HDD PCB Repair: More Than Meets the Eye

The client in this data recovery case had been storing their company’s Peachtree financial database on an old Seagate Barracuda hard drive. Eventually, as all hard drives do, the old Seagate hard drive installed in the client’s computer gave up the ghost. The client found out as soon as they tried to boot up their computer and encountered a nasty boot error. A local computer repair technician took a look at the hard drive and diagnosed the problem as a fried PCB board. After getting a diagnosis, the client chose to send the drive off to Gillware Data Recovery’s lab for HDD PCB repair.


HDD PCB Repair Case Study: More Than It Seems
Drive Model: Seagate Barracuda ATA IV ST380021A
Drive Capacity: 80 GB
Operating/File System: Windows NTFS
Data Loss Situation: Hard drive will not boot or spin up, fried PCB
Type of Data Recovered: Peachtree database
Binary Read: 3%
Gillware Data Recovery Case Rating: 10

The PCB, or printed control board, sits on the bottom of your hard drive. When you power on your computer, electricity flows through the PCB and into your drive’s spindle motor, setting the hard disk platters in motion. The cushion of air generated by the spinning platters lifts up the read/write heads as they move into position. Data flows back and forth, from the drive’s platters to you, through the control board. The PCB is, in essence, the gatekeeper of your hard disk drive.

HDD PCB Repair: Keeping Your Hard Drive Under Control

Your hard drive’s PCB does more than just send electricity into the drive. It also manages the flow of data, as well as containing the unique hard drive calibrations that enable your drive to function optimally. When the PCB becomes damaged—whether due to an electrical surge, environmental contamination, or just old age—the gate closes. You lose access to your data.

When you have a hard drive with a failed PCB on your hands, the drive may spin up and then immediately spin down, or spin up, click a few times, and then spin back down. The drive may not even spin up at all. In some cases where the HDD PCB has been shorted out, running power to it may cause the PCB to start smoking. A smoking hard drive can also short out any device it’s plugged into (such as your computer’s motherboard or power supply unit).

This client’s hard drive wasn’t producing any smoke, though. Like most hard drives with failed control boards, it just wouldn’t spin up. To repair the PCB and get the hard drive spinning up again, one of our skilled electrical engineers would have to find a replacement board from the same model hard drive and carefully solder the ROM chip containing the original drive’s unique calibrations to the donor board.
But our engineers soon found that this HDD PCB repair case would not end up quite so open-and-shut.

Heads Failure in Disguise: When HDD Failure is More Than Meets the Eye

After replacing the PCB, the client’s hard drive spun up properly. But that was just about all it did properly. Our data recovery technicians still couldn’t read any data from the drive. While it got off to a promising start, the hard drive would start clicking—a likely sign that something was wrong with its read/write heads.

In some HDD failure situations, one failure ends up causing another. For example, a sudden loss of power or a power surge can burn out a hard drive’s PCB and also cause the platters inside to come to an abrupt stop. When this happens, the cushion of air propping up the read/write heads dissipates before the heads can safely tuck themselves back in their rest positions. The heads end up crashing on the platters, which usually ends up destroying the heads (and can cause some damage to the platters as well). When read/write heads crash onto the platters, they can also clamp down on them and hold them in place—which can sometimes cause the spindle motor to burn itself out.

Of the four main components of the hard drive—the PCB, read/write heads, platters, and motor—it’s not uncommon for our engineers to see more than one fail simultaneously. Each failure must be addressed separately before we can successfully salvage a client’s data. Fortunately, our data recovery lab has the experts and equipment necessary to take on every kind of hard drive failure.

HDD PCB Repair and Heads Replacement Results

After replacing the read/write heads with a fresh, functional set, our engineers finally started pulling the data off of the client’s Seagate Barracuda hard drive. We recovered all of their files, including the files making up their essential Peachtree database. This HDD PCB repair case ended up being a bit more work than it had seemed at first. But our skilled data recovery engineers, who have successfully solved thousands of cases over the years, were more than prepared to deal with it. We rated this data recovery case a perfect 10.

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.

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