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Laptop Water Damage Data Recovery

Spilled Water on Laptop – What’s At Risk?

A glass of water, juice, tea, or anything else can wreak havoc on your laptop computer’s keyboard. Spilling water on laptop computers can mean that water seeps through the keyboard and get on the motherboard as well, and perhaps even get on components like 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.

Internal corrosion can be a serious issue that can permanently damage your computer. All laptops have some type of iron inside the computer. When iron is exposed to water, it will begin a process called oxidation, where the iron is converted into a more chemically stable oxide. This process is where rust comes from.

When you spill water or another liquid on your laptop, the worst thing that can happen is water damage to your hard drive. Other components may be expensive, but they are interchangeable. If your hard drive suffers permanent damage from water, replacing it with a new one will also replace all of your data.

Fortunately, the engineers who design computers usually take this into account. Your hard drive is likely tucked away from the areas that are most likely to get wet in the event of a spill. Another factor that is working in your favor is that most hard drives have some level of water resistance themselves.

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. Even if they penetrate the laptop keyboard cover, 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 laptop 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. When a hard drive’s PCB sustains water damage, the computer may display a computer not recognizing hard drive or device not detected error; even if you swap the hard drive over to another computer.

Are you dealing with a wet laptop and no data?

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Why 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 components 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, make sure you have 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 with the components of the laptop’s drive. 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 laptop data recovery specialists you can find at Gillware Data Recovery.

Gillware Data Recovery Case Study:

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

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 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 keyboard.

The client couldn’t turn the computer on after that – the power button was unresponsive. With the power off, they couldn’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. Thankfully, rather than trying DIY fixes that could make the problem worse (like isopropyl alcohol, a hair dryer to dry the liquid, or trying to fix the hard drive outside of a lint free cleanroom environment), at the behest of one of their local computer repair shop technicians, the client got in touch with the specialists at Gillware.

HDD PCB Board Repair Results

Our engineers didn’t find any additional problems with other components after successfully replacing the hard drive’s PCB. With the control board successfully replaced, the hard drive came back to life. This water spillage on laptop 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 after the water spill on laptop incident. We rated this “water spilled on laptop” data recovery case a perfect 10 on our case rating scale.

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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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