By Karim Salmi / Data Recovery / 0 Comments

How a hard drive works and what causes it to crash

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

In this first article of the VitalTech hard drive data recovery blog series, we’ll look at what a hard drive is, how they work, and the most common reasons why they fail.

While many could argue hard drives make the contemporary world go around, relatively few people who depend on them actually understand what they are or how they do what they do for us. So let’s take a look.

Other Articles in This Hard Drive and Data Recovery Series

Note: Each of the titles below is hyperlinked to the corresponding article, so feel free to jump around and consume it in your own way.

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

The 9 Basic Components of a Hard Drive

Okay, so let’s take a look at this picture of a typical hard drive and briefly go through each of the components that make it work. Exposing the drive’s innards to the open air is a death sentence for the data. Luckily, the data has already been salvaged from this drive.

inside of a hard drive with each part labelled

  1. The Actuator: This is a mechanical component driven by electromagnets, or voice coils, that moves the read-write arm.
  2. The Read-Write Arm: This is what swings across the magnetic platter to store and retrieve your data.
  3. The Central Spindle: This is what rotates the magnetic platter in a clockwise motion.
  4. The Magnetic Platter: This is the central disk-looking platter that stores data using binary magnetism, quite the engineering wonder.
  5. Internal Connections: These connect the hard drive to and communicate with the circuit board.
  6. The Read-Write Head: This is the itsy-bitsy little magnet on the underside-tip of the read-write arm that creates the binary coding on the platter and retrieves data.
  7. Underside Controls: This is the part of the hard drive that regulates how data flows to and from the magnetic platter.
  8. The Data Connector: This connector transports data bits from the circuit board to the read-write head and then onto the platter.
  9. The Small Spindle: This is what makes it possible for the read-write arm to move across the magnetic platter.

So in essence, just by looking at the components, you can see hard drives function through magnetically imprinting on and reading/retrieving data from the central magnetic platter. Again, all data is stored on this platter through magnetic binary code – 0’s and 1’s.

Obviously there’s tons more involved and it can get rather complex when talking about the relationships between your hard drive and PC experience, but for now you’ve got the foundational basics of hard drive science. We’ll look at many of these components with more depth throughout the blog series.

The 5 Most Common Reasons Hard Drives Crash

Now let’s look at the typical reasons VitalTech is called in to perform a variety of PC hard drive and external hard drive data recovery services.

  1. Wear & Tear: Regardless of what a wonder of minimalism-tech they are, and no matter how well they’re maintained, hard drives break down over time. Modern manufacturers have done a fabulous job increasing overall Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) but a crash will happen eventually.
  2. Component Malfunctions: Referring to components being defective through no fault of the PC owner. With endless amounts of hard drives and their components coming off the product lines on a daily basis around the world, these malfunctions happen as well – par for the digital course.
  3. Lack of Upkeep: In some PCs, like desktops for example, dust and debris collects and will eventually break down hard drives from the inside, especially the air filter in charge of maintaining optimal atmospheric pressure.
  4. A Head Crash: According to Wikipedia, head crashes are the most “notorious” cause of hard drive failure. This occurs when the read-and-write head at the end of the mechanical arm touches the platter, scratches the disk, or fails in other ways and clashes into it.
  5. Logical Damage: Now we’re talking viruses and malware, data corruption, and then of course human errors which damage hard drive file structures or software.

Pretty easy to understand right? Not as much technological hocus pocus as you may have expected? After the hard drive crash or when there’s a serious data issue, the first thing that’s required is a professional diagnostic (which we provide to our customers for free). Then the necessary steps are taken which can range from quick and easy to advanced recoveries and mechanical hard drive surgery.

In the next article we’ll look at hard drive disks and the role they play and you’ll learn more about your data as you move along through the blog series.

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.