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I have had a lot of external hard drives fail. I pretty much have to get a new hard drive every year. I have an inkling that it is because I have a lot of small files. I hoard all my files and i have about 200'000+ files with an average size of about 2-3mb. These files range from documents to images and the hd is used 80% for audio, video and image editing.

Edit: Most drives just stopped showing up in Windows and if they did they would require a format. Some once formatted would have faulty sectors and others would just switch off by themselves. I've only ever dropped one hard drive.

Could the number of files be hurting the longevity of my drives?

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I would guess that the drives are being damaged due to rough handling and vibration. And also possibly due to disconnecting the drive mid-transfer. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 9 '13 at 0:40
    
No. Drive life would be affected more by the physical handling of the drive. How much bumping, shaking and dropping has occurred to the HDDs, especially while it's powered up? HDDs are spec'd and tested for shock and vibration, but those are for one-time or short term (e.g. several hours) damage & survivability. Those specs and tests do not account for deterioration of the platter surface from accumulated damage from shock & vibration. –  sawdust Sep 9 '13 at 0:44

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My instinct is to say no here; But I think I have an inkling of what your problem might be.

  1. You file types, 80% for audio / video / editing. This suggests a lot of reading, writing, moving of files to the drive. Constant access reduces the life.
  2. External enclosures are generally meant to be cheap. They compete for the average consumer based on size (2TB for $79).
  3. Many of these enclosures have little or no cooling.

On 2 it makes sense that these are not the best drives, as I can often find the external drives for less than I could find a good internal drive of the same size, despite there being more parts and packaging for the OEM drives I buy.

I would venture, that if you bought an enclosure and a good internal hard drive for an enclosure you would see a longer life of your drives. Ideally find an enclosure that is either well vented or allows some sort of cooling option.

This might cost more but I think the ROI is worth it. Or something similar.

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An oft-mentioned Google study on HDDs found no "consistent pattern of higher failure rates for higher temper- ature drives or for those drives at higher utilization levels". This essentially refutes your points #1 and #3. –  sawdust Sep 9 '13 at 2:07
    
Ah, yes. The old counter-intuitive google article... But it opens with Surprisingly, we found that temperature and activity levels were much less correlated with drive failures than previously reported Also, worth noting is that: housed in professionally- managed datacenter facilities which means their high temp drives were likely cooler than the average room and significantly cooler than an enclosure... It is a great study, but I don't their findings are definite nor necessarily apply to very hot enclosures. –  AthomSfere Sep 9 '13 at 11:01

In my experience yes. I once had an internal hard drive that had a similar amount of files. It was rarely defragmented, so it had a lot more reading work to do. The hard drive barely ever seemed to come to rest and ultimately it failed in a peculiar way: While booting Windows it would blue screen due to reading errors. The amount of small files Windows had to read during start up caused the drive to give out. I hooked it up to another computer and was able to access it normally, but SMART indicated that it wasn't alright.

So excessive wear can kill your hard drive and it can occur if your drive has a lot of reading and writing to do. I assume you're using NTFS. This is a journaling file system that logs countless variables regarding each and every file. This of course increases the workload Windows puts on the drive and this workload increases the more files you have and use.

However, you weren't specific in how the other hard drives failed. There could have been a myriad of reasons. I had relatively new drives fail on me that barely ever had been used. So the advice given by the other users still apply. You can use tools like CrystalDiskMark to check your hard drive's temperature and SMART status. Make sure the hard drive is placed on a stable surface that isn't prone to vibrations and shocks, so preferably don't place it on the table you're working on. I also regularly power down my external drive if I know I won't have to access it for a longer period of time. No point in keeping it spinning and create heat for nothing.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that the build quality of hard drives seems to have been lower and lower with every generation. Basically all my newer drives I purchased in the last 3 years are dead by now, while all my older drives that have seen a lot more work still function. This is a well known problem and it is due to the fact that manufacturers try to offer huge drives for cheap prices. If money is no issue, you might want to spend an extra dime. Look for drives with long warranty times as those indicate trust of the manufacturer in its own drive. Stay away from those that only have a year or less of warranty. The safest bet would be to use SSDs though, as they at least don't have any mechanical parts that can fail and those are the main reasons why hard disks give out.

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