Ordinarily, only about 1% of hard disks are affected by a motor seizure failure.
However, we see a trend where a large number of problems with external HDDs wind up with this very expensive problem. This is an abnormal trend and there is only one factor that significantly increases its likelihood of occurrence.
External hard disk spindle failure symptoms
If the motor inside the hard disk is not spinning and the drive was just tipped over, you just got one very expensive problem.
How can you tell if the disk is not spinning? If you hear an almost musical sound of 2 beeps and then the drive shuts down, then you probably got a spindle failure.
Usually, you’ll need to get the drive out of its enclosure to be able to listen to it properly.
Your data is probably safe
A motor seizure doesn’t actually cause data loss, in cases that I’d come across at the very least. It simply makes it very inconvenient to access that data. It’s frozen until the motor can be unfrozen.
How to prevent external HDD motor seizure
Fortunately, it’s simple to prevent.
Almost all cases begin with “My drive tipped over and… I need your help”
In order to avoid this really expensive repair, please do not run your external hard drives in vertical position. Lay them down, and your likelihood of encountering a spindle seizure will be significantly reduced.
Some disks look better than others when in horizontal position. I personally love Acomdata products. I do so for 3 reasons:
- Aluminum case acts like a heatsink. Hard disks hate heat. The colder they are, the longer they live.
- They look good and are stackable in horizontal position
- They are very easy to open to use as a normal external enclosure. Only 2 philips screws and the whole case opens up.
Why is motor failure expensive to repair?
Here is what we need to do in terms of fluid bearings failure.
- Open the disk and attempt to restart the motor
- Obtain an identical disk to use as a donor model. As we purchase these from specialty sellers, any drive of any vintage will likely cost at least $200. That drive will be destroyed.
- Perform platter transfer procedure. This takes about 4 hours due to extreme delicacy involved in the heads transfer process. The motor is built-in into the drive chassis to such an extent that it is impossible to replace without taking off the platters. At that point, one might as well simply transfer the platters and the system board to a known working drive chassis.
In summary, assuming the billable rate of $150/hr, you are looking at a $800-1000 bill for parts and labor. The recovery technicians really do have to do that much work in this case.
Data recovery is split about 80% logical issues, 15% electronics issues, 4% heads issue, and 1% motor failure. While 95% of issues are moderately easy to fix, the last 5 % is a genuine pain and specialty tools are required.
Motor failure is that 1% of issues that requires procedures normally performed in specialty “clean room” environment. Is a bona-fide clean room actually required? Not really, but during the head stack transfer procedure the drives are open for an extended period of time, so it helps to reduce any possible contamination. Heads failure is in the same category, but transferring just the heads is actually less hassle than transferring the platters is.
It takes specialized and expensive tools to perform this kind of work.
You will greatly reduce the risk of external hard disk drive failure if you simply use it horizontally.
Always have more than one backup! Keep at least one copy offsite, such as in a safety deposit box at your bank.
Keep copies of your most important documents and files on CDs and/or DVDs.