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I tend to format and reinstall my operating system fairly frequently (about once a month). I apologize for my lack of technical terms, but I do not perform a "full format" (the type of formatting that zeros-out the existing data). Regardless, I know that most modern operating systems consume several GBs of data.

Is doing this particular damaging to my hard drives? Would it matter whether I'm using a solid state drive (I'm not)?

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Going to comment on a common misconception. 'Full Format' does not zero out the data in Windows. The only thing it does is perform a full chkdsk scan for bad sectors in addition to the normal format. –  Raymond Apr 6 '11 at 18:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Whether or not it is SSD, the more usage of a drive will reduce its life. However a format once a month isn't going to do much compared to any other program.

I'd suggest figuring out why you are formatting and reinstalling once a month and trying to solve that.

If you 'like' to format and reinstall, then think about using a disk imaging software such as Ghost, or install Windows 7, create a system image, and then restore from backup, save yourself some headache.

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I agree. There is no sane reason to format and reinstall once a month, even if its a solidly abused school lab machine. Ghost will minimize the strain on the drive as you will only need to change the drive state once (not each time you install a program after your fresh install). –  MaQleod Mar 13 '11 at 6:19

For both SSD and hard drives there is wear any time you write something. So technically reinstalling needlessly on a frequent basis increases the wear. At the same time many files on your system such as the register (for windows) as well as parts of your directory structure get rewritten many many more times (multiple times per day) so your reinstalling will not be critical for the life expectancy of your disk.

For SSD devices the controller does something called write levelling, trying to even out usage over the whole chip. (hard disks generally don't need this to this level) This especially reduces the impact of small frequent writes, as such frequent modification of large sections of disk has more of an impact. Even then it should not be significant. The cycle count for any physical block of flash is at least in the thousands. Reinstalling your OS every month for 5 years is just 60 cycles.

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If you are using a SSD, you are definitely shortening the lifespan. SSD drives have a finite write limit so the more writes you do, the quicker you burn out the drive. Still, if you have a good maker, it is mostly a theoretical limit. If you are using a cheap SSD, then it will cause issues at some point.

As to a normal spinning platter, you are dealing with a mechanical head movement so more moves of the head makes it wear faster. The flip side to that is that you really don't have many drives wear out due to mechanical faults. More often it is electronic circuitry faults. There may even be a benefit to constantly rewriting the information since information written once can eventually demagnetize and disappear - though again that is somewhat more of a theoretical issue.

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