter so the read-write head can access/imprint data while the small spindle makes it possible to swing back and forth. Then of course you have voice coils, bearings, and motors involved as well.

So many things can go wrong! As one issue crops up, it can cause another due to the synergistic nature of the way the mechanical arm fits into the “hard drive puzzle” if you will. But as mentioned, lets take a brief look at the three most common failures we deal with as data recovery experts.

3 Sure Signs of Mechanical Hard Drive Issues

  1. Platter Contact: Uh oh, you dropped your external hard drive or mobile device now it’s acting funny? It’s begun making sounds? Maybe the platter has been knocked off kilter or the spindle motor is damaged, but whatever the scenario it’s caused the frail read-write head to crash into the platter. In this case disk damage can range from minor to catastrophic and unrecoverable.
  2. Improper Data Reading: Wait a minute, why are files suddenly disappearing? Are entire sectors of data being skipped over? Perhaps the File Allocation Table has been destroyed, or maybe platter alignment is off and they’re clashing. Or, it could be that improper venting is causing too much heat and plates are spoiling.
  3. Disk Platter Dents: When platters, or hard drive disks (HDD) are distorted, dented, or bent in some way, yes, they become essentially unreadable for the mechanical arm’s read-write head. Even tiny misalignments can wreak havoc leading to a full hard drive crash, or at a bare minimum completely destroy data in certain sectors if you continue to try and use the hard drive once these things occur.

For almost all these cases, we have the tools to extract and recover data from hard drives that have suffered extensive mechanical damage. But, to be frank, some people get lucky and discover that despite a bent disk for example, their most important data wasn’t harmed. It’s all quite situational.

A computer guru with ten years of professional experience. From corporate IT to forensic data recovery, he has seen it all and has the stories to prove it. His hobbies include programming and ice hockey.