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I'm having some drives that seems to die soon. Doesn't feel like I have had them that long, so starting to wonder if I could have done something to make them last longer.

So, what are some good advice to make your hard drive last as long as possible?

  • I assume keeping them cool is a good idea?
  • Should I try to prevent the OS from turning them off when they are idle? What makes them wear out the most? Running for long periods of times or starting and stopping a lot?
  • Should I make the OS defrag the hard drives rarely rather than often to prevent unnecessary wear?
  • Is there a kind of hard drive (brand, line, model) that generally have a longer lifespan than others?
  • Or?
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There's a lot of advice dispensed on the topic. Very little of it is backed by evidence. Google's study on disk failures seems to be the only study that's based on a statistically significant sample of consumer drives.

Keeping disks cool is a common recommendation — “everyone knows” that heat is bad for computer parts. However, one of the results of the Google study is that

Surprisingly, we found that temperature and activity levels were much less correlated with drive failures than previously reported.

Very hot disks apparently fail more than merely warm disks, but cool disks even more so. (Maybe humidity is a contributing factor.) However, you're unlikely to reach the more failure-prone cool temperatures (<30°C) outside of a datacenter.

One piece of the “conventional wisdom” about disk failures that is corroborated by the study is that older disks are more prone to failures. On the other hand, the data does not conclusively show that using a disk more intensely increases the probability of failure.

I think I've heard “I'm not buying any other brand” and “I'll never buy this brand again” about every brand of hard disk. My feeling is that everyone generalizes on one or two anecdotes and any remark about brand reliability should be ignored. There may be good and bad models, or more likely good and bad manufacturing runs; but recommendations based on these would have a useful life measured in weeks, months at most.

<added> The data recovery firm Storelab has published a breakdown of the disks that have been submitted to them by brand. Non-Russian-speakers may prefer to read the writeup at Tom's Hardware. It shows a marked difference between market shares and failure numbers. I don't know how much observation bias there is (in particular the market share figures seem to be global, whereas the failure numbers are localized). </added>

I don't see how defragmenting would affect the reliability of the drive. It does have the advantage of reading every data block, revealing any error, so it's indirectly useful as a data consistency verification.

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How do you make your hard drive last as long as possible?

  • Don't drop them.
  • Excessive vibration is bad while the drive is active. This increases the probability of the drive heads impacting and thus scratching up the platters. When a drive is off and the heads are in the parked position, vibration isn't likely to damage a drive.
  • Frequent spin up / spin down cycles add wear & tear to the drive through the heating and cooling process. Remember, HDDs are mechanical. The most stressful points of a HDD's life are those spin up and spin down cycles.

As for SSDs, they're only limited by the number of write cycles they can perform on each cell in their flash memory. Theoretically, SSDs can last many, many years longer than HDDs since there are no moving parts.

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1  
In theory SSDs should last longer but now that MLC types have been in the field for some time people are beginning to report some amazingly high failure rates, and particularly ungraceful ones too. –  barrymac Mar 1 '12 at 14:49
    
Tip about reducing vibrations : I hang my drives with elastic bands so they don't touch the metal structure. not only does it drasticly reduce noise, but almost annihilates vibrations inside. –  Kwaio Sep 9 '13 at 8:18

Assuming the drives are in your computer and you aren't referring to external hard disk drives:

For your first question - keeping cool - yes it is very important for your entire system. I've seen cases with failed fans get the hard drives so hot you can't hold them. Needless to say, those drives failed. I don't recommend forcibly cooling the system (say by putting an air conditioner in front of it) since that may cause condensation and hot/cold cycling problems. Just keep the system inside clean to allow for good airflow.

As far as spinup/spindown, I can't see it matters much. After all, the most reliable drives are usually those in servers or other systems that are running 24x7x365. I doubt that the spindle motor is likely to be a major problem. More likely is that the electronics will fail - whether turning the entire system off/on has been a flamewar forever - I'd say leave power savings on and allow it to spindown the drives and turn on power savings for your system in general - take your savings from less electrical use and buy another drive for backup.

As for defragging - this practice is becoming less and less important as access speed increases. Unless you spend lots of time fetching data, I'd not worry about it at all.

As for make/model... I'd say look at the warranty. Basic economics would tell you that drive manufacturers warranty their drive for as little time as they can get away with. If they warrant the drive for 2 years or 5 years, they usually expect that most of their drives won't fail in that timeframe, otherwise they get stuck with RMA's. So, I would tend to believe that drives with short warranties are dicier than those with long warranties.

Lastly, keep the drive and system off the desk to reduce vibration from your keyboarding/mousing/pounding and dropping things on the desk. Elevate it off the floor a couple of inches to reduce dust sucking into it. Don't use the computer as a footrest or kick it.

Lastly - drives DON'T last - backup - preferably both locally and offsite.

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defragging doesn't help make a drive last longer. All that does is keep the data better organized. –  Force Flow Sep 16 '10 at 0:57

There is a great Google study with a lot of data, which is probably the single objective information source on the matter.

Interesting tidbits:

  • failure rates are higher for temperatures above 40°C, but only for drives older than 3 years
  • it is not true that colder is always better; drives require certain operating temperature and the study indeed found that failure rates are higher for drives colder than 30°C
  • most drives fail young, so when you buy a new drive stress-test it

Also, from what I gather elsewhere and from my experience, spinning up the drive is probably the most stressful operation and most drives fail at that moment. So if that makes sense for you, don't spin down the drive and don't turn off the computer; except for laptops where I guess it's more important to save battery then disk.

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The cooler the better for hard drives, I've put malfunctioning drives in the freezer (wrapped well of course) in order to get a few last pieces of data off of them before they die. Most drives are resilient as far as starting and stopping these days, but using the motor less is probably best, let the OS turn them off. Defragging regularly is important, not just once in a while, it keeps the motor from working as hard. I have not encountered any brad that is "better", everyone will give you different answers, but buying server grade drives is always better, though it will cost you more.

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+1. I had a smart a** response, "don't use it as much", but I have to admit, @MaQleod has a much better answer. Cooling is a real key. I will do some research on "server grade". Thanks. –  Xavierjazz Sep 15 '10 at 22:47
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Actually, cool hard disks fail more! It's possible that running a disk too cool is bad in the long term but helps in the short term with a dying disk. –  Gilles Sep 15 '10 at 23:28
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The freezer trick only works under certain situations. –  Force Flow Sep 16 '10 at 0:53

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