How to Handle a Physical Hard Drive Crash

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that in one way or another all hard drives will someday crash. With that in mind, it’s essential you have a plan for how to handle a physical hard drive crash both before and after so that when the inevitable day comes you’ll be prepared and able to minimize the damage.

Learn more in this video or the transcript below about how to handle the fateful day when your hard drive crashes, with information including average hard drive lifespans, a more detailed breakdown on what a physical hard drive crash is and what it’s common symptoms are, and most importantly how to create a hard drive crash response plan.

Video Transcript

Hard Drive Crashes—An Inevitable Ending

Functional hard drives are made up of a spinning platter, tiny magnetic read-write heads hovering just above it, and a good deal of complex circuitry. A motor spins the hard drive platter at a high speed—typically between 5,400 rpm and 7,200 rpm whereas a standard record player maxes out at 78 rpm.

The read/write head doesn’t actually come into physical contact with the platter. Instead it floats on a cushion of air that separates the platter and head by as little as 5 nanometers (less than 0.0000002″), and so considering how delicate hard drives are, they frequently crash because of things like overheating or physical impact causing the head to touch the hard drive’s platter.

Over time every hard drive will fail in some way or another, meaning that when it comes to handling a crash you not only need a plan for what to do after the crash, but also have a proactive approach like regular data backups to prepare for inevitable hard drive crashes.

Hard Drive Lifespans

How Long Do Hard Drives LastAccording to past studies, there’s a steady decline in average hard drive lifespans over time with the highest crash rates between year 3 and 4.

If these numbers were to extend beyond year 4, the projected estimates would show roughly 50% of drives failing after year 6.

Although there will always be outliers like water damage and overheating that cause hard drives to fail early while regular maintenance and a little bit of luck can keep them up and running longer, the main takeaway and thing to prepare for is the fact that all hard drives will eventually fail.

What Is a Physical Hard Drive Crash

There are two types of hard drive crashes—physical and logical—and with a physical crash it means some part of the hard drive is physically damaged.

More specifically, a physical hard drive crash involves the infamous head crashes where the read/write head that’s hovering mere nanometers above a drive’s spinning disk touches and scratches the platter’s magnetic data-storage surface—in turn causing severe data loss.

Common signs and symptoms of a physical hard drive crash include:

  • Excessive Heat
  • Clicking, Whirring, and Grinding Noises
  • Boot or Mount Errors
  • Slow File Access Times
  • Missing or Corrupted Files and Folders

Preparing for Crashes by Backing Up Data First

Cloud storage is a common tool used for data backupsSince hard drive failure is unavoidable and difficult to predict, one proactive step that should be taken to prepare for and minimize the damage done by a crash is regularly backing up data.

A recommended strategy is the “backup rule of three”, where as the name implies two other spare copes of files are kept in separate locations so that even in the event of multiple disasters your important information will still be safe.

Common backup methods include:

Physical Hard Drive Crashes—Creating a Response Plan

After a hard drive crashes there are several steps that need to be taken—recovering all salvageable data, destroying the hard drives after, and finally recycling the leftover parts in compliance with the EPA and other state-specific hazardous waste disposal laws.

Recover Data From Crashed Hard Drives (If Still Possible)

If the magnetic coating on a drive’s platter isn’t entirely destroyed after a scratch from a read/write head, data can sometimes be partially or even fully recovered.

When this happens though, keeping the drive on and continuing to let the platter spin will cause even more damage, so instead you should quickly and completely shut down the hard drive after noticing any physical crash symptoms.

It’s important you don’t try to repair failed hard drives yourself—exposing internal drive parts outside of the sanitized clean rooms used by recovery specialists can cause permanent damage via media contamination for example, and if the drive is able to be restored to a point it can be started again it should only be used to immediately recover and back up the data on the drive.

Destroy and Dispose Crashed Hard Drives

One myth and common mistake made after crashes is thinking that it’s safe to throw inoperable hard drives away like any other trash.

Unfortunately though, the reality is that not only are there laws like the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that lay out requirements for safe electronics destruction and disposal, but also any data you were able to salvage is still stored on hard drives, meaning if you were able to recover it once then it could also potentially be recovered by someone with bad intentions.

Finish by Recycling Crashed Hard Drives

Recycle Hard Drives After DestructionSimilar to how the RCRA has requirements for safe hard drive destruction, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various other state-specific laws lay out standards for how hard drive parts should be recycled after devices are destroyed.

When it comes to finally destroying and recycling hard drives, hard drive shredding is often an ideal option as it helps to provide compliance solutions for both legal and environmental requirements.

In regard to demonstrating proof of compliance with the RCRA and the EPAs’ other regulations, hard drive shredding providers wrap things up by giving you a formal certificate of destruction that includes a wide range of security details such as the chain of custody for materials during the destruction process, the location and date of their destruction, and witnesses.

After giving you a certificate of destruction, hard drive shredding providers take the raw leftover materials to be recycled in compliance with the EPA and state hazardous waste disposal requirements.

Has Your Hard Drive Crashed or Think It Will Soon?

At Record Nations we partner with a nationwide network of providers who are able to offer options for backing up and storing electronic data prior to a hard drive crash as well as destruction services for hard drives once they do inevitable fail.

Get free quotes and join Allstate, Google, Kaiser Permanente, and the countless other companies and organizations who we’ve helped to find safe data backup and hard drive destruction options by filling out the form to your right, giving us a call at (866) 385-3706, or contacting us directly using our live chat.