What is a hard drive head crash? (Video)

02 May 2019 by Michael Nuncic

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.

Here we explain what a  head crash is in regards to hard disc drives and what results out of it.

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.


Video transcript 

Hi, it's Mikey at Ontrack. One of the most common problems we see here with regards to traditional hard drives is what's called a head crash. Now a head crash is when a hard drive, which by the way it looks like one of these is a type of physical damage to the drive which actually renders your data completely inaccessible unless you have the right tools and expertise.

You know if your hard drive has suffered from a head crash because you won't be able to turn your computer on and you're gonna hear usually some kind of weird noise like a clicking or a grinding noise a little bit like this.

Enough talking let's actually go into the clean room here at Ontrack and show you what head crashing actually is.

So if you couldn't tell by the computer noises and the fans whirring we are in one of Ontrack's clean rooms and today we're going to be taking you through exactly how a head crash happens on a hard drive. As we mentioned earlier a hard drive head crash is a type of physical failure on a mechanical hard drive where the read/write heads of the hard drive crashed down onto the platter surface, which is rotating inside the hard drive. Now what that means is it causes permanent damage to the platter surface of your drive, which destroys the data in the process it doesn't, however, mean in all cases that all of your data is gone. 

To give you an idea of what a head crash actually looks like we're first going to show you what a hard drive looks like when there's nothing wrong with it at all. So you can see on this one the magnetic platter surface is the reflective bit that you can see there and now there's nothing wrong with that you can see it just looks like a mirror so that is what a normal one would look like but when there's been a head crash and we'll show you what actually looks like so you can see on this drive that there are these rings going around the platter surface and that is when because the platters are rotating that's when the head has actually crashed down onto the surface and then it causes those rings around the platter.

 So that's it from the clean room. If you suspect that your drive has suffered a head crash is best to give us a call for some further advice on what to do next.


Hard drive head crash FAQs


When is it correct use the term "hard drive head crash"?

A head crash occurs when the read-write head comes in contact with the spinning platter. This is often a result of a device suffering phsical damage.

A read-write head hovers nanometres above the spinning disc platter. Contact between the head and the platter can cause damage to the affected area of the hard drive.

How we identify a head crash?

Drive head crash is first identified when trying to start the computer. It will not be possible to boot to the operating system. Besides the computer not booting, you will most likely hear the following:

  • A clicking noise
  • A grinding noise
  • Any other unusual noise not not usually heard 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. Small particles of dust are expanded causing other heads to crash in multiple platter drives. The same process happens again and again causing extensive damage. This damage results with 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. Small shockwaves can penetrate the hard drive and contribute to a head crash. Avoid innocuous things that could cause damage such as:

  • Putting a laptop down heavily on a table
  • Drop it on the sofa because the surface is soft and nothing it is going to happen.
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, don’t panic. Then heed 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. As such we do not recommend that you attempt self recovery practices if you value your data. The reason is simple: 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.