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Hard Drive Recovery Case Study: Power Failure Surge Brown Out

One of the most common causes of hard drive failure surround power problems. Anything from power outages to electrical surges can cause major problems for both computers and hard drives. Hard drive recovery from electrical issues requires special tools and training. In the good old days all you had to do was swap the pcb board on the back of the hard drive and you were good to go. Hard drives these days require more advanced techniques to solve electronic hard drive failures.

Hard Drive Recovery From Power Surges

When a computer is subjected to a power surge many bad things can happen. The first target is the power supply. Not able to sustain more voltage than it was designed for, the internal electronics will fry. While any boards that are plugged into the motherboard are likely victims, devices that are plugged directly into the power supply usually are the worst hit by a surge. When a surged disk comes in for hard drive recovery often times the electronics are fused together making the pcb board unusable. The hard part is to isolate those electronics and replace the chipsets to not only power up the drive motor, but to obtain communication between the electronics and the platters.

It is almost impossible to replace pcb boards due to the proprietary microcode and encryption that is prevalent on newer drives. That means that the hard drive recovery process is going to require advanced electronic work including soldering and un-soldering effected chips.

The best way for you to avoid this type of failure is to purchase a solid surge suppressor. There are plenty of power strips for sale that offer surge suppression, but you have to be careful to buy one that can handle at least 3800 joules.

Hard Drive Recovery Power Outages Failures Brown Outs

Almost as bad as a surge. a power failure can also cause quite a bit of damage to both your computer and your hard drive. A computer that gets shut down without proper sequencing can cause damage not only to the mechanical hard drive, but to the data on that disk. Most programs can’t restore from a dirty shutdown, or be rebuilt from a power outage. Another physical hard drive recovery issue from power outages is within the electronics within the disk. Power supplies send out an expected amount of voltage to the hard drive. Insufficient amount of power can cause the motor speed to fluctuate and sectors to be damaged.

A sudden stoppage of the hard drive without proper shut down could cause the heads to crash on the platters which damages the heads or worse, scratches the platters. This will lead to a clicking hard drive and data loss.

The best thing you can do is to buy a battery backup. A 600W 1 hour battery backup will keep your computer and monitor running long enough for you to institute proper shutdown. This can save you a lot of heartache and ultimately hard drive recovery!

16 Responses to “Hard Drive Recovery Case Study: Power Failure Surge Brown Out”

  1. Davedata99 August 10, 2007 1:52 pm #

    Many times I have experienced problems with the pre-amp on the head assembly after a power surge. The power has gone unregulated through the PCB and has also killed the microchip on the head assembly.

    A power spike will often damage both the internal, as well, as external electronics of the hard drive.

  2. S Kaiser January 13, 2008 8:35 pm #

    Thanks for your helpful, informative article. Today I was researching another battery backup and surge protector for my expanding computer equipment (adding more external hard drives) – which is how I found your site.

    After researching, including reading several articles at your great site, I went ahead and bought a second APC battery backup (this one: APC SUA1000XL Smart-UPS XL 1000). I’m still using an APC Back-UPS Pro 1000 that’s been an absolute lifesaver for quite a few years now. But it’s not enough for all my equipment now as I keep adding on. 😉 (I’m also not sure how long my existing APC Back-UPS Pro 1000 will live… I’ve had it more than 6 or 7 years now).

    You stated above, “There are plenty of power strips for sale that offer surge suppression, but you have to be careful to buy one that can handle at least 3800 joules.” That piece of advice was also quite helpful. Thank you!

    That 3800 joules tip also tells me PROBABLY why one of my external drives had a problem when a winter storm knocked out the power here in northern California 9 days ago. I powered up the computer and drives about 48 hours later after I felt confident that the power was going to stay on. I had ONE drive on a surge protector (small APC “home office” surge protector) since I’d run out of outlets on my APC battery backup. Now the drive won’t power up at all…. no clicking noise, nothing. It just acts like it wants to start and then doesn’t do anything. That’s the ONLY electronics problem I had from the storm. It’s less than a year old and was working great until the storm knocked out the power (and yes, all my equipment was on at the time).

    That drive (Western Digital MyBook Pro, 500 Gig) was used as a redundant backup, so I have the data elsewhere… fortunately! If I decide I want to try to get the data off it, though, I’ll be back in touch with your company.

    Thanks again for all your great information here. I’ll definitely be returning. 🙂

  3. Walrus23 February 17, 2009 9:08 pm #

    What happens when a live 220kV line touches part of the house connected to the fuse box and blows it out of the wall with a pc powered on which is connected to the fuse box? it blows up, that’s what. i am trying to recover the data off a hard disk that this has happened to, however as soon as the hdd heats up it will start failing. is there a way of keeping the drive assembly cool long enough to recover the data? i tried a CPU heatsink over the servo that turns the disks but no luck, any other ideas?

    • Jacqui Best March 4, 2009 11:24 am #


      I would run the drive outside of the machine, in a COLD room.. get a couple decent desk fans.. and point it on it and keep a can of compressed air around.. that stuff if freezing.

  4. Dale November 6, 2009 12:14 pm #

    I have a HP laptop that will not power up. The service man tells me that it is the mother board at a cost of over $400 to repair. Is there a way to recover the data on the hard drive onto an external hard drive so I can install the data on a new computer at a resonable cost.

  5. Dustin January 9, 2010 4:38 pm #

    My PSU died on me 4 weeks ago. We waited until after Christmas to buy a new laptop. Got the laptop, got a external enclosure for my 2 HDDs that were in my old computer. Loaded up the primary drive and nothing. Lights on the enclosure turn on and off real fast. I put in my backup drive and the lights work. I test both bays and the situation is the same. The primary drive will not spin. Luckily I backed up my photos in August. Unluckily I have lost pictures from Sept – Nov. I have also lost my music. Sad (cry). Spoke to a local business that told me to send the drive to a different location and fix the drive in a clean room would cost me $1500 (ouch). When I shake the drive I get a slight rattling noise, something must be loose in the drive. Is there anything I can do to recover some of the data? I don’t have that much for the clean room so I could take it apart to do some self fiddling.

  6. Danyeal January 13, 2010 8:02 pm #

    My daughter accidentally used a 20 volt ac adapter on my external hard drive instead of the 12 volt one and it is now dead. I took the drive itself out of the external case and connected as an internal drive on my desktop and then my power supply on the desktop stopped working. I tested the front end part of the eternal case and there is power going through that. What can I do to recover the data?

  7. paul parr sr February 18, 2010 10:52 pm #

    I have Iomega Terabyte extrernal hard drive that was plugged into a surge protector and heard a pop sound…the external LED light went off and there was the smell of burning electronics. Is there anyway to extract or recover the invaluable information on the drive…Please Help!!!

    • DTI Data Recovery February 22, 2010 11:34 am #

      Paul, have you tried to hook the drive up as a slave? We need to know if the case or the drive is fried. If you take the drive(s) out do they have scorch marks on the electronics? If so, don’t try and boot them. We can fix them and recover your data easily.

  8. Roz March 27, 2010 7:24 am #

    Workmen in the house didn’t tell us they switched on power tools. Power went off and my daughter’s laptop (plugged into mains electricity) made a funny noise, Next thing was a workman resetting two mains power breakers and my daughter’s laptop didn’t work. Dell told her electricity had been withdrawn from her laptop at 56,000 revs, scatching the hard-drive. New hard-drive, laptop will have to be replaced because it is slow, given to black screens.

    Please does anyone know anything about how the electrics work – ie. power tools plus transformer were too powerful for house electrics, blew power to two x 20amp socket breaker (possibly the circuit their equipment was plugged into as well as the one the circuit the laptop was plugged into).

    Any help greatly appreciated, we’re trying to get compensation for this.

    Incidently, re previous posts about insurance claims, we found out by accident that insurance companies are able to get damaged electrical items independently tested. Useful to know if you can persist with an insurance claim on damaged goods.

  9. DJ April 2, 2010 12:47 am #

    I have a similar problem to an unanswered post above:
    I accidentally plugged the wrong power adapter into my external hard drive (1TB sata) and now it won’t power up. I assume I fried something on the circuit board but was wondering if it’s even possible to recover the data. I’ve heard there are places you can send your drive to for this purpose, but I expect it’s very expensive. Any suggestions will be appreciated and if there is no hope you can tell me that too. Thanks

    • DTI Data Recovery April 7, 2010 1:17 pm #

      The pricing goes anywhere from $400 to $1200 depending on if it is only a chip, internal electronic replacement is what costs the big bucks. Call me if you have any questions 727-345-9665 – Michael

  10. Jithin April 16, 2010 8:56 am #,and.i.instal.ubuntu.on.c-drive,but.the.other.drives.could’,

  11. robin ray derro June 15, 2010 9:22 am #

    can i recover a dead hard drive that cause the power failure?

  12. Rakesh September 16, 2010 12:00 am #

    I bought a 500gb hard disk and powered up for the first time, the computer beeped a few times and wouldn’t start up. Then I just pushed in all the cables firmly and the computer booted… but the drive was not recognized.

    The hard drive was still spinning up at this point.. and it was spinning up the next few times I started up the PC (but still not recognized in the BIOS)… but now the drive does not spin up at all when I turn the computer on. If I put my hand on the PCB while the computer is on I can feel it getting warm in a particular spot… and there was a very slight burning smell .

    And yes I’ve read all I could about PCB issues on these particular drives…. but just to reconfirm… is there no hope of just doing a simple PCB swap? Would there be any hope of repairing this PCB?

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