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I have a few external hard disks (two 1.5 TB ones - with the same data on them for redundancy and two 3 TB ones - ditto) on which I have stored lots of photographs and home movies. I want to do a ask a couple of things:

  • Ensure that these disks do not break too quickly. I have heard that tests have shown that disks that get used either too often or seldom break quicker than those which get moderate use. Since these disks (especially the two 1.5 TB ones, which are now full) are seldom read from and written to, since they are only used for long term storage, how do I use them more often in order to ensure they live longer?

  • Is there any software that I can use to check the integrity of the disks and the data on the disks?

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1) Don't drop them. 2) Don't turn them off. – Daniel R Hicks Jul 5 '13 at 0:25
3) Keep them away from fire. – Coldblackice Jul 5 '13 at 18:33
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I am assuming from the drive sizes that you are talking about regular mechanical drives as opposed to SSD disks- so we can forget about the wear-levelling algorithm discussion.

Spinning up and down too often (aggressive power saving settings) on a hard drive can cause some additional wear. I have my drives set to never sleep, and they have been happy for many years on a system running 24/7.

Also, as long as you avoid the following, you are doing all you reasonably can:

  • bumping or jolting the PC while the drives are spinning (one of the worst things you can do to a mechanical HDD)
  • HARD shut downs (risk of a head crash if it doesn't have time to park properly)
  • Excessive heat. Touch the surface of the drives after they have been active for a few hours, and see what sort of equilibrium they reach. Mine used to run too hot, but I just put an extra case fan in front of them, and now they are barely warmer than room temperature.

You should ensure S.M.A.R.T. monitoring is enabled in the BIOS, so you have a good chance of getting an early warning if a drive failure is imminent.

You're doing the right thing by having a RAID 1 array if that data is valuable. Sooner or later one of those hard drives will fail, and you will be ready for it. Just be sure to swap out the dead drive quickly once the array is in a degraded state- and don't forget to backup the array to another location every once in a while.

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I don't have a fan in front of them or anything. What kind of fan do you suggest? Yes, they are mechanical drives. – Sachin Kainth Mar 1 '13 at 21:15
You might have good airflow across your drives and nothing to worry about, but in my case my "Cooler Master" case ironically has very poor airflow. I just installed a cheap $4 case fan (in front of the drives, acting as an intake rather than exhaust) to get the air moving and it made all the difference. If your drives run cold, then you don't have to worry about this at all, but if they get hot then bringing that temperature down will probably be the best thing you can do to increase their lifespan. – Austin ''Danger'' Powers Mar 1 '13 at 21:17
These are in some kind of external enclosure, so it may be difficult to put an additional fan inside of the enclosure. Even if you could fit it, there probably won't be a way to power the fans from the enclosure's power supply. In extreme cases a floor or desk fan could be employed. – John in Ohio Mar 1 '13 at 22:49
  1. Heat is a mortal enemy to all electronics. Well, extreme temperatures in general. So avoid any frosty freezes, too (although a simmering sauna of heat is a more likely scenario). Clean the dust off your drives (and other electronics), too, lest it become a nice, toasty-warm blanket for your little digital ones.

  2. Jarring movements/motion. Secure the drive to your case. And for the love of 1's and 0's, don't ever drop or jar your drives! (like leaning back in your office chair and accidentally Van-Damme-kicking your computer case, etc.)

  3. Spin-ups/Spin-downs. The greatest stresses (internally) come from the acceleration -- the spinning up and spinning down of the drive. The more the drive is powered on/off (spun-up/spun-down), the more wear and tear it does on the mechanics, and hence, the faster it ages. However, this isn't anything to be overly concerned about, as the drives are made to last past thousands and thousands of spin-ups/spin-downs.

It's always good measure to keep an eye on drives' SMART attributes. These are internal attributes (on the drive) which are used to signify drive aging or potential, approaching problems. There are a number of freeware programs to monitor these. I use one called CrystalDiskInfo (as I also use their drive benchmarking utility, too):

Another is ArgusMonitor. This one has the ability to actively monitor attributes and plot them on a graph over time.

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Can you name a tool that monitor's SMART attributes? This is the first time I've heard of these. – Sachin Kainth Mar 1 '13 at 21:34
You can't monitor the SMART attributes of a drive in an external enclosure unless it's by using a tool provided by the maker of the external enclosure. That would take direct access from your motherboard to the SATA interface. The external enclosure is just providing you with access to the disk's sectors, not native commands. – John in Ohio Mar 1 '13 at 22:41
Incidentally, were these drives attached to your motherboard, PassMark's DiskCheckup or the smartmontools suite are both examples of Windows apps that could be used to poke around in SMART. – John in Ohio Mar 1 '13 at 22:45
@JohninOhio I've had success monitoring SMART attributes for USB drives using Crystal Disk Info – Akash Mar 2 '13 at 10:20
I'm glad to see I'm wrong on this. Thanks guys! – John in Ohio Mar 3 '13 at 5:31

Seems chkdsk couldn't hurt from time to time, but there's usually manufacture specific tools that can at least predict imminent failure.

Here's a few of the more known disk manufacturers:

Still, what you really want to look at in buying future hard drives is Mean Time to Failure. Hope this helps.

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What diagnostics tools do Samsung drives have? – Sachin Kainth Mar 1 '13 at 21:16
I looks like Samsung and Seagate fall under the same house when it comes to hard drives: – hydroparadise Mar 1 '13 at 21:31
The diags referenced in this answer won't run against external drives; they require that the disks be connected to the motherboard. I've never seen those work when they targeted a disk located on a non-motherboard disk controller, much less an external drive. It would be nice, though. If he wants to break down the external enclosures and connect the disks to ports on a desktop motherboard to use those tools, that could work. He'd be raising the risk of static or harshness damage to the drive, though. – John in Ohio Mar 1 '13 at 22:16
@JohninOhio I just assumed that they were internal hard drives. Nice to point out though. – hydroparadise Mar 1 '13 at 22:29

Issue 1: Enhancing Lifespan

I would submit that the best way to get maximum lifespan out of these drives would be to only power them up a few times a month or year and thus have them spinning less than 200 hours per year. You could also keep stop/starts under 100 per year.

You could accomplish this by only powering up the device they're in when you're actively performing backups.

Properly securing the drives against noise/vibration/harshness is important and making sure that you or your service technicians / system builders have done a professional job of installing and mounting the drives is also an important concern.

Your drives could be hooked up to or downstream from a UPS and you should make sure that the alternating current feeding the UPS is coming from a properly grounded outlet. Check your UPS manual to see if it has lights or software management tools that can provide you with assurance that your AC is grounded.

Issue 2: Detecting Failed Disks

If possible, I would check with the manufacturer of the enclosure(s) that the drives are in to see if there are any software tools or indicator lights available that can be used to verify that no issues have been detected by any logic in the enclosure.

Aside from that, running CHKDSK periodically isn't a bad idea. There's no fool-proof method of predicting all impending drive failures, but CHKDSK certainly improves your odds.

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"I would submit that the best way to get maximum lifespan out of these drives would be to only power them up a few times a month or year and thus have them spinning less than 200 hours per year. You could also keep stop/starts under 100 per year." Of course- if he doesn't use them they will last longer! – Austin ''Danger'' Powers Mar 1 '13 at 21:53
There are plenty of end users who don't believe that. There is good reason to believe that he doesn't based on his post. He writes: "I have heard that tests have shown that disks that get used either too often or seldom break quicker than those which get moderate use." – John in Ohio Mar 1 '13 at 22:12
Sorry, I was being mildly sarcastic. These disks sound like they are in a RAID array (he talks about redundancy) so suggesting he doesn't use it so often is not helpful. It's like someone asking how to make their shoes last longer- and someone suggesting "wear them less often". – Austin ''Danger'' Powers Mar 1 '13 at 22:21
If, perhaps, that person has said "I have heard that tests have shown that shoes that get used either too often or seldom break quicker than those which get moderate use," then your point would stand. Common sense doesn't always apply when you're working on computers. – John in Ohio Mar 1 '13 at 22:38
Essentially he correct, though. You can't argue with rock solid logic. – Ярослав Рахматуллин Mar 2 '13 at 20:13

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