Reviewed by Mitch Impey
A few weeks ago I volunteered to do a review of the HddSurgery tools as I have been fascinated with the mechanics of hard drives since I started working with computers over 25 years ago.
I received a well wrapped package containing the ramp sets along with three test hard drives. Despite owning dozens of hard drives, none are defective, so HDD Surgery kindly sent me three drives to practice on.
The ramp sets are inside a solid block of wood, the lid is milled out of this solid block of wood and secured in all four corners with a magnet as shown below.
Figure 1 – the sturdy wooden shipping box
Eight pairs of ramp sets for Samsung and Toshiba 2.5 inch drives were inside the box. Initially, I wondered why each ramp set was paired and then I quickly realized that it is so you can remove the drive heads from both the host and donor drives at the same time.
Each ramp tool is individually stamped with an identifying mark. Three pairs for SAMSUNG (models S2, S3, MP S2) and five pairs for TOSHIBA (models MQ T1, MQ T2, MQ T3, MK T2, MK T3)
Marketing Manager Miloš Gizdovski explained that the MQ and MK are designed for two specific Toshiba hard drive models. The “T1” indicates that the ramp set is for hard drives with one platter, “T2” is for hard drives with two platters, while T3 is for hard drives with three platters.
Figure 2 – the ramp sets are clearly displayed for easy selection
All the ramp sets are made of machine milled aluminum so that they do not become magnetized as that would be a problem due to their proximity to the hard drive heads.
Figure 3 – Toshiba MQ T1, T2 and T3 hard drive combs showing the number of “teeth”
So let's get started
I did not receive any other tools or instructions from HddSurgery. The instruction manual is a video that provides clear step by step guidance on how to perform a head swap for a specific type of hard drive.
As I was given two TOSHIBA MQ drives to work on, the right video is here.
The video shows the entire head swapping process from start to finish, with clearly defined steps. However, as I later found out, the video assumes that you have all the right equipment to perform the head swap and have done so before. If you were doing this professionally, you would be working in a clean room or using a laminar flow cabinet. For this review, we were using defective hard drives so that was not needed.
Normally, a hard drive repair workbench is required to secure the hard drives while the delicate process of head swapping takes place. Instead, I used a hobby vise with articulated plastic jaws to hold the hard drive for the tricky part where you undo the screw from the bottom of the hard drive chassis while holding the actuator arms in the ramp with the other hand.
At a minimum, you must have the appropriate type and size of screwdrivers, long nosed tweezers and pliers. Natural light and sufficient room to work are also required, along with an antistatic pad and wrist strap. I also found that a large lighted loop or magnifying glass was very helpful.
Required steps to swap out heads from one drive to another
Following the video on the link above, I wrote down the steps with my comments as I repeated the same steps on the Toshiba hard drive I was given to practice on.
Step 1 – prepare the hard drive for head replacement by removing the screws on the printed circuit board (pcb) and then remove the pcb from the hard drive. Since the pcb components are sensitive to static, it is obvious that your work area is properly grounded and you are wearing a wrist strap. Interestingly enough, this is not mentioned in the video or in any of the other videos I have seen on the internet. My assumption is that this is one of the elements built in to every clean room environment, like antistatic flooring.
Underneath the pcb there is a screw that is holding the head assembly of the drive, loosen it just a little bit and then tighten it again. This is important and you will see why when you come to remove the heads later in step 7.
Flip the hard drive over (label side up) and peel off the hard drive label with a sharp thin bladed hobby knife and then remove all of the screws and open the hard drive up. This was not needed on my drive as the label did not conceal any access screws.
Figure 4 – I remove the six screws from the underside of the Toshiba hard drive that allowed me to remove the pcb and a black insulating layer between the hard drive and the pcb.
Figure 5 – flip the hard drive over and remove those screws
Then I placed the drive label side up and removed the six screws around the edges of the hard drive and one screw located just left of center in the bottom third of the drive.
Figure 6 – screws out, remove the cover
Now you can remove the hard drive cover, revealing the drive mechanism and hard drive platters within.
All fine so far, no super powers required for this step.
Step 2 – release the flat cable connector, remove the two screws.
Check, I removed the two screws on the aluminum block that the cable connector is attached too. This gets removed later on with the heads and armatures.
Step 3 – mounting the tool on the actuator arm – this is where things got a little bit tricky due to my vast experience with swapping head assemblies.
HddSurgery sent me two Toshiba 2.5 inch drives that started with MQ 01, so I thought that I should use the MQ T1 ramp set. But this was not the right set, I knew I had the right tools, I just had to look at it a while to puzzle it out.
Later, Miloš confirmed that you have to use the set that corresponds to the number of platters found inside the hard drive.
Once you notice this, there is no way to use the wrong set as shown below.
Figure 7 – there is only one ramp with the correct security pin distance as shown above.
Figure 8 – place the ramp into position; push in the safety pin to secure the heads with the ramp tool.
Initially, I expected the ramp set to cradle all the actuator arms, but due to the small distance from the last actuator arm and the hard drive chassis, the last actuator arm rests on the underside of the ramp. This is not a concern as there is no read write head mounted on the bottom of the actuator arm.
Step 4 – dismounting the magnet – there are two screws securing the top plate, the magnet is quite strong and use of needle-nose pliers is recommended.
Step 5 – removing the security brake.
Figure 9 – this is a small black plastic piece in the area shown above. This is another piece that requires removal with a pair of tweezers.
Figure 10 – hard drive brake removed
So far so good, now we are on step 6, where we slide the heads off of the ramp tool. This is just as easy as it appears in the video.
Step 7 – now we remove the screw that holds the head arm and dismounting the heads.
The head arm screw is located on the “bottom” of the drive, where the pcb is located. We have already loosened it as part of step 1 and it becomes clear why this is needed. Right now the drive is mounted in the vise and it makes the process a lot easier now that this screw is only finger tight.
Figure 11 – manual dexterity required!
Despite having the hard drive in the vice, I wish I had a hard drive bench to perform this delicate task.
Figure 12 – grab the tool and arm with a pair of tweezers and loosen the screw until it comes apart.
Figure 13 – we have lift off… 🙂
Figure 14 – the drive with the head components removed.
Figure 15 -congratulations to myself, I have removed the head assembly 🙂
Then I reversed all of the above mentioned steps and rebuilt the drive.
Figure 16 – everything back in place prior to replacing the hard drive cover
I was impressed at how easy the head replacement went once the process was explained and I gained understanding of the ramp set tools provided. My review showed it is possible for an unskilled person to perform a hard dive head swap when provided with the right tools and support. This is where HddSurgery proves their value by combining high quality tools with excellent instructional videos and support.
Not that I would recommend you do it yourself, I would always use a company specializing in data recovery ! 🙂