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What It Means To Have Your Hard Drive Crash

While most of us have heard someone say their ‘hard drive crashed‘ at some time or another, the definition of a hard drive that has ‘crashed’ is not commonly understood by any means. To most people, a hard drive crash simply means that something happened that caused them to lose their data.  The term itself has changed over time– originally having been known as a ‘head crash’, where the hard drives read/write head crashed into the surface of the disk causing damage to both the drive head and the disk from which it was reading and writing its data.  Hard drive crashes date back to the early days of computing and were a catastrophic failure; and still is to some degree, requiring that the hard drive be completely replaced and an often costly data recovery job if the user of the computer hasn’t made a recent backup copy of their data. 

Over time, the term ‘head crash’ has evolved into ‘hard drive crash’ and has come to mean any type of physical or logical failure that causes the computer user to temporarily or permanently lose their documents, photos, videos, music and other data that was being stored on their computer.  A drive crash in itself is inevitable; every hard drive will at some point fail if its used long enough.  Hard drives are filled with moving parts, including one or more mirror like round platters that are spinning upwards of 7200 rpms and a number of read and write heads that are moving back and forth over the spinning platter or ‘disk’ magnetically altering the surface in order to store and change the data that is on the drive.  Like any complicated mechanical device hard drives are prone to failure.  The failure can be logical, where the problem exists only in the catalog like system that tells the computer what is stored on the hard drive and where it is, or they can be mechanical where some physical component of the drive is actually broken.  If you have any doubts as to whether your hard drive was designed as a disposable device where failure is inevitable you need only look at the manufacturers specifications and ratings for the drive.  Every hard drive made by every manufacturer has been studied to determine the mean til to failure (or MTF). Most manufacturers are overly optimistic with their mean time to failure statistics, but the fact that they have a mean time to failure rating at all tells you that the drive will indeed fail eventually.  

Although the meaning of the words have changed over time, the general principles of hard drives have not. For this reason it is important to remember that any documents, pictures, music, videos or other data that is not backed up (meaning a copy is stored in more than one place) is subject to being lost forever.  While there are many different data recovery service providers performing data recovery to retrieve the data from all the crashed hard drives that haven’t been backed up prior to their moment of inevitable failure, not one of them can come close to claiming 100% success in recovering data from a crashed drive.  The simple fact is that if your data is not backed up then you very well may lose it forever.  If your hard drive has crashed and you don’t have a backup, then you will probably find yourself in need of data recovery services.  Data recovery services vary in price and complexity; from the giant industrial ‘clean rooms’ with workers in white suits to well meaning computer enthusiasts attempting to use software to bring back the inaccessible data.

If your hard drive is crashed it is important to do some research– or at least make sure that you understand the basic principles of data recovery prior to making any decisions.  Very few decisions can be as costly or risky as what to do when your hard drive fails and you seem to have lost your data.  In most cases the data can be retrieved if the data recovery job is handled just right– however without the right knowledge, you may end up paying thousands of dollars to recover your data from a single hard drive when you didn’t need too, or worse yet you could let some well meaning technology enthusiast attempt to recover it, only to find out later that the failed attempt caused additional damage to the drive where recovery of your data is no longer possible.

If your hard drive has crashed and you don’t have a backup that you can easily recover your data from, the first step is to determine what the data is worth to you.  Is it irreplaceable or will it not be much of a problem if you can’t get the data back?  If the data is something that is important to you then it’s advisable to consult with a professional data recovery lab.  Most reputable labs will provide you with free no-obligation diagnostics that will assess the extent of the damage as well as the options for recovery.  A reputable data recovery lab will use equipment that is designed specifically for working with damaged hard drives and can diagnose the problems without subjecting the drive to further damage in the process.  As they say in the data recovery industry; the more people and places that have tried to recover data from the drive before it gets to the data recovery lab, the lower the chances are that the data will still be recoverable. 

If you are local to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area or would like to use mail-in service, IT Connect’s data recovery lab provides free diagnostics for crashed hard drives.  

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