What happens to a hard drive when it overheats

Heat is a typical by-product of many of the devices we use on a daily basis. Engines, for example, produce a tremendous amount of heat; as do items like washing machines, televisions, blenders and more. Anything that uses moving parts or needs an electrical current to function will generate heat. Thanks to advances in cooling technology, overheating is now less of an issue that it has been at any other time – but it’s not been eradicated in its entirety… and hard drives and high temperatures are not the best of friends!

When any device is forced to operate in a hot environment, its performance suffers. As far as hard drives are concerned, this can come in the form of slow read/write speeds or an operating interface that is frequently freezing or even shutting itself down. What’s more, these environments are also likely to result in hard drives becoming damaged. In some cases, the damage is so severe that the drive can no longer read the data it holds.  

How overheating can cause data loss

Heat causes electrical components to degrade and potentially fail. There are several parts of a hard drive that can fail as a result of being overexposed to heat, including the part that actually stores data.

Do you remember chemistry lessons? More specifically, do you remember the lesson where you heated and/or cooled metal? Remember how it expanded/contracted? All of the data that is stored on a hard drive is written onto metal discs referred to as platters and, when these expand and contract, they can damage other components and even cause a head crash.

Even if expanding metal doesn’t damage any individual components, it’s still more than capable of transforming a hard drive from a functional piece of storage media into an expensive paperweight. As platters expand and contract, they gradually become warped. Even though the distortion is minimal, this’ll be more than enough to prevent the retrieval of your data.

As we said previously, all of the data that can be found on a hard drive is stored on its platters. The individual pieces of data that form a file – called bytes – are all stored in separate locations. When you save a file, the location of each individual byte is recorded by your drive. When you then open this file, these individual locations are viewed, the bytes are read and the file is reconstituted and displayed. These bytes are stored in microscopic sectors so, if the platter’s position changes – even fractionally – your files cannot be retrieved.

What to do with a hard drive that’s suffered heat damage

Whether excessive heat has fried electrical components, warped platters or damaged anything else, successfully recovering the data held on a hard drive will be dependent upon it being opened within a sterile environment; Fields Data Recovery’s clean room, for example.

Oh, and we’ll diagnose the drive, work out how to recover your data and how much work will be required without charging you a penny! Plus, after we’ve done all of this you’ll get a no-obligation quote and, if you don’t like the price, we’ll return your hard drive to you – all for free.