Hermetically Sealed Hard DrivesWell, there's one sure way to find out.  Drop it in a bucket of water and wait an hour.  If it is hermetically sealed, the drive won't leak any water inside.  If it isn't hermetically sealed, then it'll probably be full of water. 

No, really don't try this!  It will ruin your hard drive.  The short answer to the question "are hard drives hermetically sealed" is......
 
No, they are not typically hermetically sealed.  At least most drives are not, we'll discuss the few that are later in this article.  But first of let's discuss what "hermetically sealed" actually means as taken from Wikipedia:
A hermetic seal has the quality of being airtight. In common usage, the term often implies being impervious to gases.
By this definition, drives are not hermetically sealed.  They typically will allow a reasonable amount of air in and out of the drive housing.  This actually helps the drives to stabilize air pressure at differing elevations.

If a Hard Drive Gets Air Inside Will It Stop Working?

No, in fact your hard drive is already full of air and always has been.  The problem with opening hard drives has nothing to do with the air itself but rather with dust particles in the air.  You should never open a hard drive because, whether you realize it or not, the air in your home, office, garage, etc. is full of dust particles that can cause damage to a hard drive.  But that's a discussion for another article.

Hard drives are generally designed in such a way as to allow only a minimal amount of air exchange with the outside.  And this is done through seals that only allow in tiny amounts of air while keeping out larger dust and hair particles.  If you remove the PCB of a hard drive and look underneath you'll likely see a silver sticker covering a hole.  Usually this is where the air is able to seep in and out to keep the pressure inside the same as outside the drive.

Hard Drives that ARE Hermetically Sealed

Recently Western Digital began experimenting with filling drives with Helium to decrease air flow friction inside of their 6Tb and larger drives.  This allows them to now put up to 7 platters instead of 5 in a 3.5" form factor.  I'm not sure what kind of a nightmare this is going to mean for us in the data recovery business (might have to go out and buy some balloon filling equipment) but that remains to be seen.

These hard drives actually are hermetically sealed to keep the helium from leaking out, but you're not likely to have one in your computer yet since they just came out in the last few months.

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