Western Digital My Book Live data recovery
My Book Live Data Recovery Case Study: Inaccessible NAS Device
November 17, 2016
The client in this HP data recovery case received this Windows boot error message: “The boot selection failed because a required device is inaccessible.”
HP Data Recovery Case Study: Boot Selection Failed
November 21, 2016

Laptop Water Damage Recovery Case Study: Juice on the Loose

laptop water damage can lead to hard drive failure

Breakfast in bed is nice, unless you try to bring your laptop with you. You could be one errant gesture away from giving your computer a wholly-unnecessary bath. In this laptop water damage recovery situation, the client wasn’t having breakfast in bed when they had their accident. But they did spill a glass of orange juice onto their laptop.

The proper way to do breakfast in bed: without your laptop (source)

The proper way to do breakfast in bed: without your laptop (source)

The client couldn’t turn the computer on after that. They wouldn’t even get into the BIOS. They pulled the hard drive out of their laptop and found that the drive wouldn’t spin up when they tried to power it on. At the behest of one of their local computer repair technicians, the client got in touch with the specialists at Gillware.

Laptop Water Damage Recovery Case Study: Juice on the Loose
Drive Model: Seagate Momentus Thin ST500LT012
Drive Capacity: 500 GB
Operating/File System: Windows NTFS
Data Loss Situation: Orange juice spilled onto laptop—hard drive not spinning
Type of Data Recovered: Photos and documents
Binary Read: 45.1%
Gillware Data Recovery Case Rating: 10

Laptop Water Damage – What’s At Risk?

A glass of water, juice, tea or anything else can wreak havoc on your computer’s keyboard. It can seep through the keyboard and get on the motherboard as well, and perhaps even get on the RAM or CPU. The liquid can cause electrical shorts or corrosion on the electronics, resulting in failure. Every model of laptop has its guts arranged a little differently, but all the same, only specially-constructed laptops are designed to resist failure due to water or liquid damage.

Surprisingly, when you spill water or any other liquid on your laptop, though your hard disk drive is the least at-risk part of the computer. Hard drives are usually tucked away enough that some other component might bear the brunt of the damage and spare the drive. In addition, while hard drives’ internals are exceptionally vulnerable to liquid damage, water has a hard time getting into hard drives in the first place.

With the exception of high-end helium-filled drives, hard drives aren’t hermetically sealed. Most drives need the air pressure inside and outside the drive to be equal. However, hard drives have filters protecting their breathing holes. Water or other liquids can usually only get into the drive with a great deal of force. This is why we usually only see internal water damage in cases of flooding—it usually takes a lot of water pressure to force liquid into the inside of a hard drive.

There is one part of the hard drive on the outside, though, that is vulnerable to liquid damage. Liquid on the hard drive’s printed control board (PCB) can cause an electrical short and stop the drive from spinning up. This is what happened to the client in this data recovery case study.

laptop water damage can lead to hard drive failureWhy Hard Drive PCB Repair is Best Left to Data Recovery Experts

Every so often, we get a data recovery case where the hard drive’s owner, or a computer repair shop technician, tried to replace the drive’s PCB to get it up and running again. Inevitably, the replacement wouldn’t work. The hard drive still wouldn’t spin up. Or, if it did, the hard drive would start clicking instead of running smoothly.

Put simply, hard drive control board swaps don’t work anymore. Or, at least, not without putting extra work into it. When hard disk drives were simpler, the control boards from identical models were identical as well. This hasn’t been true, though, for over ten years. Increases in the capacities of hard disk drives means massive increases in the density of their hard disk platters. In order to accurately read and write data, the hard drive’s components must be calibrated. The drive consults this calibration data, which is stored on a ROM chip on the PCB, all the time. If the calibrations are wrong, the hard drive can’t work. A bad problem can even become worse!

And yet, we still see people trying simple board swaps before sending their failed drives to us, even though that technique hasn’t worked reliably for over a decade.

If you’re going to swap a control board, you need an experienced electrical engineer to handle moving the ROM chip from the bad board to the good board. You also need an experienced engineer to make sure the failed PCB isn’t the only problem. Sometimes a hard drive can have a problem compounded by failures from multiple components. Even if properly swapping the control board proved easy enough, fixing any other problems would not. Hard drive control board swaps and HDD PCB repair are best left to the kind of professional data recovery specialists you can find at Gillware Data Recovery.

HDD PCB Board Repair Results

Our engineers didn’t find any additional problems after successfully replacing the hard drive’s PCB. With the control board successfully replaced, the hard drive came back to life. This laptop water damage scenario ended up with a very happy result for our data recovery client. We successfully recovered all of the client’s user-created files from the failed hard drive, including all of their photos and documents. We rated this data recovery case a perfect 10 on our case rating scale.

Will Ascenzo
Will Ascenzo
Will is the lead blogger, copywriter, and copy editor for Gillware Data Recovery and Digital Forensics, and a staunch advocate against the abuse of innocent semicolons.