Laptops

Cracking open a laptop hard drive

Hitachi Travelstar teardown

Laptops are quickly overtaking desktops as the computer of choice. The heart of any laptop, meanwhile, is its hard drive. Explore this image gallery to see how one of the world's most popular mobile hard disks (the Hitachi Travelstar) is put together to power countless laptops. You'll gain a new perspective on the main component powering all those notebooks you see the next time you frequent the local coffeehouse.

The Hitachi Travelstar mobile hard disk. This model sported a 5400rpm motor, ATA interface and 40GB of data storage.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

75 comments
techwiz2010
techwiz2010

so can you actually repair this thing when it is not accessible, instead of buying a new one and recovering and all tons of money spent? thanks

kynar1
kynar1

I have a dead laptop hard drive and i just purchased an identical dard drive (ver # the same) Which component (is it the circuit board) should i swap out to get my hard drive working one last time so i can recover my files?

rosihan@yahoo.com
rosihan@yahoo.com

Hi, could the author or anybody explain to me what is the function of the latch-like component to the left of the voice coil mechanism? (Image 8, leftmost component). In my HDD, the said part is loose from its mount causing the HDD to fail. Thanks..

jfuller
jfuller

Are there symptoms specific to an HD with a bad circuit board? Is there a way to differentiate before cracking open a drive if the drive has a bad arm, platter or head or if its something on the circuit board?

hi_i_am_shahjhahan_n
hi_i_am_shahjhahan_n

sir i want to ask you abouth my thoshiba qsma.laptop I am forget pawer password can you help me i want to open my laptop but I canot; open . how I can heaking password can you help me sir pls. I am waiting your answer sir . bye for now

DAVID.TAYLOR3
DAVID.TAYLOR3

Great illustration!!! Does this photo apply to all laptops?? How many variations are out there and can you share??

tejones
tejones

Now, let me see you put it back together in working condition! I do it quite often when the pay is right.

radioeng
radioeng

wow, 40g on one platter. I remember disassembling multi platter

awarren2002
awarren2002

This is fascinating. My husband worked fixing IBM computers for thirty years starting in 1956. The systems at GMAC were room sized. It was very tedious hand soldering 2000 connections to fix some of them. The first ones were very slow and mechanical. We are simply amazed at how fast and small my laptop is now and what it can do. We both enjoyed seeing this and dicussing the changes.

johnjos
johnjos

All modern HDs are the same-T'star or not. Why would you do this? Curiousity? Don't do this troubleshooting a questionable drive. Once the HDA seal is broken the HD will never work again, or for very long, due to dust collecting on the disk surface and a head crash will ensue.

BruceEArnold
BruceEArnold

I guess everyone knows the size of a "small" screwdriver but I don't! Perhaps a 6 inch ruler or a Quarter would have been more enlightening.

david.paige
david.paige

Strictly speaking, it's not necessary to remove the label. Running your finger over the label will reveal an indentation where the screws are located. I've destroyed hundreds of drives at the end of their useful life. Sometimes the labels don't come off at all, but with such a large number, I didn't have the time to waste removing labels.

terry1919
terry1919

now put it back together and get it to work...

zesh_prince
zesh_prince

Good Stuff, but when should one go for disambelling the hard disk. Other than data back up when it has crashed

yorkwu121
yorkwu121

I will show you my 3.5" HD crscking, soon

buddie824
buddie824

very interesting. diffgerent then I thought it would look like inside. thank you very much for sharing this information with me. I`m one of those Mr fix it ,take anything apart to see what makes it work and alwys put back correctly lol thanks again MEG buddie824@hotmail.com

LV426
LV426

Point one - the holes are aesthetic (and perhaps to reduce weight - they are definitely not to promote airflow!) Point two - the PCB was ASSEMBLED in Malaysia NOT manufactured there. Point three - if you are going to post a picture to demonstrate relative size I suggest you use a common object. For example place a CD-ROM in the picture.....

skipandsandra
skipandsandra

Would like to make a clock out of a laptop hard drive as a gift for my boss. Any possibility of getting instructions from Christopher?

yobtaf
yobtaf

Not only is it an amazing example of miniaturization, it actual quite beautiful inside.

cjbatman007
cjbatman007

nice 2 view such an amazing stuff, visualtreat for non technical ones

pr.arun
pr.arun

Hi, It would be great if you guys can incorporate "slideshow" option for the images... :)

Duke.Lane
Duke.Lane

Very useful & informative. Thanks for the posting.

cybaground
cybaground

Astonishing pictures I always wanted to try that with a laptop.Just wondering if you where to put the parts back together if the laptop would still work. The reason I ask is because I always see small PC shops that fix and replace PC Hard drives but never ones that replace laptops hard drives if they are toast. Thanks for sharing those pics!

TR_Philip
TR_Philip

I am curious. Did you successfully move your drive platter to the "replacement" drive? I'm thinking of trying the same thing. Do you have any additional tips to share? Thanks TR_Philip

TR_Philip
TR_Philip

I am curious. Did you successfully move your drive platter the "replacement" drive? I'm thinking of trying the same thing. Fo you have any additional tips to share?

bricur
bricur

I am no expert... but the data you need in on the platter. Everything is stored there!!! So if you swap it out, it should be readable on the new drive. I DO NOT BELIEVE IN LUCK... SO I HOPE YOU HAVE A SUCCESSFUL EFFORT! KEEP A STEADY HAND AND DO NOT TOUCH THE PLATTER WITH ANYTHING. Use non-powered laytex gloves and only hold it by the edge.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I this is so then the head arm wouldn't move out to access data, as it would error on posistion limit. Just guessing.

parsa_bahrami
parsa_bahrami

There are no variation in 2.5" or 3.5" hard drives. The internal structure is the same for all of them and all the parts are functioning basically the same. That's as far as I know in my experience of opening hard drives in the past few years!!

bricur
bricur

I bet it is not all it is cracked up to be... in Los Angeles/OC area there are several "Clean Room" experts who say they will resuce your dieing HD. I wonder how many of them actually have clean rooms?!?

ddmcp2000
ddmcp2000

I had a 40G WD hard drive, about 4 years ago (I know - I couldn't believe it lasted that long, either...) that I opened (without completely disassembling) because it was doing it's famous WD "click of death". I knew the end was soon, so I figured "what the heck". I was simply curious to see the arm in action, as I had disassembled MANY hard drived through the years. Immediately after removing the cover, I plugged it back in, and left it running, uncovered, and never powered the computer off until it died! It ran almost another 6 months, clicking, clacking, and threatening to die, the whole time! While it is true that dust is generally fatal to a hard drive (mostly caused by an HDI - head-to-disk-interference) it won't ABSOLUTELY guarantee an instant death. If the platters are moving, then the smallest dust particles can't settle on it, and will be blown off instantly by the air movement.

terry1919
terry1919

and you do it just for amusment

RobPatten
RobPatten

Looking forward to it, but one post would have been sufficient.

JCitizen
JCitizen

That you won't be able to use the hard drive after its cracked. Though it would be handy to know, if some serious data recovery company just wanted the platter.

BRzeszutek
BRzeszutek

Hard drives are vaccuum sealed. There is no air flow around the platters. This stuff was done in my comp class. If you break the seal and let atmosphere in-- you will shorten the life of the hard drive. Lack of atmosphere is very important considering the rate of RPM the platters spin at.Wind turbulence is bad considering how close the stylus is in relationship to the platter. You have individual stylus for each platter that sit at about a couple of thousanths above the platter. If the stylus touches the platter while the platter is in motion-you can scratch the cobalt coating on the platter.

catseverywhere
catseverywhere

Don't forget the flange that holds the disks to the spindle make excellent key rings. I have disassembled every hard drive that's given me grief, must be upwards of 100 over the years. Everyone I know gets a key ring, especially those who's drive it was that died. Poetic justice, like taking the scalp...

RobPatten
RobPatten

In the UK most towns have a number of PC shops that will repair PCs. It is much less common to find shops that will repair laptops, but they do exist. I think traditionally laptops have always been considered harder work and more "mysterious" than desktop PCs, a bit of a black art to some maybe. These days replacing a laptop's hard disk is much easier. Normally there is a compartment or flap that is easily accessible and the drive can be easily removed, and a new one fitted. Some require a little more thought and are located under the keyboard, especially on smaller notebooks. As for re-assembling a dismantled hard disk, that is another matter. Any hard disk that has been taken apart is unlikely to work when re-assembled as I believe the platters are very sensitive to imperfections in the air such as dust. This is why companies can get away with charging a small fortune for data recovery when they dismantle and repair drives in vacuum sealed rooms, ensuring no contaimination can take place.

bricur
bricur

Thank you my friend for having the brain cells to doubt what the lemmings call "Conventional Wisdom". I am one of those "I can fix anything" types and have done similar things like what you did, on various household & automotive items. I also have had the experience of helping peeps who failed to back up their Puter's contents. The price one pays is never truly fair when I doubt that they actually have a clean room but carefully removes a platter and places it in one of who knows how many working drives shells that might read it...

therealjunkman
therealjunkman

The one exception. Yes, I agree, this can prevent the instant death of the drive, and allow one to backup the data before it's terminal. (Or just show people what it's like inside there. Some folks seem to think it's all a bit like black magic!) And, yea, I to, do it just for fun. If it's 'toast' anyway, why not! grin! (I learn the most when I'm destroying it) Junkman

JCitizen
JCitizen

I have been getting more and more recovery requests from people that can't afford professional recovery services, and are willing to take a risk. The software out there works pretty good; now maybe I will try this brute force method. It's better that nothing! Thanks also for ecooper12 with his input!

ecooper12
ecooper12

I've been mostly successful recovering data from about 80 hard drives (Dell Latitude and Optiplex) in the last year. I've cracked old MFM/RLL hard drives back in the day, I cracked a T-star that was out of warranty today based on this article and the pics. Granted, I didn't remove the arms or platters, but I plugged it in with the top off, using a USB adapter and the drive mounted just fine. Granted, this is a hit/miss proposition and YMMV. I just want the option to switch out a controller or arm for known good as a last resort if the customer has already indicated they don't want to spend the $$$ send it out for "real" data recovery service.

therealjunkman
therealjunkman

There IS air inside... Without it, the heads would not 'fly' the couple of thousandths you mention above the platter(s). There is a filter to allow for expansion and contraction of the air in and out of case. (It heats up in use, not to mention, atmospheric changes, altitude, etc) And, one last point, not related to this poster's comments. To remove that last screw or two, under the label, you do not have to remove the entire label. You can feel for a depression in the label, pushing down hard with finger. Find depression, stick screwdriver with torex bit right through. Works for me almost every time. Sometimes, I have to widen the hole to get screw out, but still faster and easier that pealing the whole label off. And, reassembling a drive ALMOST never works. But, if the BOARD died, and you have a known good identical unit available, a swap can be done, sometimes will allow one to get info off drive before it all goes bang. I would NEVER trust such a drive for daily use, though. Only for emergency salvage of the data. And even then, it only works some of the time. When it does, though, can save a ton of money! (Not to mention, reputation!) Junkman

tessakaine
tessakaine

I work for a company that does repair both standard Pc's and Laptops. he laptops take far lnger than any ormal home PC. The reason is that every laptop has a different way of putting things together. The newer HP take a good couple of hours to take apart and have around 60/70 screws before you can get to the parts you need to. Some are easy and as you say just have a flap to gain acsess to the hard drive bay. The worst thing we are finding is the newer laptops manufacturers are setting compatability issues within the machine. So it will only recognise a drive with their code on it. Causes all sorts of problems when the end user thinks it will be a ?60 job including fitting and it turns into them having to send itback to Dell or Acer. As to putting Hard drives back together. You are bang on correct. Due to dust particles in the air it really wont work. We have 2 on display in the front of the shop so people can see what is inside... Mainly so they arent tempted to take their own to bits!

asentman.s6
asentman.s6

If you look closely enough on any hard drive, there will be a message like Do not cover this hole. Air can get in or out of this hole. If you open the drive, on the other side of the hole, there will be a small plastic box which filters the air. If you want to disassemble a drive, you can increase the chances of it working by puting it in a tupperware or ziplock bag to minimize the chance of dust getting on the platter. Even with this precaution, DATA MIGHT BE LOST. ALWAYS backup your data first. NOTE: Hard drives are assembled in a class 100 clean room, nowhere near the dust amount in houses.

therealjunkman
therealjunkman

This sort of info is just the kind that the laptop makers would NOT want people to know about. So a BIG thanks. Even I did not know know about built in blocks on hard drive makes. I HAVE seen something similar on other components, though, so not too surprised. Yea, it's a throwback to the bad old days of proprietary everything. And, yea, I avoid DELL anything like the plague! Their tricky power supplies have cost a lot of people a lot of money. Any other suggestions on brands/models? I have two teen girls going into high school soon... Junkman

William_M_Cox
William_M_Cox

Very much appreciated the 'from the shoulder' comments on technical support and on Vista. I've found Sony give every assistance short of actual help. You usually get "reinstall the operating system" (and ditch all the stuff you've put on since you got the laptop) - thanks for that guys. If you buy your Sony in one country don't expect to get any help at all from anywhere else - worse than buying a grey import car. And they will swear on a stack of bibles that you can't change the hard drive and lie through their teeth while doing it. Don't expect to get any help to install a larger drive on your Sony either - if the drive's a proprietary design you can only get them to replace it with one the same size even if subsequent models had larger drives and you can't get any useful assistance at all unless you bought an extended warranty. I like Sonys but in my experience they're fragile and only last about 2 years before they need major attention. I have also found Acer offer far better value and reliability and they seem to be getting closer to the cutting edge of technology availability. Your comments on Vista reflected exactly the views expressed by tekkies in the computer shops in KL. "Not sorted out yet - you're better off with XP" was what they told me. Regards

tessakaine
tessakaine

I found that they were pretty quick and handy with keeping us abreast of the situation. One of the best places i have found to source laptop parts for (excluding harddrives) is a company in Poole called Mercom. They dont usually sell just the parts as they are a repair centre for Curries, However they have been good enough to sort us out on a few occasions. Sending in repairs to them takes them a little longer but you can be assured that they get the job done. Tess

RobPatten
RobPatten

As you commented in a previous post, Sony parts can cost a fortune. Sony like to maintain a tight control of their UK customers and parts are extremely difficult, and expensive, to get hold of. Sony want you to send the laptop back to them, creating themselves a nice monopoly allowing you to charge them whatever they like. On top of this, a lot of people will pay their extortionate prices because they remember the value of the laptop when they made the initial purchase. It is sad to see so many people buy Sony because it is a big name and they expect to get premium support, only to find this isn't the case once it is too late. I found Acer technical support to be awful to get through to. They lost cheques when I ordered parts, ended up waiting for up to 20 minutes on the phone before getting cut off and I had enough of them. I do like their products though and I have heard that customer service went downhill once Esplex took over their parts and warranty service. Hopefully they had teething problems and have since improved. HP, Compaq and Dell - I have never had problems getting parts for these and they are not the most expensive. Toshiba are also easy to get parts for, and Fujitsu as you say. I agree with your sentiments - buy the best you can afford up front. Memory and hard drives can be changed later, but these days the price difference between 80Gb and 120Gb is so little - the same with memory. Things like the screen size, availability of ports, weight of the machine are all things that once you buy them, they're fixed and cannot be changed. Take time to make sure you make the right decision when buying. Parts are always more expensive, and harder to source, on laptops than desktops. I remember being quoted over ?200 for a DVD-RW drive for a Dell laptop about a year ago. A same standard part for a PC at the time would have cost you ?40.

tessakaine
tessakaine

Well forstly let me say... Do not touch Dell. If you are looking for a velue for money PC/Laptop then Acer or HP are far better value for money and their customer support is by far and away superior. Upgrade wise... Always try and buy the best you can at the time. Parts wise... Dell insist you send the item back to them and they will upgrade to your specs... This carries a hefty premium and should be avoided. HP, Acer, Fujitsu, Sony parts are easier to get hold of but you can still expect to wait for 4 weeks for Sony, HP and Fujitsu parts. Acer are very quick and the laptops we have had to send in to them for under warranty repairs have come back repaired within a week. Hope this helps. OH and try and avoid anything with Vista installed... Horrid system at the moment... Still trying to work it out.

tessakaine
tessakaine

?60 is usually about right for a hard drive and fitting... Motherboard repairs can cost from ?120... Costly and a pain in the butt... The worst thing i have found to replace are the keyboards! We were recently quoted ?150+vat for a keyboard for a sony vaio... the customer chose to plug in an external keyboard! I think i would have too... Then waited for the right one to come up on ebay. Time isnt really an issue where i work as we charge a flat fee for installation of new parts or fault diagnostics... however long it may take.

Poordirtfarmer
Poordirtfarmer

I?ll be in the market this Christmas for a laptop each for my wife and oldest daughter. I?d surely like to avoid manufactures / models that have compatibility issues designed into them. Does anyone know of a consumer oriented source of information for this sort of thing? I can imagine at some point needing to replace hard drives, memory sticks, or the DVD reader/writer. Sounds like it?d be trouble enough without having to deal with deliberately designed roads blocks.

RobPatten
RobPatten

I have to say if you're initially able to quote ?60 for a laptop repair including fitting your customers are getting good value for money. In the past I have worked for a place that has repaired laptops as well as desktops and we charged a premium for laptop repairs because of the amount of time we had to spend on them compared to a desktop PC. Availability of parts is also an issue, and to buy something like a new motherboard or screen for a laptop normally makes a repair uneconomical, unless the machine is something really special. If manufacturers are now starting to produce laptops that will only accept certain drives then that is bad news, a definite backward step. Thankfully it was something I never encountered.