Hard Drive Dissection

Before traditional disk hard drives were surpassed by solid-state drives, with their durability and speed advantages, as the main storage method for devices, they were present in everything from iPods to personal computers. It is currently still far cheaper to produce a traditional drive than a solid-state drive of the same storage capacity, so they do still have their place in longer-term, less frequented or time sensitive data storage.

When I began taking an interest in photography, programming, CAD, and image, music and video editing, I purchased an external disk hard drive both to keep my files safe and to simplify transferring large amounts of data between devices. Hard drives are extremely delicate when spinning, however, a lesson that I learned the hard way when I knocked my drive off of the counter during file transfer thus damaging it internally. Perhaps I should have left the drive intact in case eventually technology is developed that can cheaply recover data from damaged drives, but I was curious about the inner workings of mechanical drives and wanted to see them for myself.

I dissected the drive and extracted the disk but made the mistake of leaving it out for display because I was intrigued by its pure reflection, so dust collected on it which I have been afraid to entirely remove for fear of damaging the surface and thus the data. I had no real hope of repairing the drive since I am aware of the precision and cleanliness necessary in assembling or re-assembling a drive into a working state. I purchased a used disk drive online during college which I had hoped to integrate into my new desktop computer, but it was dead on arrival (earning me a refund), so I eventually chose to pull it apart as well and compare its mechanisms to those of my external hard drive.

This much larger drive was comprised of four separate disks mounted to a single rotor with two data read-write pads on either side of each disk, which together were meant to store 16,000,000,000,000 bits of data, or two terabytes. I found that all of the pads were mangled when I opened the case but cannot think of any mechanical event that could have occurred in the drive to cause them to be so bent out of position. I could see no marks indicating that the drive had been opened manually before either. I have to assume that the drive was very roughly handled, potentially even dropped, leading to the damage before it ever came into my possession.

Since I had none of my own data stored on the drive I had no problem removing the disks which are ridiculously clean and reflective. I now have them on display in my room. There is little chance that I’ll be able to recover the data off of my first hard disk during my lifetime, but I do hope that I’ll get the chance to because a few of my favorite photos that I took at a scenic lake during spring were lost when that drive broke. At least I learned the lesson of ensuring that everything Is backed up in multiple locations from that event, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

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