Studio M is about making, yes, but it’s also about unmaking. That is, it’s also about the art of disassembling things to find out how they work. Brian Little recently donated a salvaged laptop hard disk drive (HDD) to the cause. Let’s see what’s inside.
First, flip the drive over to expose the controller board. This board holds the circuitry that allows the computer to talk to the drive itself. Using a Phillips #000 screwdriver, remove the screws marked above in yellow. Some drive makers use threadlocker, so if you try this on your own, you may need to use a bit more torque then you think.
Lift the controller off and flip it over. The minimalist lower face conceals a complex set of circuits! Note the black plastic film over the drive mechanism itself. This film insulates the circuitry from contact with the drive’s metal housing. Removing it isn’t vital in the case, but in the interest of doing things completely, I did anyway.
Now flip the drive back over, and peel up the label. This particular drive has a total of seven Torx screws (sometimes called star-drive screws), counting the one hidden under the label. Remove all of them using the appropriate driver (usually a size 4 or 5). Side note: If you like tool trivia, Wikipedia has a surprisingly detailed article on Torx drive history and physics.
Once those screws are out, you should be able to lift off the top shell to expose the drive mechanism itself. This is where the magic happens.
After the top shell is removed, we get to see everything. The shiny metal drive platters are the most notable. They’re the biggest single component, usually mounted two or three to a spindle. This is where data is actually stored.
The drive’s read/write head assembly is the stack of tapered metal arms in the lower left of the picture. It’s tipped with magnetic heads, which it moves in a line over the spinning platters to read and write data by magnetizing and demagnetizing specific parts of the drive. At least, it used to. This one stopped doing so after several years of service, and thus the autopsy.
Now locate the top magnet of the actuator (lower left corner in this case). Drive actuators use a pair of strong neodymium-iron-boron magnets and a voice coil to move the read/write head assembly. Remove the screws holding the top magnet down, and pry the magnet up. Use a pair of needle nose pliers if it’s hard to get a grip.
Once the top magnet is removed, the copper voice coil and sliding mechanism of the drive head is exposed. The base of the arm holds the coil and sits in a groove that allows it to slide easily, so the head can freely move over the platters.
Rotate the read/write assembly off the platters, remove any remaining screws, then lift it out along with the attached printed circuit film and controller.
This leaves the platters and bottom actuator magnet in the housing.
Three screws hold that bottom magnet in place. Remove them and lift the magnet out. Now locate the screw in the center of the platter assembly’s hub. Unscrewing this and removing the hub ring and cover frees you up to lift the top platter off and see the bottom one.
Removing that last platter completes the job. The only remaining component is the spindle motor. These are typically sealed, and attached to the housing in a way that’s very difficult to undo. [Ed. -My attempts at removal ended when the drive’s aluminum bottom housing cracked.]