What is a hard drive head crash?

Written By: Ontrack

Date Published: 02 May 2019 00:00:00 EDT

What is a hard drive head crash?

A head crash occurs when our device has suffered physical damage and the read-write head comes in contact with the spinning platter. As a read-write head only hovers nanometres above the spinning platter any contact can cause damage to occur in the affected area of the hard drive.

It is very common that when our computer stops working we use the expression ‘crash’ to describe the fault. Yet, this is not 100 per cent accurate even though it may have entered into a common language.

How we identify a hard drive head crash?

When we try to start the computer, we won’t be able to boot to the operating system plus you will most likely hear clicking, grinding or other unusual noise coming from the hard drive.

How is it caused?

The head crash is it caused when the read-write head of a hard drive comes in contact with the platter. When this happens, a read-write head destroys the magnetic coating on one of the platters, then small particles of dust are expanded causing other heads to crash (in multiple platter drives) and the same process happens again and again until debris causes such extensive damage, that there is no magnetic coating left on the platters.

How can we avoid it?

There is a very easy way to avoid this failure: take care of your devices. Every time that you put the laptop down heavily on a table, or you drop it in the sofa because we think that the surface is soft and nothing it is going to happen, actually we are not being protective enough with our media as small shockwaves can penetrate the hard drive and contribute to a head crash.

The other way to protect your data is to ensure that your data is backed up.

What if I’ve already suffered a head crash?

If you think that you are in this situation, firstly don’t panic. Then head caution if you decide to search for advice on how to fix your hard drive if this has suffered a head crash. This is a delicate process to recover data from and as such we do not recommend that you attempt th ese practices if you value your data. The reason is simpl e: you probably don’t have the right tools and the experience to affect the best possible recovery (if you do you are probably not reading this blog post!).

When you have a problem with your car, you go to professionals, right? The same happens with your hard drive, if you start “fixing” your hard drive you can make the damage worse .Our best advice is call to a reputable data recovery company. They will give you better advice and an evaluation about your hard drive and how much data can be recovered.

If you experience a hard drive head crash, do not try to recover the data yourself. Do not turn on your hard drive as you will most likely do more damage to the device and the data. Contact a data recovery specialist like Ontrack.

Recent head crash fix by Ontrack Data recovery Experts

A head crash is one of the last things you want to happen to your hard drive, especially if you use it for your business like one of our recent customers that we helped. Aurore is a professional photographer who dropped her hard drive, resulting in the  data on the device becoming inaccessible. Find out how Ontrack helped recover her photos stored on her hard drive and help get back the pictures she needed for her business below! 

Customer Story

"One of the most important aspects of being a photographer is backing up your pictures. I understand this importance, so I have two hard drives: a 2TB disk for daily use and a 4TB disk for archiving (I use this less often). I'm quite meticulous with the organisation of my photos, as I think it's essential, and makes my life easier. 

While I was archiving my latest photos, I knocked my 4TB hard drive off of the table. As I watched it smash into the floor, sheer panic flushed over me. After picking it up from the floor, I plugged it in, finding that I could not access all my professional and personal archives between 2015 and 2019 and my files of professional contracts. 

The loss of these archived files was devastating, as not only did it affect my work, but it also meant I couldn't continue to write my photography blog – which is a great hobby of mine!"

The solution: Hire a data recovery professional 

"Given the importance of the data I had lost, I chose to contact a professional, which happened to be Ontrack – mainly because of their years of experience in the data recovery field. 

 While passing through Paris, I dropped my hard drive off for a free evaluation. The process was super easy, as I just had to fill in a quick form. Ontrack assured me that there was no obligation for me to go ahead with the recovery; they also said that they do not charge if they can't recover any data. 

 The evaluation aims to determine the problem and makes an estimate of the percentage of data that is recoverable. For my hard drive, they estimated that they could recover 90-100% of the files. I was offered a quote with three different service options: Standard (10-15 business days), Express (3-5 business days), and Urgent (12-48 hours).

 I was put in touch with one of the Ontrack engineers (Alex), who explained the details of the damage my hard drive had suffered. Alex explained that when my hard drive hit the floor, the playback head was damaged, resulting in a scratch to the disk, damaging the files. 

 After talking to Alex, I decided to go ahead with the quote. A new playback head was ordered, and my disk went to the cleanroom. Alex kept me informed throughout the whole process, which was very comforting."

The results 

Below are the final results. 

Good files: 116,238 files or 1.03 TB

Partial files: 28,701 files or 1.06 TB with a risk of not opening

Ontrack managed to recover 80% of the files, leaving 20% as 'partial' files 

"I received my data on a new encrypted 4TB hard drive, with the files separated into two folders: Good and Partial. To my surprise, the files were in my usual, beautiful order, which made it easy for me to sort through and check if I was missing anything important."

How much did it cost for data recovery? 

Can you put a price on the recovery of years of personal files and professional work? we don't think so! Many people deem data recovery to be very expensive, but with the level of expertise and service you receive, our customers definitely feel value from it. 

"For the data recovery and transfer to an equivalent hard drive (4TB), I paid €649 (ex VAT). Ontrack offers a payment plan if you can't pay your fee all at once."  


"All my life was on that hard drive, so it was truly an awful moment when I lost that data. In such moments of panic, it is important to know who can be trusted to help you recover your precious data. 

Thanks to Ontrack, 80% of my data was recovered, limiting the damage to my business. All I can say is thanks, Ontrack!"

Contact Ontrack for Data Recovery Help

Here at Ontrack, we are more than happy to help customers with data loss challenges, whether it is retrieving lost photos, documents or other important files. Our data recovery data experts have the expert knowledge to help get your device back up and running effectively again. Take a look at our data recovery process to learn about how we work through each step from initial consultation right through to project completion. 

For more information on our data recovery services, get in touch with our team today!


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