Hard drive failure woes, myths and truths.

1.5 TB drive failed out of the blue.

It spins up, clicks about five times, spins down.

I tried every data recovery tool I could, no go.

Computer was able to see it, but in a very limited way, a lot of missing information.

I tried the freezer trick, let it freeze for 48 hours. No difference.

The only other thing that is AFFORDABLE FOR ME (PLEASE don’t take the time out of your day to tell me that I can hire people for huge sums of money to fix it - that’s not going to happen. I am very aware of how costly professional data recovery is.) is replacing the circuit board.

Now, the only question is whether it’s even possible, since I have encountered conflicting information.

INfo One: If the drive SPINS, there is hope and changing the circuit board MIGHT save it, at least temporarily, long enough to grab the important files.

Info Two: if it clicks, it’s hopeless, don’t bother.

Info One is not only more appealing to me, since it fits my situation and offers some hope, it also makes more sense to me. If the platters are spinning, then it’s very possible that it’s just the read arm or the communicaton with the read arm. And Info Two just tells me that the read arm isn’t working, not that the information on the platters is gone or iaccessible.

But I thought I’d ask the Dope.
(Incidentally, just as an aside, I had a hard drive die on me a million years ago, around 1993 or something, and I had absolutely no choices about fixing it, it was garbage so no harm in trying, and I opened it up. Just right in my dog-hairy living room. I physically moved the arm, closed it back up and tried it. I know it’s hard to believe, but it worked. Perfectly. The way some people talk, you’d think that a single cell falling on the platters would render all the data useless forever, and maybe that’s what’s supposed to happen, but somehow it didn’t. So once I’ve exhausted every possibility on this I’m going to bust it open as a last ditch attempt…)

Found some additional info…again, gives me hope, but any additional input is welcome:

It is possible, but a bitch, and requires the circut board from another identical hard drive (make/model/firmware version)

Also in the event that a professional recovery is needed, monkeying around with this yourself can make it much worse, and less likely to be recoverable even by the pros.

I was surprised that clicking could indeed sometimes be fixed by replacing the board. Did you see this instructional youtube vid?


It’s someone sort of pushing his business but it’s still informative.

That site is horribly incomplete…

I’ll just pop in to say this for future reference, then pop right back out again and say no more:

Regular backups are your friend.

Which I am the first to say to others, but I’m also a hoarder and very disorganized so I actually own and use about 12 drives totalling 8-9 terabytes both internal and external and almost everything is replicated multiple times all over the place.

EXCEPT… this particular drive, being relatively new, was my catch all for boatloads of music and video I’ve acquired and ripped which is all enormous and space-hoggy and not something I really want to double up on.


Well since we’re going balls-to-the-wall here, I am going to say/ask two things:

  1. Did you try TestDisk to try to recover data?

  2. This is a bare drive we’re talking about and not a drive in an enclosure, right? I ask because my friend’s drive died recently and we were excited to find out it was the enclosure that died, not the drive inside it.

Sorry to say it as well, but backup, backup and backup some more. I have learned my lesson too many times. If you wait at the right time you can find incredible deals on backup drives (external). I got a USB one from Best Buy (yes I hate them too) for $29 for a 2gb one.

I also had no luck with freezing the drive for 48 hours. However, I put the drive back into the freezer and forgot about it until this thread! Damn thing has been in deep freeze for about 2 years now. For giggles I am going to plug it in in the next day or two and see if it comes back to life!

It’s a long shot, but try removing the PCB from the drive, give the contacts a good stink-eye stare and put the board back on. The last time I dismantled a failed drive, I was surprised to see that the connection between the heads inside the drive case and the PCB was an array of spring contacts on the case and pads on the PCB. Just one mote of dust or corrosion there would be enough, but removing and replacing the board should be enough to refresh the contacts.

No promises this will do anything other than consume time, but if you’ve already got the necessary tools, it’s free. If not, you can buy a set of micro-torx bits at Home Depot or Lowe’s for under ten bucks. Think I paid $5.99 for a “Husky” brand set that looks like a fat jeweler’s screwdriver.

An absolute last-ditch thing you can try is to smack the drive’s end without connectors against a table top, anvil or whatever, with the hopes that the heads got stuck in “park.” Most drives have an internal plastic wedge or comb that the head assembly rests on when the drive is powered down, and sometimes they can get stuck. Don’t pound the drive - just a good sharp whack on the end.

My success rate with this is 50-50. It did fix one drive long enough to get everything off, and another drive remained dead. This kind of physical abuse is likely to send heads smashing into the platters, so save it for the final attempt before trashing it.

This actually may be a lot cheaper than you’d think, and much more so than a drive recovery service.

I had a HD fail, so I looked it up, and because prices have come down since I bought mine (and because I didn’t need Firewire this time around–orig. drive was for Final Cut Pro work), it only cost $79 to buy a drive that used the same drive/circuitry.

Pop open the case and switch drives. If that doesn’t work, unscrew the circuit board and switch that out too.

You don’t mention the brand, but if you download and burn the Ultimate Boot CD it has a multitude of HD manufacturer-specific diagnostic/scan/data-recovery tools that might help.

The only thing that a circuit board swap will definitely not fix is a drive that makes grinding noises.

In all other cases of “funny noises”, the problem could be a mechanical issue in the sealed area of the drive, a problem with the part of the circuit drive that controls the moving parts (head stack, spindle motor) inside the drive, or both. A fault inside the sealed area could damage the part of the circuit board that controls that item.

However… You will need the exact same circuit board as is on your drive now - same drive model, same firmware revision, etc. Starting quite some time back, most drive manufacturers began putting some of the firmware and data structures on the drive media itself, rather than in flash memory on the logic board. That’s because there’s a finite amout of space on the logic board, and flash chips cost money, while there’s lots of room for data on the drive media.

If there is a mismatch between the part of the firmware on the logic board and the part that’s on the drive media, things will probably not work well (or at all).

I had a new-in-the-box CDC 8" SMD -E drive that didn’t work - I’d purchased it at a surplus auction. I sent it to a repair service, and they said the problem was in the sealed area, and it would not be cost-effective to open it. I had them send it back unrepaired. I then opened it, found a loose connection, and plugged it back in. This was in an environment that couldn’t remotely be considered a clean room. That drive worked for many years (at least 15 years, well past the point where it and the system it was in were both obsolete).

Of course, in those days the heads flew at a much greater height, and areal density was a lot lower, so it might not work these days.

As I understand things, at the speed the platters rotate, any and all debris is tossed off well before the heads move out, as I understand it this is by design to make the drives more tolerant of any contamination or flaking of the media surface. I personally am not willing to bet my customers business data on my shop environment and have someone decide the way to save the biz is to sue the computer shop to dared (LeGasp) to open a hard drive outside of a clean room.

I swapped the PCB once and it worked, because the problem was one of the chips on the PCB was fried (to the point of melting off some of the connections). The PCB was very easy to remove though, there were no cables, plugs or Zero Insertion Force things, just contacts on the PCB and springs on the drive.

Is the drive made by Western Digital, by any chance??

Hmm sorry, can’t remember.