What Makes A Hard Drive Unrecoverable?

​Hard drives are very delicate and are easy to damage, which is a good reason why you should have multiple sources of backup so that you never lose your personal data. Drives can be damaged but are generally repairable, for example when a job gets sent to us at R3, nine times out of ten we can get the drive into some form of working state, even if it’s for a few minutes or hours before the heads eventually die.

For a drive to be unrecoverable, it has to have sustained a certain amount of damage for it to be completely unrepairable.

Here are a few reasons as to why a drive can be deemed as unrecoverable:

  • If a drive has too many scratches on the platters - It’s not always an issue if a drive has scratches on the platters providing there’s not too many, because if there are too many then it may affect the system head, this is especially common drives manufactured by Seagate. Ultimately if the system head can’t be read then there’s no way of accessing the data.
  • If there is dust or a certain amount of contamination on the platters - If there is dust on the platters, or water, or anything that will contaminate the platters, then almost 100% of the time there is no way of recovering the data, since the heads are delicate and would be destroyed when powered up. Platters need to be clear of any contamination.
  • If there are large and deep rings on the platters - This is not a common problem that we have as we don’t have may jobs that come in which have that particular issue, but if a drive has deep rings on the platters it is due to the heads digging into the platters when powered up. Normally you can tell when the heads are digging into the platters because there is a screeching noise coming from the drive. This problem normally occurs when the drive is dropped and powered up straight afterwards, in some cases again and again.
Deep rings on hard drive platters

​( ​Large, deep rings on the platters​​ )

Hard Drives Declared Unrecoverable Still Have A Chance

Here at R3 Data Recovery, these days it is not very often we announce any type of device unrecoverable. Over the years technology has improved and our engineers have gained lots of experience, enough to deal with any failure of any device. However sometimes devices are that far past the recoverable stage we just have to say enough is enough and announce it unrecoverable (like mentioned earlier this is a rarity).

However, a few years back there wasn’t half as much technology and support for devices that we have access to at this present date, so a lot more devices were announced as unrecoverable as the technology and support just wasn’t there. Also, our donor stock was not as large as it is now. Our donor stock is what makes us one of the leading data recovery companies in the UK. The fact we can find out a drive has a mechanical failure, find a part, do the re-build and get the drive cloning again all in one day is pretty remarkable all because of our huge stock of donor drives and the experience our engineers have.

However, like said previously a few years ago this wasn’t the case. In this case for example, in 2013 a Hitachi drive came in (Model Number: IC35L120AVV207-1), the engineers diagnosed said drive and came to the conclusion that the drive needed a new set of read-write heads. So, we began looking for a matching donor parts for this particular drive, however no luck. Even out external suppliers did not have a matching drive in stock.

In situations like this now, the engineers would try and get the drive started by not using the damaged heads, however this requires experience and the correct hardware and software to do so. However, three years ago the technology and support wasn’t there for this particular drive. However now it is so it is possible that this drive may now be recoverable after all this time. At this point the drive is in the research and development stage, the customer wanted us to keep the drive to see if there was anything that we could do in the near future and it looks like we might be able to.

Hitachi Deskstar Drive Declared Unrecoverable

Its Absolutely Impossible To Recover Your Data

​At R3 Data Recovery Ltd we endeavour to always reach a positive outcome for each and every job that comes into the lab on a daily basis. But on occasion some jobs are just too severely damaged to be recovered.

For instance, a hard drive can suffer a head crash, platter damage, or a spindle motor problem. At R3 we commonly classify issues such as these as mechanical failures. Mechanical failures are some of the most complex problems associated with hard drives and quite often can be recovered, providing the client are willing and able to understand the drive needs multiple donors and extreme attention to rebuilding the drive and getting it to function as it once did before it was physically damaged.

However as mentioned before, from time to time the damage is so extreme it is beyond rescue no matter how much money the client is willing to donate to donors, or how skilled or dedicated the engineer tasked with recovering the hard drive is.

Smashed hard drive platters

A few examples of this we see regularly at R3 are that the customer has dropped their hard drive whilst using it from their desk, or similarly the customer has dropped their laptop whilst moving with it from a decent height. 

The primary reason for the data not being recoverable in these cases is that the hard drive inside the external enclosure or the laptop has platters made of glass that can shatter easily when the hard drive chassis suffers blunt trauma. Once the platter is shattered there is no way whatsoever to get the data back.

Another example of major damage is when the platters of the hard disk have been scratched by the read/write arm of the drive. This usually happens when anxious users try to start the computer/laptop again and again after the hard drive has failed (commonly caused by dropping it). Contrary to what most people may think when the drive crashes,
its read/write arm still rests on the platters and damages it when the drive starts to spin, causing deep scoring on the surface and visible rings.

An additional example could be due to the overheating. This is not that common in all honesty, especially with jobs that come into the R3 lab, but it is still a valid issue. Basically, the platters, after being used for a sustained period of time become expanded, not too hard to imagine when The faster hard drives come with rates of speed of 10,000 RPM, and ultimately the magnetic surface area on the platters will get damaged, which results in a loss of data files. If the physical area of the platters are damaged, it will result in unreadable sectors.

Other parts of hard drives that can be overwhelmed due to overheating, are the heads. It is important to remember that hard drives are extremely sophisticated collections of components, and just can’t tolerate overheating.

As outlined at the start of this article, the talented and dedicated engineers here at R3 always strive to garner a positive result when attempting to recover a hard drive. Even in some cases where the damage was so severe it was declared unrecoverable by other data recovery companies, we have managed to recover the data.

However, there will always be the unwanted possibility that a certain hard drive is beyond repair and it is absolutely impossible to recover the data. And this is something important to understand and hopefully accept from a client’s perspective, as everyone at R3 always wants to recover every job successfully, not just for professional gratification, but for the most important reason of all, for the customers happiness.

After all that personal data could be something small or sentimental or it could be someone’s entire life or livelihood. R3 Data recovery ultimately never loses sight of that.

What an Achievement - Unrecoverable Drive?

Yesterday Mindaugus one of our data recovery experts completed the  final rebuild and last 10% of imaging to get a full recovery of a drive which failed over a year ago.  Despite the drive being declared unrecoverable and after several rebuilds in the past year and a relentless search for the several donors needed. This led to the client believing his data was beyond any chance of recovery but it was not abandoned,  instead it became one of our research projects of Security House. Since it arrived at Sheffield nearly 20,000 other cases have been handled.

The R3 Online support team and FME lab which has been developed in 2016 as the support company to R3 Data Recovery were key to the success and persisted in tracking down the donors needed.

After Joe one of the engineering support technicians had recovered the data from the image and completed  the file listing and integrity check he sent it through to Lyndsey in customer services. Lyndsey received an almost instant call from overseas from the client who in his own words was shocked to receive a file list and integrity report let alone see all his data was intact..  The browser based tour of his data showing almost every file from the previous 10 years is recovered in the folder structure he remembered and in good condition. He had written off any chance of a recovery being possible.

Such a failed drive would normally be declared unrecoverable by most labs because despite several matching donors and several rebuilds the problem drive refused to read. It is the team of engineers in R3 which along with Andys remit refuse to give in and secure recoveries other labs cannot.

A contributing factor was the donor stock of R3 continues to grow with R3 Online developing secure wiping end of service storage for clients.


Mike Wainwright Operations Manager and his team have built a cataloging and testing / wiping system for the labs and a searchable online database to quickly find suitable parts from our own stock and stock of partners globally.

It has also helped R3 develop more positions for trainee technicians and engineers who are building the FME lab run by R3 Online. Paul and Ken have effectively built a new lab every year for 4 years during the rapid growth.

The R3  group of labs and scale of operation provides our engineers and partners accross the UK and Worldwide with good tested donors necessary to enable a recovery attempt. R3 have also built up the range and quantity of rare donors through purchase of other DR companies, secure wiping of drives and strategic purchasing from specialist suppliers in the US.


This level of investment in supporting our engineers enables the R3 team to have greater success rates and an enviable reputation for overcoming adversity.

R3 Data Recovery and the Security House lab is already known in the industry and by tens of thousands of consumers and businesses as the right choice for complex recoveries. A real DR operation of a scale that makes R3 data recovery cost effective. The length of time taken is unusual but the unique solution developed in this case and unwillingness to not let data die was key to the success. This makes Security House and the R3 team a real data recovery hospital, and the R3 Online a real donor parts provider and evolving provider of low cost trade price data recovery for our partners nationally and internationally using spare equipment and engineering capacity and maintaining the capability to handle influxes of drives after flooding  or earthquake.

The entire R3 team is made up of 25 engineers, technicians and sales and support staff keeping the lab available 24/7/365