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The Most Common RAID Levels – What They Mean and How They Compare

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There are many different RAID array levels and each level has tasks for which it is most suited. The RAID level you choose for your system depends on the amount of storage you require, the way you need to access your data and other outside factors such as cost, preferences and other considerations.

The most common RAID configurations are levels 0, 1 and 5. There are also various combinations of these levels such as RAID 10 or RAID 50. Each level carries certain advantages and disadvantages depending on how you plan to use it.

Most Common RAID Levels


RAID 0 divides a set of data evenly among multiple hard drives, usually two drives. The main goal and benefit of using RAID 0 is improved speed/performance. With this level, there is no redundancy of data, that is, each individual batch of data is stored on only one disk. This makes RAID 0 systems vulnerable to data loss, since the failure of one disk on the array affects the entire system. The data is “striped” across both hard drives so none of the data on the failed disks can be recovered without a repairing a failed disk.

This leads to the unfortunate fact that the more hard drives you have in a RAID 0 configuration, the less you should rely on it. The more drives you have, the greater the chance that one of them will fail and the data on that drive will be lost, affecting the rest of the data as well.

Another result of this set up is that the storage capacity of the array is limited to the storage capacity of the smallest drive in the configuration.


RAID 1, on the other hand, stores an exact copy of your data on two or more drives. This makes your data much more secure; if one drive in the system fails, your data can simply be retrieved from any other drive in the system. This is known as data redundancy. With your files copied and stored on every drive in a RAID 1 system, you'd have to have all the drives fail simultaneously to lose all of your data.

Another significant difference between RAID 1 and RAID 0 is that with RAID 1, the reliability of the system increases with each drive used in the configuration. The more drives you use, the more copies there are of your data and the less likely that all drives will fail at the same time, causing the loss of your data.

The downside of the mirroring RAID 1 is that in certain situations if one drive fails or you accidently delete a portion of your data the other hard drive will mirror the damaged one.


RAID 5 offers the advantages of data storage redundancy along with a high level of performance. It works differently from RAID 0 and 1, using striping (distributing small segments of data across a number of hard drives) and parity (a technique that allows data to be reconstructed from any drive in the system if it is lost).

The combination of striping and parity adds a high degree of fault tolerance to your system, meaning that it can still function effectively even in the face of multiple drive failures. Your data is copied and spread out among all the hard drives in the configuration, so the chance of experiencing a complete system failure eliminating all your files is much lower.

If an individual drive fails on a RAID 5 system, the system continues to run as normal, and notifies the system administrator that the drive in question needs to be replaced. If you do find yourself in this position, it's important to replace the faulty drive as soon as possible to maintain the integrity and performance of the system. Failure to replace the damaged drive and allow an additional hard drive to go offline will result in major data loss. At this point a professional data recovery service should be utilized.

No matter which level of RAID array you use, if you do experience a system failure, your best option for retrieving your files is to contact a data recovery professional who has the tools, knowledge and experience to repair your damaged hard drives and recover your files.


Fixing a Dropped External Hard Drive

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External hard drives are very susceptible to be damaged from being dropped simply because they sit in high traffic areas and they get knocked over or moved around often.  The internal moving parts of a hard drive are very sensitive, the slightest jolt can result in the liquid bearing seizing or more commonly the read/write heads suffer physical damage.  Hard drives that experience more severe shocks from being dropped from 2 to 4 feet onto a very hard surface can not only damage the bearing and or heads but also the platters can actually shift off center from the spindle.

To fix a hard drive that has been dropped is always a challenging recovery even for the data recovery specialist. The hard drive would need to be opened and rebuilt by a very experienced technician with special tools, replacement parts and techniques in a clean room environment. This is a mechanical breakdown, at this point there is nothing you can do yourself. There is no software that can help even though data recovery software companies will often mislead customers in order to sell their products. In fact running software can only make the external hard drive deteriorate further and you run an enormous risk of having a catastrophic failure and losing the data forever.

Ideally the best chance for recovery would be not to power up the external drive after dropping it. That would be living in a perfect would though, naturally 99% of us would at least attempt restart the drive once or twice.

A symptom that the liquid bearing is damaged would be the hard drive still spins up but makes a high pitched screeching or whirling sound. Example Screeching  If you don’t even hear the hard drive spinning up that would indicate the liquid bearing has completely seized. 

A symptom that the read/write heads are damaged or the platters have shifted off center would be an intermittent or rhythmic clicking sound. Example Clicking

Again, if you are reading this article most likely it means you already powered up the hard drive once or twice. It is best to leave the drive powered off until a data recovery professional can stabilize the hard drive and preserve as much data as possible. 


Hard Drive PCB Damage From a Power Surge

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Hard drives that have suffered a power surge will normally affect the printed circuit board (PCB) and stop the hard drive from spinning up. However, sometimes the power spike can be so powerful that it can damage the read/write heads and or, as seen in previous cases, heat up insulating materials so intensely that it can turn into a gas. Then it will quickly cool down and descend on the platters where your data is stored. This is still normally a recoverable situation for the data recovery specialist but because of all the bad advice all over the internet about self recovery techniques, success rates in this situation have fallen to about 20%.

The most common thing people try is simply swapping the damaged PCB with a new one. This makes sense to someone who has very basic knowledge about how a hard drive works. Unfortunately, this can complicate the issue and puts your data at significant risk. Have you ever heard the phrase “he knew just enough to be dangerous?”

Once you swap the PCB the drive is able to spin up and the read/write heads will get fouled by the debris on the platters. You have just opened up a whole new set of problems that will need to be addressed in the clean room. Note: Just because the hard drive spins up with a new PCB does not mean that the hard drive can now function properly. Please follow the link below for more information about the ROM chip and a clicking hard drive. 


Why Won't My Hard Drive Boot Up?

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There are endless possibilities why your hard drive is not booting up. But for the purpose of educating you here we can assume that the problem is one of the most common problems we see and that would be bad sectors. This is an elementary problem to fix for a data recovery professional due to the specialty tools that we make available to ourselves. “Imaging” a failing hard drive with bad sectors is the key to preserving valuable data in this situation. The machine that we use to image hard drives is a special combination of hardware and software that can copy data sector by sector and simultaneously move that data to a stable secondary hard drive.

Once a hard drive starts to develop bad sectors they can multiply at an alarming rate. This imaging process eliminates the possibility of data loss as the problem drive is deteriorating. If you suspect your hard drive has bad sectors and you do not have a backup now is not the time to panic. You should immediately power off the hard drive then assess how valuable the data is and weigh your options. If the data is critical to your business or you have irreplaceable pictures of your family etc. you should seek the help of a data recovery specialist to have the best chance of preserving your data. There are some low cost data recovery software solutions for some very simple cases however this does not ensure your data is safe. There is no imaging process and that puts the data at substantial risk. Please follow the link below to learn more about the perils of data recovery software.


Three Reasons a Hard Drive Will Not Spin Up

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There are 3 main reasons a hard drive will not spin up. Bad fluid bearing, bad motor, but the most common problem is the printed circuit board (PCB) may become damaged.

The liquid bearing and motor failures are internal problems that require the hard drive be completely taken apart and rebuilt with special tools by a well trained data recovery technician. This is a very challenging recovery for even top professionals. Never open your hard drive yourself as it will be contaminated by dust particles, static electricity and humidity. Data recovery specialists use a class 100 clean room to protect the platters from these pollutants.

PCB failures are among the most frequent problems. A common mistake that people make is that they simply try swapping the bad board with another board from a new and seemingly identical hard drive. We have heard of this working a very small percentage of the time, possibly as much as 1% however we are very skeptical about those claims. If the ROM chip hasn’t been removed from the damaged PCB and swapped to the new donor PCB it can make the drive start clicking. In short the clicking sound is the heads malfunctioning; instead of reading the media normally they just bounce back and forth making the “click of death”. When the heads malfunction like that it causes a vibration and because the heads are so close to the platters they make contact with each other. In the business we call that a head slap. It causes permanent data loss that cannot be undone. Swapping the ROM chip should only be left to the data recovery professional. Attempting to remove and replace the ROM chip with the wrong soldering equipment and improper technique will result in the destruction of the chip and complete data loss. 

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