A computer is made up of several components that interact with each other, so when troubleshooting an issue with the motherboard you may find yourself looking at a hard drive asking, did you do this?
Though extremely rare it is possible for a hard drive to kill a motherboard if it has an electrical fault or serious virus. There are a few ways to safely test a hard drive that you suspect to be at fault.
Let’s look at the steps you should take to check if a hard drive is the root of your problems.
How to check if a hard drive is causing damage to the motherboard.
Firstly let’s say right here that this is unlikely so make sure that you go through rigorous troubleshooting to establish the hard drive as a prime suspect.
You will need:
- old working laptop
- USB to SATA adapter
- (optional) USB hub
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This is a safe way to do this without the risk of further damage to your main computer. It is advisable to use a laptop because the battery can work as a mini UPS to make sure the power supply to the peripherals is constant and that not too much current can be drawn from the power supply. Bear in mind that if your hard drive is killing the motherboard of your computer it might do the same thing to your laptop which is why I recommend digging that one out of the closet.
1. Firstly power off the damaged computer and remove the power source and battery if it is a laptop.
2. Remove the hard drive from the computer. This will vary for almost every computer but essentially you need to remove the casing panels and unscrew the hard drive, then disconnect the data cables.
3. Visually check the hard drive for signs of damage and the terminals for signs of scorching on both the hard drive and the motherboard.
4. Fire up your tester laptop and make sure autorun is disabled. To do this hit the windows key and click the settings icon. Select devices and then select autoplay on the left-hand side, then deactivate it. For older versions of windows, the process is similar but a quick google search will show you how.
5. Install a good antivirus. Avira has a free version that will suffice.
5. Plug in the USB hub. This step is optional but it does add a point of failure between the hard drive and the motherboard should an electrical fault be at play. It will be a lot cheaper to replace!
6. Plug in the USB to SATA adapter to the drive and to the mains.
At this point, you will know whether it is a hardware failure. The drive will work or it won’t and worst case it will fry the adapter or the hub. Or worst worst it will send a surge to the laptop. If anything looks out of the ordinary unplug it immediately.
If the drive shows up as a drive with the correct volume name then immediately scan it using a good antivirus before opening anything.
Electrical faults can happen and I have written about them before. (can a hard drive catch fire?) So be very cautious and if any doubt send it to a specialist.
Does a damaged HDD affect the motherboard?
A damaged hard drive can cause serious damage to a motherboard if the damage has caused an electrical fault. However, damage that has only caused data corruption or damage to the platters will have no effect on the motherboard.
How can a hard drive kill motherboard?
There are a few ways this could happen. I have read about different examples though none of the anecdotal evidence I found had been backed up with any evidence or forensics so these are somewhat theoretical but have some substance. I have narrowed down the liekyl candidates to an Electrical Fault, Viruses, Heat damage and
Hard drives, specifically 3.5″ HDDs are powered directly from the PSU. They consist of several components and parts that require different amounts of power. The circuit boards use 5v, while the motors use 12v. Typically 2.5″ HDDs and SSDs only use the 5v rail.
An electrical fault, particularly in a 3.5″ hard drive could cause a short that could send 12v through the 5v circuit. This is highly unlikely because these boards are designed with fail-safes and circuitry that couldn’t carry 12v. But it is possible and could do extensive damage to a motherboard if 12v was sent back through the data cable or the 5v rail.
I personally think this is unlikely but it is possible. The types of viruses that could do this are typically expensive and therefore are highly targeted. So unless you have some top secret stuff on your computer this probably isn’t going to be your issue.
A virus can’t physically destroy the motherboard or the hard drive but can infect the bios of both and be used to take control of your system. A virus could disable your motherboard by completely corrupting the bios tho.
The virus could be hidden away attached to a file on your hard drive that loads in the background when you open the file and attaches itself to the bios. I’m not an expert in these things but I know it is possible. The only problem is that for this type of attack the hacker needs to know exactly what components your PC is built from, all the parts, and the exact bios version and operating system. Which makes it a highly targeted attack.
Motherboards can be damaged by excess heat, and I know you’re wondering what that could have to do with hard drives but hard drives are one of the most overlooked components when it comes to ventilation. A badly designed case with a stack of hard drives could definitely generate enough heat for things to start failing, why do you think server farms are usually found in the arctic? In theory, they could generate enough heat in the right conditions to affect a motherboard.
Ok, maybe just maybe I’m clutching at straws here but… let’s say for example your PSU is faulty and is sending voltage spikes to the HDD, an HDD that is dangerously close to the motherboard, and that you happened to of dropped two minutes before you put it in. Ok, that’s a lot of stars needing to align but say it happened and the hard drive shorted out to the casing and sent a shock to the motherboard. That could do it.
I know, I know, it’s unlikely but you have to admit it is possible and there are other ways that scenario could play out, and if you subscribe to string theory then it has happened somewhere even if not in this universe, in fact, it happened to me while writing this very article in a universe somewhere. I was hoping it might be this one as I was writing that but alas, not this universe but somewhere out there is a Francis looking incredulously at his PC right now.