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What Does Hard Drive Platter Damage Look Like?

July 6, 2015

To put it simply, hard drive platter damage is bad news.

The hard drive platters store your data, so permanent damage to the platters means permanent data loss. No current data recovery technology can restore the lost material (although there are technologies for reading around the damaged areas — we’ll explain those in another post).

The most common cause of platter damage is a failure of the heads. The heads read and write data, operating close to the platters, but not on the platters; they’re never supposed to touch. If they touch, they can scrape (ouch) the magnetized material.

If you keep trying to run the hard drive, you’re left with something like this:

Rotational Hard Drive Platter Damage

Rotational damage to hard drive platters.

While that’s pretty, it’s not great for the computer user, since the hard drive is essentially ruined. This is why we advise our clients to turn their hard drives off at the first signs of failure. By the time this hard drive got to our laboratory, it didn’t have much of a chance.

If the disk head has enough displacement or debris from head damage lodges in a very specific spot, it can cause the head to contact the platter only there. With millions of rotations (if it still rotates) it will erode a circular trench much like the Colorado River erodes the Grand Canyon. The platter in the following drive was amazingly cut almost completely through.

Scored disk platter trench

This platter was nearly scored all the way through, with dust everywhere.

Scored Hard Drive

These badly scored hard drive platters were damaged by a failing head assembly.

The above drive is another example of severe scoring with a wide path of destruction scraped off. But these pale in comparison with the next few stunning photos.

This hard drive had glass or plastic platters, and because it was operated in a failed state for many hours, it lost all of its data. The platters also became completely transparent. We placed a slip of paper under the platters to show the extent of the damage.

Damaged Hard Drive Platters

The magnetic material is completely removed and the platters are transparent.

Transparent hard drive platters.

Another view.

How Do You Recover Data from Damaged Hard Drive Platters?

The bottom line is that if the magnetic stuff is gone, so is the data. There’s no way around that, unfortunately (if there is, we’ll be the first to know).

However, there’s good news: most hard drives aren’t as severely damaged as the drives on this page. Most barely have any damage, and the heads don’t always make contact with data storage areas.

We can also use some advanced techniques to read “around” the damaged sections to try to get a partial recovery. This is often an option when the platter damage is minor, but it becomes less of an option with more severe damage. operates real laboratories, and we can provide you with a free estimate at any of our locations. We will open the drive, assess the degree of damage, and provide you with a quote. Unrecoverable cases are rare, but we never charge for our services if we don’t recover your data. Call us at 1.800.237.4200 if you’d like to set up a case.

The big takeaway is to turn off your drive at the first sign of damage. We mean that! Don’t let your drive take on severe rotational damage. If you have a fairly minor issue, it may be covered under our $250* hard drive data recovery case option, and if the damage is more severe, you won’t gain anything by attempting to run the drive.  Don’t take unnecessary risks when important files are on the line.

*Pricing is subject to change. Please contact us for current pricing and an evaluation of your drive.

What Does Hard Drive Platter Damage Look Like?
Article Name
What Does Hard Drive Platter Damage Look Like?
This article shows a few severe cases of hard drive platter damage and explains a basic process for data recovery.