According to Wikipedia, hard drive failures tend to follow a bathtub curve. Are there ways I can accelerate the time to failure (for the early failures), such that it would fail before I really "commit" to using the drive for storage? And, does this strategy actually make sense?
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The short version
It probably wouldn't matter. I'd rather run diagnostics over burning in . Even with a worst case scenario of 6% most drives won't die in their first year of operation.
The long version - with citations!
Backblaze seems to do this when putting drives in their pods. On the other hand, they use hundreds of drives in pods of 45, getting a roughly 5% failure rate per drive, going down to less than 1% on their current drives - relevant link here . Google on the other hand suggests the failure rate is between 2-6% per year.
You have one drive. It can fail at any point. Just start using it for big, less important stuff first (ironically, i love full system images for this, especially if you do them often. They're big, you can hurl them around as a chunk, and they allow for consistant read/write over time). Just use the drive for stuff thats already backed up or retrivable for the early part of the bell curve. You could also probably run a round of dban or some other full drive formatting tool if it makes you feel better. Benchmark it a few times. USE the drive as you normally would - The numbers just don't make an extended, planned burn in with personal data necessary in my opinion.
I would recommend periodically running smart tests periodically over benchmarking in that case.
Maybe you have two drives. One fails the other carries on. Backups are better than burnins ;)
On the other hand, with current drive prices up and unlikely to drop , cloud backup is cheap. Get a online backup thing. Its less than 20-30 dollars a month. Use the drive as you normally would. Hope it fails within the 3 year warranty or when its old and tired. Your data is safe, and hopefully by the time it dies, drive prices go down enough that you can shurg and restore.