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Firmware corruption can happen at any time, to any type of hard disk drive, new or old. Most are unfamiliar with firmware and what it does.

Let’s examine the details and learn more.

What Is Firmware In HDD?

From a technical standpoint, a hard disk drive or HDD is quite fascinating. It has its own boot mechanism.

The HDD, for all practical purposes, acts as a stand-alone computer.

Not to mean that it can perform arithmetic and logical functions, but it has its own operating system.

When you connect an HDD to a power source, it actually boots in much the same way as a laptop or desktop does.

There are a few lines of code on the Read Only Memory (ROM) you can find on the printed circuit board.

That tells the hard disk to read the firmware or, as some call it, the hard disk operating system.

But What Is Firmware?

It is an intermediary code that allows the hard disk to communicate with the Windows (or Linux or Mac) operating system.

The firmware has all the instructions for the hard drive and sets its parameters.

For example, a home computer might have the option for a hard disk to power down when idling. At the very least, many disk manufacturers have an idling head parking timer.

But a hard disk drive working inside a server cannot stop spinning because there is no data transfer.

There is a slightly different need inside a DVR or a camera surveillance unit.

Hard disks are not made for each unique use, but rather the firmware is slightly different, allowing it to work with various conditions.

The firmware also lists the SMART attributes, stores the performance logs, and maintains disk performance information.

How Does Firmware Corruption Happen?

The firmware, of course, does not share the sector or block with other data.

It is part of the Service Zone or the place the HDD has reserved for its own use. 

Inside this Service Zone (as different from Data Zone) the number of sectors is less and can be read faster. That is very important to get the HDD and the computer to boot.

Every modern drive has SMART capability. The Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology performs complex diagnostics on its operations and maintains the data lifelong.

For example, even if you last formatted a desktop three years ago, it can tell you the highest, lowest and mean operating temperature every day since then. It can tell how many power on-off cycles it has been through, write error, read error and several such parameters. You need special software to read it.

Maintaining the data means writing it, and that can take a few seconds. If in the meantime the user shuts down the computer without waiting for the delay, there is a possibility that the firmware might get corrupted.

This is a simple example of firmware corruption. There may be many more that are more extensive.

What Happens When A Hard Disk Firmware Is Corrupted?

Firmware corruption can lead to several types of problems, all of them severe.

1. Drive Slows Down

Quite literally.

Type a few hundred words in a Word document and hit Ctrl + S, and it takes several seconds. It can be the most annoying thing to happen to a user.

Since the drive takes 30X more time to do everything, launching larger applications such as Adobe PDF Reader and PowerPoint takes ages.

The machine also takes several minutes to boot and shut down. In fact, the computer would be so sluggish that you find it impossible to use after hard drive firmware corruption.

2. Clicking Noise From The Hard Drive

Clicking noise happens when the read/write head is seeking the right sector to read but the speed of the motor is changing.

A hard drive is a very precise mechanism. After all, the magnetic bits measure a micron in width. The head has to be positioned perfectly, and that means the motor must maintain a constant speed. Firmware corruption can lead to motor speed fluctuations. Read more about clicking noise.

3. Drive Not Initialised

Have you seen how the operating system allocates an alphabet to each partition, e.g. C for system drive, E for partition, and so on?

Disk Unknown, Not Initialised means the operating system cannot recognize the partition. Unless it does so, how can it boot from C and write to E (or any other letter that you have assigned)? 

4. Drive Not Recognized

When the computer boots up, the BIOS (a tiny firmware that runs the computer) first locates the hard drive and then runs the boot files.

If the firmware has been corrupted, then the BIOS cannot find the volume and can’t boot the machine. Read more about hard drive not recognized. 

5. Data Corruption

The valuable data you had in your storage partitions has crashed. The files cannot be opened. The folders do not have all the files and some appear to be missing. This can cause most users to panic if they do not have a backup.


What causes firmware corruption?

Firmware is written on the HDD itself. That section is regularly updated with SMART log. There might be a failure to write due to improper shutdown. Firmware corruption also happens during updates. In extreme cases the sectors that store the firmware might get physically damaged.

Can firmware be damaged?

Firmware is code. It can be damaged as variables can get rewritten or entire lines might get deleted.

Can a corrupt HDD be fixed?

If there is a firmware failure that leads to the HDD not working but the data is intact (the Word, Excel, image files) then it can probably be retrieved. 
If the firmware failure has led to the read/write head scratching the platter and destroying files, not much can be done.

Can firmware be repaired?

Corrupt firmware can sometimes be fixed by uploading brand new firmware. Much like formatting a desktop. But that might not always be 100% effective.


How Can Stellar Data Recovery Help In Case Of Hard Drive Firmware Corruption?

Since 1993, Stellar has been tirelessly at work offering solutions for data recovery. This includes solutions for hard drive firmware corruption.

Whatever the type of hard disk drive—RAID server, hard disk drive, solid-state drive, and USB—we have the technology and know-how to retrieve information.

Our state-of-the-art Class 100 Clean Room is the largest in south-east Asia.

Over 100 trusted technicians will try to fix any firmware corruption issue your hard drive may have.

What’s more—if data cannot be recovered you don’t pay a rupee.

As an ISO 9001 & ISO 27001 organisation, Stellar provides cutting-edge data recovery services

Call us now and let us handle your data recovery needs.

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