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Hard disk drive firmware – what is it?

In Blog, Information by Administrator

Firmware failures in HDDs.

Put simply the firmware of the hard disk drive is ‘operating system’ of the hard disk which allows it to function. It is of course a little bit more complicated than this. However, consider it as if your Windows or Mac operating system becomes corrupt then you are no longer able to use the computer. In the same respect if the HDD firmware becomes corrupt you will no longer be able to use your HDD and access your data.

You will often see a reference to the revision of your firmware listed on the front of the hard disk drive:

There are lots of different types of firmware failures. Some have been well publicised and have affected tens of thousands of hard disk drives, like the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 series issue. This particular fault relates specifically to a ‘defect list’ and SMART module of the firmware. There can be many different types of firmware failure, each with varying degrees of complexity when it comes to resolving the failure.

On many occasions it is necessary to have a fully working copy of the firmware from an identical hard disk drive in order to fix the faulty firmware in the bad drive. This could be considered as having the original Windows install DVD to allow the bad files to be replaced with working copies in your Windows operating system. However, finding a suitable matching copy of the firmware is much harder than finding the correct copy of Windows’ files! It means either having a copy in our database which has been built up over a number of years, a publicly available copy, or finding a matching donor hard disk drive.

Altering and accessing the firmware requires specialist equipment. It is also very easy to make the data on the hard disk drive unrecoverable from altering the firmware inappropriately. A more in depth explanation of the firmware and how to access it will be dealt with in a following blog post.