How to Identify a Hard Drive Head Crash and What to Do Next

Irrespective of the sector within which they operate, their annual turnover, the number of people they employ or anything else, all savvy business owners know that their data is vital to their success. So much so, that many even argue that it is data, not oil, that now drives the world’s most vibrant and vital economies.

This means that businesses of all shapes and sizes must have a backup plan in place, part of which will be ensuring that employees are able to identify one specific type of hard drive failure known as a head crash – even if your backup procedures are largely automated. If you don’t, your procedure simply cannot be considered to be comprehensive.

Why your employees need to be involved

Two business professionals analysing data

Valuable insights can be gained from all types of data

In my experience, no backup process, however advanced it may be, can completely eliminate the need for human involvement and, as head crashes can render data unrecoverable in mere seconds, the need to identify them as quickly as possible is vital.

Finally, in the era of big data, the most valuable information is often found in the most unexpected files and all of the data your organisation creates should be treated with the utmost respect as a result.

What is a head crash?

Close-up view of the opened hard disk drive(toned in blue mode)

Inside a typical hard drive

All hard drives use a read/write head to write data to and retrieve it from another vital component referred to as a platter. Platters are a series of discs coated with a magnetic material onto which data is written. The head is located at the end of a spindle and rests just millimetres above a drive’s platters. A head crash occurs when the head comes into direct contact with the platter, effectively removing the magnetic coating and the data stored within it. This is capable of erasing the entirety of a drive’s contents in very little time and, as a result, it is imperative that head crashes are identified rapidly.

What are the causes of a head crash?

Often, a head crash is simply caused by mechanical failure. A hard drive’s components have a finite lifespan and, when they fail, a head crash is one possible outcome.

The next most common cause is physical trauma caused by, for example, a user dropping a device.

What are the signs of a head crash?

Typically, the most obvious signs of a head crash are a computer that won’t boot up and, crucially, a scraping, clicking or grinding noise.

If the computer is emitting a clicking noise, the read/write head is frequently attempting to retrieve data but, as it can’t, is frequently resetting and returning to its original position. A scraping or grinding noise is caused by the head coming into direct contact with the platter.

In either instance, swift action is required.

What you should do

As we’ve stated previously, a head crash can render data completely irretrievable in very little time. So, tell all employees that, if they spot any of the signs we’ve discussed above, the device in question should be powered down rapidly and the company’s IT department or, alternatively, most appropriate decision maker, informed post haste.

Additionally, if a device has been dropped, it’s highly advisable that someone looks at it before anyone attempts to power it up and access the data held on it.


Without a backup process and disaster recovery plan, your business could find itself unable to operate. If you’re lucky, you’ll only be inactive for a few days, but it could be longer and, most worryingly of all, it could prevent you from trading altogether.

So, put an effective plan in place and ensure that your employees are informed of how to spot head crashes and know the procedure they need to follow when one is potentially identified.

Author Bio

Jay Williams work for Fields Data Recovery, an IT services provider specialising in data recovery in the UK.

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3 thoughts on “How to Identify a Hard Drive Head Crash and What to Do Next

  • Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and all. But imagine if you added some great graphics or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and videos, this blog could certainly be one of the most beneficial in its field. Great blog!

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