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Is a fan recommended for a an external harddrive case and does it significantly prolong the life of the harddrive? Does the answer change for slower harddrives (5200RPM)?

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In my experience a metal case designed for heat dissipation is as efficient as one with a fan, and cheaper. –  harrymc Dec 5 '10 at 17:46
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3 Answers

Due to varations is "ambient" room tempertures and the enclosure itself, having a fan allows greater stability in its use. It's true that a metal case will allow some heat dissaption but that not enough for the long run and HDs do fail in standard system cases with all its fans. Heat is now the most common killer of a HD, so all methods to reduce heat is good news. The cost of a fan is hardly large so for the added security I would say it was well worth it.

However not all fan assisted cooling cases make the best use of heat dissipation technologies. This post describes two problems that can be encountered.
Whether a fan can help or not depends on how the enclosure is designed.

It also depends on not only the enclosure material (e.g. aluminum), but HOW the drive is mechanically connected to the enclosure.

I have one well known 3.5" aluminum enclosure that incorporates TWO fans, and it is virtually useless at keeping the drive cool. Here's why.

1) The 2 fans are mounted at the front, and draw air in from the front with NO venting from the case at all. NONE. So there is no air flow over the disk drive. In addition, the fans are mounted at such an angle, that even if there were venting, the air volume would be substantially diminished. They are mounted at an almost 60 degree angle off vertical, and because they are mounted so close to the disk drive, there's little clearance for the air flow even if there were vents.

2) While the case is aluminum, the disk drive itself is mounted onto a PLASTIC frame, which virtually isolates the drive from the aluminum from a thermal standpoint. The benefit of having a metal enclosure is almost totally lost by the manufacturer using the non-thermally conductive plastic mounting frame. Yes, there is going to be some heat dissipation due to transfer of heat in the air between the drive and the case, but it would be substantially improved by providing a means to thermally couple the drive's metal case/heatsink to the enclosure's metal case.

I wasted $35 thinking I was getting an enclosure with superior heat dissipating features...only to find it was actually vastly inferior. It was essentially equivalent to a non-fan equipped, plastic, unvented enclosure. It was like an oven.

Text modified very slightly but taken from here

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I don't think anyone has done a reputable study, but my opinion is a enclosure with a fan will dissipate more heat, resulting in a longer life for the drive, so no the answer is the same for 5400rpm. I have some old Maxtor 10-20gb 5400rpm drives that refuse to die under any circumstance, I also have a Quantum "Big Foot" 5.25 inch hard drive, a classic, still works like a champ.

External enclosures with fans are all I use when I build my own external hard drive solutions, the one non fan retail Seagate enclosure that I own died earlier this year, luckily it was under warranty. I also look for the enclosure with the psu inside the case, no power brick.

All my home built external drives with fans are still running today, one is a 300gb IDE, if that gives an indication of the age. Heat is a killer of all electronics. I like my external drives I build to be big, square, ugly, a little bit noisy and work for a long time.

Yes there are crappy enclosures with fans that do not perform their function, do your homework before purchase.

I like these enclosures, high quality with great engineering, good support. I own the MS2UT. They can be found other places at discounted prices.

http://www.sansdigital.com/mobilestor/index.php

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It really comes down to whether the drive in the case is operating within it's thermal limits. Usually you can find that at the vendor's site. Run the drive for an hour or so, then open up the case and feel it or read the temperature with a probe if you have one. Yes, slower drives tend to use less power, but newer faster drives tend to use less power than older slower drives so it really depends.

Anecdote: Years ago I had one of those 75GB Hitachi drives that built the "Deathstar" reputation. It started generating errors, so I opened up the box to replace the drive. As I went to pull it out, I felt that it was quite hot, say around 120 degrees F. The vendor site said the upper limit was around 100F. I had some uncovered drive bays, so I covered those up and restarted the computer. After running it for a while, I checked the temperature again and this time it was cool to the touch. The drive ran for several more years after that with no problems.

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It helps if the drive is SMART capable (most are now), and you have temperature monitoring software like SpeedFan. –  Synetech Jun 19 '11 at 0:36
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