When Is My Hard Drive Going To Fail?

“When is my hard drive going to fail?” I have been asked this question over and over again by many users. There is not one simple answer to this; however, through years of experience I have developed a few guidelines and recommendations to help in determining if it is time to replace the hard drive. I hope that you find them useful.

Hard drive manufactures do a grave disservice to IT professionals with their Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) ratings. MTBF is the manufactures best guess based upon historical information as to how long your drive will last. MTBF make the issue of when drives will fail even more complex by providing a theoretical rating of their hard drives. It is common to see consumer hard drives rated in the 500,000 hour range. Now, there is only 8,760 hours in a year; so, a 500,000 hour drive would last me about 57 years! (Yea, right!!) Even if there was some way to simulate 57 years worth of usage on a new hard drive, does anyone actually believe that the technology in 60 years would work with the drive? These ratings from manufactures are so unrealistic that they are rendered almost useless. The only value that you can determine from the MTBF is that a drive that has a higher MTBF number typically is better and will last longer. However, this is not always the case.

So if the MTBF rating is “suspect” what does the consumer rely upon when selecting a hard drive? Look for the manufactures stated “Service Life” and “Warranty Length”. These are indicative of what the manufacture REALLY thinks of their drive. I would recommend that any consumer buy a hard disk with a stated service life of five years and a warranty of three years over one with a service life of three years and warranty of two years, even if the former has an MTBF of 300,000 hours and the latter one of 500,000 hours.

Be a smart consumer, do your research before you order your new hard drive. Hard drive manufactures provide data sheets and other technical information on their web sites. Do your research, make the comparisons, and make a good purchase decision. Your data will thank you!

Now that you know how to buy a good hard drive, you do not want to run that hard drive until it fails. As a matter of fact, you should get into the habit of replacing your hard drive periodically. Just as you have to replace the tires on your car and your filter in your air conditioner, you should also replace your hard drive. You don’t wait for a tire to blow out! You should not wait for your hard drive to fail!

There are three different types of drives that you should consider; laptop, desktop, and server. (Please note that the recommendations are for non-RAID systems. RAID changes this paradigm and is beyond the scope of this article)

Laptop drives should be replaced every 18-24 months.
Desktop drives every 36-40 months.
Server drives should be replaced every 48 months.

Replacing a drive is a very straight forward procedure, and there are numerous software products that will “clone” your old drive so that you do not have to reload all your software. While replacing your drives periodically will save your data, this procedure will not eliminate the need for a good backup system. In the real world, drive failures depend on many factors, including the operating conditions of the drive and how it is used. Unfortunately, luck is also a factor; so, keep those backups current!

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