Hard Drive Repair – Frequently Asked Questions

Hard drive repair is a highly specialized skill. For most people outside of the data recovery industry, the inner workings of your hard drive are an enigma. As such, many of our clients have a lot of questions about hard drive repair, and our data recovery process in general. And there’s no better person to ask these questions to than a bona fide data recovery expert.

The seasoned engineers in our cleanroom have seen just about every model of hard drive invented over the past 20 years. (And a surprising amount of older hard drives as well.) When hard drive manufacturers like Seagate, Western Digital, and Hitachi unveil their new models, we know it’s only a matter of time before our engineers start seeing those in our lab, too. If you want to find people who know more about hard drives than us, you’ll be hard pressed to find any outside of the manufacturers themselves.

Hard Drive Repair FAQ, or “Everything You Wanted to Know About Hard Drive Repair But Were Too Afraid to Ask”

Should I attempt a hard drive repair on my own?

No.

A quick check on Google will show you plenty of DIY data recovery tutorials.

You’ll find sites showing you which screwdrivers you have to use to open up your hard drive.

You’ll find sites telling you how to unstick failed read/write heads from your drive’s platters or swap out the control board.

There will even be sites showing you how to remove the drive’s platters and stick them into another drive.

There are tons of video hard drive repair tutorials out there. Our professional advice is to not try and follow them.

Hard drive repair is very difficult.

You can’t become an expert in hard disk repair from watching a video tutorial, much like how you can’t become a concert pianist just by watching one perform. Our hard drive recovery interns practice for months and are watched like hawks by senior engineers before we let them tackle customer drives on their own.

A hard drive repair engineer in one of our cleanroom benches inspects a badly burned hard drive.
A hard drive repair engineer in one of our ISO 5 cleanroom benches inspects a badly burned hard drive.

You might get lucky. You might be able to correct the problem on your own. And the drive might still work after you put it together (but it probably won’t). But before you open up your hard drive, ask yourself, “Do I feel lucky?”

Don’t let any local computer repair technicians open up your hard drive either.

Your local repair technician probably doesn’t have a cleanroom bench to work on. Open hard drives are extremely susceptible to contaminants in the air. Our cleanroom benches generate positive pressure to push clean, filtered air into and any dust particles out of our workstations. Hard drives should only be opened up in a cleanroom environment like our data recovery lab.

Where can I see the certification for your cleanroom benches?

An independent air filter specialist audits our cleanroom setup four times a year to make sure we meet ISO 5 Class-100 certifications for air cleanliness in our data recovery lab. The results of our cleanroom benches’ compliance tests from May 2017 can be viewed here:

Gillware Hood Test Reports May 2017

Do you ship my recovered data back on the same hard drive I sent in after you’ve repaired it?

No.

Unlike your car, or your refrigerator, or your television, hard drives aren’t actually meant to be repaired. One exception is when hard drive manufacturers will take faulty hard drives (in many cases, drives that failed while under warranty and were sent back), wipe, repair, and recalibrate them, and sell them as recertified hard drives only if they pass stringent QA testing.

However, the technology needed to turn a broken drive into one that can function exactly like new simply isn’t available outside of Western Digital or Hitachi’s factory floor. If you are not a hard drive manufacturer, you are not meant to permanently repair hard drives.

Very precise calibrations have to be done to your hard drive when it rolls off of the assembly line. Every hard drive, even ones of the same model, even ones that came out of the factory next to each other, is slightly different. The control board and read/write heads inside your hard drive fit it like a bespoke suit. The one-in-a-million shot that we’ll find another suit off the rack that fits perfectly simply doesn’t happen. At best, we find replacement parts that are a near-perfect match.

A hard drive with nearly-perfect replacement parts inside it will usually function just well enough that our engineers can image and pull data off of it with our fault-tolerant data recovery tools. But in general, after we’ve had to repair a hard drive, it is no longer fit for duty inside or otherwise plugged into your computer.

Besides, we’d much rather put your data on a new password-protected external drive with hardware-level encryption. It’s a healthy drive, one we know will work. And it’s encrypted, so your data is totally secure on the off chance your data falls into the wrong hands on its way back to you.

Can Gillware’s engineers recover data from damaged platters?

Hitachi Deskstar with platter damage
In this data recovery case study, the platters had some damage, but our engineers were able to pull off a near-perfect recovery using our platter burnishing tools.

Yes.

What Happens to Damaged Hard Disk Platters:

Your hard drive platters are made out of either aluminum or glass. A thin layer of ferromagnetic material coats their surfaces. The magnetic charges on this thin substrate actually determine which segments of it read as “1”s and which are “0”s. When a hard drive fails, the read/write heads can scrape off some of the substrate. The dust that used to be part of your data settles all over the platters. There’s no way to re-apply this dust to your platters, let alone put it back with the right magnetic charges. And the only way to access the data that’s still intact is to clean off the debris.

How We Fix It:

Up until a few years ago, no data recovery lab had the means to perform this kind of hard disk repair in a cost-effective manner. But Gillware has made breakthroughs in cleaning and polishing scratched platters. Severe platter damage can still make data recovery impossible. But through the use of our own hard drive platter burnishing technology, we can repair and salvage data from many hard drives with scratched platters.

There are still forms of platter damage severe enough to make data recovery impossible. If the portions of the platters containing the drive’s firmware have been damaged, for example it is impossible for any form of contact to be made with the data on your hard drive.

Cases like these are partly why we offer free evaluations. Finding out that your data is unrecoverable is painful enough without being charged for the privilege of knowing. We try to make data recovery as painless as possible, even if it doesn’t work out.

I need my data back as soon as possible. What kind of expedited hard drive repair options do you offer?

We offer two tiers of expedited service. Our Advantage service is a $350 surcharge on top of the final data recovery bill. Advantage service has an average turnaround time of 2-4 business days. Our Priority service is a $700 surcharge, and has an average turnaround time of 1-2 business days.

Both of these services put your hard drive in the front of every line—for check-in, repairs, imaging, logical analysis, and extraction. Our hard drive recovery engineers work overtime, late into the night if need be, to get your data to you as quickly as possible.

Even after we’ve repaired a hard drive, the drive sets its own pace for its performance. Sometimes that pace happens to be less-than-ideal. We are often at the hard drive’s mercy. And unfortunately, your hard drive doesn’t care how much of a hurry you or our engineers are in. That said, when you need critical data back now, our engineers do whatever it takes to get your most important files off of your drive first and back in your hands as soon as possible.

Why isn’t the hard drive recovery cost per-gigabyte?

Per Gigabyte Data Recovery Doesn't Make SenseCharging per gigabyte for hard drive repair and data recovery might seem reasonable for a data recovery lab at first glance. But it actually isn’t, and here’s why:

The hard work of hard drive data recovery comes from how much effort it takes to repair and access the drive, not how much data is on the drive. Imagine that two people send us a 1 TB desktop HDD, for example. Both drives require nearly-identical amounts of engineering time, effort, and replacement parts to get them up and running again. But one drive only has 15 gigabytes of documents, including the user’s Quickbooks file. The other drive belonged to a professional photographer and has 900 gigabytes of photos.

Recovering 15 gigabytes of documents does take less time than recovering 900 gigabytes of photos. But that is machine time—the time it takes for us to image a hard drive once it’s been repaired and extract its contents. The same amount of our hard drive recovery engineers’ time and effort had to go into repairing the hard drive for both cases.

Machine time is cheap. Engineer time is valuable. And we want to pay our engineers what their skills are worth (or else they’ll leave and find a job with a company that will pay them appropriately).

Learn more about how data recovery pricing works

At Gillware, we’ve done a pretty good job at keeping the hard drive recovery cost affordable. Our prices are 40-50% lower than other professional hard drive recovery services. And our HDD data recovery service is truly financially risk free: There are no evaluation fees, and we even offer to cover inbound shipping for you. You only pay us when we’ve recovered your data at an acceptable price to you.

Why choose Gillware Data Recovery?

Gillware’s data recovery services are affordably priced, technologically innovative and completely secure.

Technology

Best-in-class engineering and software development staff
Gillware employs a full time staff of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, computer scientists and software developers to handle the most complex data recovery situations and data solutions

Strategic partnerships with leading technology companies
Gillware is proud to be a recommended provider for Dell, Western Digital and other major hardware and software vendors. These partnerships allow us to gain unique insight into recovering from these devices.

RAID Array / NAS / SAN data recovery
Using advanced engineering techniques, we can recover data from large capacity, enterprise grade storage devices such as RAID arrays, network attached storage (NAS) devices and storage area network (SAN) devices.

Virtual machine data recovery
Thanks to special engineering and programming efforts, Gillware is able to recover data from virtualized environments with a high degree of success.

Security/Privacy

SOC 2 Type II audited
Gillware has been security audited to ensure data safety, meaning all our facilities, networks, policies and practices have been independently reviewed and determined as completely secure.

Facility and staff
Gillware’s facilities meet the SOC 2 Type II audit requirements for security to prevent entry by unauthorized personnel. All staff are pre-screened, background checked and fully instructed in the security protocol of the company.

We are a GSA contract holder.
We meet the criteria to be approved for use by government agencies

GSA Contract No.: GS-35F-0547W

HIPAA compliant
Our entire data recovery process can be handled to meet HIPAA requirements for encryption, transfer and protection of e-PHI.

Pricing

No obligation, no up-front fees, free inbound shipping and no-cost evaluations.
Gillware’s data recovery process is 100% financially risk free. We only charge if the data you want is successfully recovered.

Our pricing is 40-50% less than our competition.
By using cutting edge engineering techniques, we are able to control costs and keep data recovery prices low.

Instant online estimates.
By providing us with some basic information about your case, we can give you an idea of how much it will cost before you proceed with the recovery.

We only charge for successful data recovery efforts.
We work with you to define clear data recovery goals for our technicians, and only charge you upon successfully meeting these goals and recovering the data that is most important to you.

Gillware is trusted, reviewed and certified

Gillware has the seal of approval from a number of different independent review organizations, including SOC 2 Type II audit status, so our customers can be sure they’re getting the best data recovery service possible.

Gillware is a proud member of IDEMA and the Apple Consultants Network.

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