Toshiba MK8026GAX with Fire Damage

Fire and electronics rarely mix. Generally, fire is even more destructive than water is to electronics, mainly because while a lot of water-induced corrosion can be cleaned by a professional electrician, there’s nothing anyone can do about a charred, melted lump that used to be a circuit board. When a client brings a fire-damaged laptop to us for burned hard drive data recovery, our engineers know that there is a chance that the damage to their drive can just be too severe.

2.5-inch latop-sized hard drive platters are frequently made out of glass and coated with magnetic substrate. The substrate provides not only the mirror shine, but also the magnetically charged regions all your data lives in. You can actually burn or melt HDD platters fairly easily, if you have a hard drive to dispose of and are looking for a creative and fun way to make sure nobody can recover your data.

Our engineers will sometimes see burned hard drives with platters that have been bent and warped by the heat. This can happen to even 3.5-inch aluminum platters that are exposed to extreme heat. Even slight deformation will ruin a hard drive platter and make it impossible for any set of read/write heads to do their jobs properly. Fortunately for our client in this case, though, their hard drive was in remarkably good shape.

Burned Hard Drive Data Recovery Case Study: Toshiba MK8026GAX
Drive Model: Toshiba MK8026GAX
Drive Capacity: 80 GB
Operating System: Windows
Situation: Laptop was in a fire
Type of Data Recovered: User documents and photos
Binary Read: 100%
Gillware Data Recovery Case Rating: 10

Burned Hard Drive Data Recovery

Burned Hard Drive Data Recovery

The client served their laptop to our data recovery engineers extra crispy. But our engineers kept their sunny-side-up attitude while we extracted the toasted hard drive from the wreckage. We brought the Toshiba laptop hard drive right into our cleanroom, where our cleanroom engineer Kirk performed the initial evaluation.

The outside of the burned hard drive was well done, with some heavy charring on the faceplate’s label. And yet, fortunately for us, the inside of the hard drive was quite raw. The entire laptop had taken the brunt of the heat, which had warped and charred its exterior. But the hard drive itself, protected by the laptop surrounding it, had gotten off lightly.

In these two pictures, the stark contrast between the inside and outside of the drive is clearly visible. Our cleanroom engineer Kirk noted in his evaluation that there was only a small amount of dust inside the drive. The platters were in remarkably good shape, all things considered.

This burned hard drive, however, was not completely unscathed. The heat of the fire had actually warped the drive’s chassis. The bending and warping was slight, and almost impossible to see with the naked eye. But for a hard drive, the margins for error are razor-thin. With the chassis even slightly misshapen, the spindle motor and read/write heads could not do their jobs.

To overcome this problem, we found a donor drive of the exact same model to volunteer its chassis. In our cleanroom, Kirk burnished the client’s platters to get the dust off, then carefully set them into the donor chassis. After removing the drive’s ROM chip from the burned control board and soldering it to the compatible donor drive’s board, the client’s hard drive lived once again.


Once we had “Frankenstein”ed the client’s hard drive back to life, this burned hard drive data recovery case went smoothly. The drive did not perform optimally, but its rough patches were nothing our fault-tolerant data recovery platform HOMBRE couldn’t handle. There was very little damage to the drive’s platters. Our logical data recovery engineers were able to read 100% of the binary sectors on this drive’s platters. None of the drive’s logical structure had been damaged. We read 100% of the drive’s file definitions and recovered all of the client’s critical documents and photos.

This burned hard drive data recovery case had a happy ending. Our client was fortunate that their hard drive sat inside a large, rather chunky laptop. Everything inside a laptop is very compact and clustered together. All of the materials surrounding the drive protected it from the worst of the fire damage and spared its platters. If the client had had a thin notebook, there might not have been enough material to shield the drive. If the client had been using a desktop PC, there would have been enough empty space inside the PC case for the fire and smoke to cause much more severe damage to the hard drive.

Natural disasters like these demonstrate the importance of offsite backups better than anything else. If the client had been backing their data up to an external hard drive on their desk, their data still would have gone up in smoke if not for our burned hard drive data recovery services. When you need your data protected in the case of fires or flooding, nothing is more important than having secure, cloud-based backup.

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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.
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