Today we have an external USB Western Digital hard drive that unfortunately was dropped accidently by a dog. While running around, the dog got tangled into power and USB cabling. In momentum, the loose external drive just flew off the table while powered on. Upon impact with the hard floor, internally the drive read-write mechanism impacts the surface of the disk and further causes scratching or scorching of the magnetic coating that actually holds the data.
In the photo may see only the drive that was removed from inside the external enclosure. The outer and inner scratch circles in the picture are of the top read-write head scratching the disk or platter of the spinning HDD when the physical shock occurred.
Subsequently, the horizontal random scratches in the middle of the top disk originate from the unqualified person who attempted to open the hard drive and manually fiddle with the heads mechanism moving it back and forth. Opening a hard disk drive outside a clean room environment by a non-specialist can cause irreversible damage that cannot be overcome in order to recover the critical files located on the drive. The data on this particular drive is unrecoverable.
Now, many may wonder, if this type of physical shock occurs with their external hard drive, is it a good idea to power it on to determine if the drive still works? This is a million-dollar question that is difficult to answer due to our heavily engraved habits. Typically, as humans, when an electric based device goes bad, our automatic go-to solution is to repower the drive and test to see if file access is still possible.
Depending on the severity of the physical impact, file access may still be possible, however it is very risky to continue running the drive as if nothing happened. In most physical damage related cases, the drive does not allow file access, evident by a clicking sound behavior, also known as “the click of death.” When some file access is possible, in most scenarios the drive will deteriorate quite fast and cause further disk surface damage by creation of bad sectors. Behavior here is characterized by being able to access some folders but no other, or access files for a specific period of time and the HDD becomes unresponsive, freezing, or unmounting itself, and losing connection with the host computer.
What’s important to realize is that a hard disk drive has mechanical components in addition to those electrical ones. So, when it comes to physical shock, we must proceed with care regarding what the next step is. Ideally, we would not want to power the external drive back on and send it, as is, to a data recovery specialist. Ideal is often not reality, so say we do decide to check the drive with a subsequent power on after such a physical shock, if the hard drive does not behave as normal, then it is imperative to power off immediately. If the data files on the drive are important, then arrangement for a thorough diagnosis by a data recovery specialist to determine the points of failure(s) is the way to go.
Most data recovery specialists offer a free diagnosis service with a user-friendly drive failure(s) report. If happen to have questions, always asking a specialist regarding how to proceed will likely result in the best outcome toward drive repair and data recovery. The rule of thumb is to educate ourselves first, then proceed with the proper course of action.