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A few days ago I started getting the famous "Spinning Beach Balls" when read/writing to disk on my Mac (this isn't really a Mac specific question but it will refer to Mac tools, FWIW). In any case I used Scannerz ( to test the drive and it found about 4 bad sectors and about 15 weak sectors on the drive. This is a 2009 MacBook, but I got it in early 2010, so it's really only about 3 years old.

I had just updated to Mountain Lion 10.8.3, so I thought maybe this was a Mountain Lion bug. I thought I would cross check this by running Scannerz on two external FireWire drives I have. One is 10 years old, and it's an ACom-Data clunker. The other is about 6 years old and it's a Maxtor One-Touch with both USB/FireWire interfaces.

The 10 year old clunker was used when I had an old iBook. The drive inside that iBook was only about 15 or 20G (don't remember exactly) so I added this drive to get more storage. I would use the iBook as a desktop computer by plugging in an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and set the clunker drive as the boot drive. Those old, internal drives were notoriously slow back in those days. I literally used this drive about 4-5 hours a day for about 3 years. I then got a PPC Mac Mini and continued to use it continuously. A few years later I used it when I got an Intel Mac Mini. At this point I needed a bigger drive and got the Maxtor. I figure the thing had about 6-7 years continuous use on it.

I likewise used the Maxtor with the Intel Mini as a boot drive because the mini I got only had 80G on it and the Maxtor had 360G. This drive is still in use, but during the last 5 months it's been relegated to backup only.

I figured the 160G drive on my MacBook was newer and would last longer, so I dumped all critical stuff onto it. My work hours per unit have consistently been about the same on all units.

Like I said, when I started having problems with the drive on the MacBook, I did a comparison test on the two external drives thinking surely it was an OS problem or maybe Scannerz wasn't compatible with the latest release of Mountain Lion.

Here are my results using Scannerz on all the drives:

  • 2.5 inch drive fails with several bad and weak sectors
  • ACom Data "Clunker" drive passes with flying colors
  • Maxtor passes with flying colors.

I had run Xbench on the 2.5" vs. the Maxtor and decided to use the 2.5" drive as the main drive because it was faster. Unfortunately, speed doesn't mean much if the drive doesn't work.

Both the Maxtor and the Acom Data (clunker) use 3.5" drives. I know for a fact the Acom Data drive is an IDE because I read the stats on it a long time ago. I assume the Maxtor has a SATA in it's enclosure.

In any case, are 2.5" drives inherently less reliable than 3.5" drives. When I fired up the Acom Data clunker, I was actually amazed it even fired up. I was even more amazed that after all these years and all time I used it, Scannerz found no problems at all with it. Acom data doesn't even exist as a company any more!!! Likewise, I expected the Maxtor to show at least some signs or problems, but there weren't any.

Was this just bad luck, or is the life span of 2.5" drives worse than 3.5" drives.


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closed as not constructive by Karan, Tog, Nifle, Dave M, 8088 Mar 19 '13 at 16:10

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The only people that could answer that for you would probably be the manufacturers. Common sense would imply the 3.5" drives would outlast the 2.5" drives for the following reasons:

  1. The case material is stronger.
  2. They're typically installed in larger spaces with better ventilation.
  3. They typically not mobile and are thus subject to less shock and vibration.

With that said, we have a small pile of 10G, 15G, and 20G drives taken out of iBooks - mostly from iBooks suffering from the ball-grid array failure in the video chip. The drives are old, slow, and ide, but the vast majority of them have been problem free. Slow, but problem free.

The 2.5 vs. 3.5 reliability could likely not only vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but aslo model to model within one manufacturers product line.

A drive failing after 3-4 years isn't all that uncommon.

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4 bad sectors isn't ANYTHING to worry about after 3 years dude, that's literally 2kb of space... each drive contains "spare" sectors to replace damaged ones with.

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Hundreds of spare sectors? Sorry, but it depends entirely on the brand of HD. The Western Digitals I have have 140 spare blocks, my Seagates have 36, the Hitachi 2.5" drive I put in my MBP had 9. – NSGod Mar 17 '13 at 4:49
Oh, I just remembered from reading years ago that a drive had over a hundred spares, sorry about that. – MarcusJ Mar 17 '13 at 11:54

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