Power surge burned your HDD PCB? Here’s how to recover.Posted by _MD_ on May 7, 2011 in Guides | 24 comments
Found yourself in a situation where after a power surge (or wrong power cable connection) you started smelling something burning? Aside from other hardware parts that could be burned, the most critical one is the Hard Drive (HDD) as it stores our invaluable information. In reality, the drive itself does not burn, but what is affected is the PCB (Printed Circuit Board).
This short guide will help you recover your data after such a catastrophic misfortune.
To start off, we will need to get down to the basics of what has actually happened. 99% of the time, the part that fails first is the TVS (Transient Voltage Suppression) diode unless the source of the incorrect amount of current/voltage is not unplugged immediately thus allowing it to burn other components in chain reaction. This diode is used to detect minor fluctuations in the voltage supplied to the circuit board. Upon such an overload, it burns out first preventing further damage (similar to a capacitor that simply pops).
On the image below you can see how a burnt diode looks like on a Seagate PCB.
Your first thought might be to replace the PCB with that of another HDD. It seems like an elegant solution that is not very time consuming and almost effortless. You go out and buy exactly the same model of hard drive from your local computer store. Swap the PCBs and what do you see? It turns out that the disk can not spin properly due to incompatibility of the board components and the disk circuitry.
You then notice that each PCB has not only different model number but also part number (P/N), serial number (S/N), firmware version, site code and date code. There is also a four digit number printed on the back side of the board (something like “3903″ or “4403″). It represents the week number/year the board was manufactured. In this case, week 39 of 2003 and week 44 of 2003. This discovery makes you go on eBay and look for the closest match to your board. But STOP! Simply swapping the PCB would not work.
Every PCB is equipped with a ROM (Read-Only Memory) chip that contains specific information about the disk it is attached to that is unique to the entire series of hard disks for this manufacturer. You might think why on earth make it so complicated and why not let regular users replace the PCB upon disk failure?! Well the big guys (Seagate, Western Digital, etc) have come to realized that if something happens to your data, and it is of the utmost importance to you, you will do anything to recover it. They even have a whole department dealing with data recovery, charging thousands of dollars. This also allows them to bring the cost down for their products.
On the subject of cutting down the cost, if you have mastered the soldering skills and have proper tools, you might try replacing the burned TVS diode. This will work if you get the matching diode and if no other components were burnt during the surge. Although this is not a permanent solution; it might be enough just to get the disk up and running in order to copy your data to another storage media. It is strongly recommended NOT to use this disk on the regular basis as a non-manufacturer-installed component might fail any minute.
The best way to rectify this problem is to place your ROM into another PCB (matching almost exactly to your board specifications). Once again, you can attempt doing it yourself, but for those of us who prefer to hand it to the professionals, there is such service. There is a company called PCB Solutions and they will do it for you for a minimal charge of $50 (a pocket change!). Which is an amazing deal considering that data recovery companies would charge $2000-$5000 to recover your data (they do so by taking apart your hard drive in vacuum and placing the platters/spindles into another HDD body).
If you go to their website, you will be able to match your PCB with a wide selection of boards they have in stock. Next step is to simply fill out the order form with your name, email and HDD information (S/N, P/N, firmware, etc) and ship your burnt circuitry by regular mail. They are located in White Rock, BC, so for people in Canada there would be no charge for crossing the border. The service is fast and of highest quality. Once they swap the ROM, they will mail back the working PCB which you can just pop back into your drive and use it like nothing happened.
Below is a closeup of how a custom soldered ROM looks like on a new circuit board
This concludes the guide of finding the remedy for the burnt HDD PCB.