How to Handle a Hard Drive Head Crash

Mechanical hard drives have a stack of heads that read magnetic data from the platters, or media. When the drive is spinning, these heads actually float upon tiny air cushions. They are never supposed to actually touch the platters. However, just because something is never supposed to happen, doesn’t mean that it never will. A head crash occurs when a hard disk drives’ head(s) touches the platters.


What is a Head Crash?

The head stack and actuator arm in a hard disk drive are responsible for holding the read/write heads a miniscule distance above the hard drive’s platters. However, if the head(s) in your HDD touch the platters, this is referred to as a head crash. Data Savers LLC is a professional data recovery lab, and our experienced engineers are quite familiar with this issue. A head crash will likely lead to drive failure and data loss, if the data that is lost is important this may also lead to hard drive data recovery.

Hard Drive Head Crash Data Recovery

Data recovery companies replace hard drive head stacks on a regular basis. Replacing a head stack can become problematic, as you can’t simply go buy replacement heads by themselves – they are always part of a complete hard drive.  So, in order to get replacement heads, you have to find a suitable donor drive. Fortunately, established data recovery labs (like Data Savers) that have been around for nearly twenty years often already have popular donor drive parts available on-site.

Use Your Head Before you Do a Head Swap!

Manufacturers may use different and incompatible heads in the same model hard drive. This means that data recovery firms have to get an exact match if they want the head swap to be successful.  The problem is that there is no way to tell what heads are inside this 5 TB Seagate HDD (shown in the photo on the right) by looking at the label or anything on the exterior.

Even so, that’s usually no problem, unless the heads are rare, and the donor drives are expensive. A firm can buy several drives from different vendors and still not get a suitable match. Sometimes data recovery firms will even reach out to their competitors for drive heads that they need.


Many of the largest data recovery firms purchased or built complex and expensive equipment that identifies a hard drive’s head type without disassembling the drive. Unfortunately for the little guy, very few hard drive resellers and local computer repair services have access to this kind of specialized equipment.

Data Savers LLC Case Study Results

For this particular recovery, Data Savers LLC contacted data recovery and hard drive suppliers from around the world to find a stack that worked with this defective hard drive.  Eventually, a data recovery company that we have enjoyed a mutually beneficial arrangement with happened to have a suitable spare head.

At the end of the day, we were able to complete the recovery, and read more than 99.9999% of the drive’s data sectors for an almost perfect result.