By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

Hard Drive Printed Circuit Boards and Data Recovery Explained

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.