In this comparison between the N-ray and X-ray image, you’ll notice that the N-ray image is a lot sparser, for lack of a better word, than the X-ray image. Neutrons pass through most of the metals that comprise your typical hard drive, whereas X-rays have significantly more difficulty penetrating those materials. In the N-ray, you can’t see the hard disk platters at all! However, you can see layers of the spindle motor, voice coil motor, and E-block and details that are too obscured to see in the X-ray.
In other words, even though the neutron radiograph shows fewer internal components, many of the details it does show don’t show up so clearly, or at all, on the X-ray radiograph. As the saying goes, sometimes less is more. That isn’t to say that N-ray is a superior radiographic imaging tool compared to X-ray but rather that it is a complimentary tool. Both methods’ strengths shore up each others’ weaknesses.
But what happened to the hard drives after their neutron bombardment? The N-rayed drives were sent to Gillware’s cleanroom to see what, if any, data could be recovered from them.
The engineers at Gillware were surprised, and a little saddened, to find that all of the data was recoverable without much effort. Normally recovering data makes us very happy over here, but we were really hoping the electronics would have been damaged by the radiation received. It turns out the bombardment wasn’t enough to damage the drives, which is probably good news for the storage scientists that wanted to build a robust and radiation hardened product. It would also be good news for anyone that wanted to use N-ray industrial radiography to perform failure analysis of drives, knowing you could get a good picture of all the internal components without altering the patient by taking the images. The folks at Phoenix Nuclear Lab have agreed to “turn up the volume” and do another round of bombardment to see at which point these drives malfunction, so stay tuned for another blog a few months from now.