9 tips to extend the lifespan of your hard drive.

Have you ever wonder how long the average life expectancy of a hard drive is?

The average lifespan of an HDD hard drive is 3 – 5 years in regular use and usually comes with up to a 5-year warranty. SSD drives are a bit more complicated to find an average lifespan but come with warranties for up to 10 years. 

There are a few things you can do to make a hard drive last longer. In this article, we will take a look at why hard drives fail and how you can increase the life span.

Why do hard drives have a lifespan?

HDD hard drives are electro-mechanical devices that are subject to wear and tear. They have an expected lifespan of usability. SSD drives are electronic devices but are also subject to wear and tear and degradation of the storage mechanism. Basically the answer is entropy but there are lots of reasons your hard drive might stop working before it turns to dust.

Why do hard drives stop working?

Hard drives can stop working for a number of reasons, the mechanical parts can wear out, the electronic parts can degrade beyond use, faults during manufacture can bring about an early demise as well as damage from a whole host of possibilities from water damage to smoke damage. 

9 ways to prolong the life of a hard drive.

There is no way for sure to know how long a hard drive will keep on spinning for. But there are things to keep in mind when using your hard drive to make sure it has the best chance at survival.

1. Don’t use it – (all the time).

The average life of a hard drive is based on regular use. If the drive is for storage then it is likely to live a lot longer by virtue of the fact it spends most of its time tucked away. In effect, you can treat the average lifespan as operating hours and spread that out over a much longer time. I have a giant 256mb drive from college that still works 15 years later.

2. Use it.

If you do decide to store data on a hard drive and then not use it regularly but only when you want to retrieve files then it pays to load up the drive every 4 – 5 months to makes sure there are no errors and that all is well. This is particularly important with SSD’s due to the nature of how they store data. Essentially as a charge which is recharged each time you use it. Left for long enough the charge might have an opportunity to escape.

3. Use it after a trial period.

Most consumer electronics’ average life spans can be plotted as a bathtub curve on a graph as illustrated here.

By using the drive as a backup for an initial period of time, the lifespan of the drive will increase to a point. From there you can use the drive for a longer period with a higher amount of confidence in the drive, knowing that it is most likely to fail from old age.

4. Keep it cool.

Hard drives use magnetic film on a spinning disk to store data in binary represented by sequences created by changing the direction of magnetization on the ferromagnetic film. This film can be damaged by thermally induced magnetic instability, commonly known as the superparamagnetic limit. This risk is mitigated by manufacturers by coating the platters with two opposed magnetic layers that reinforce each other and are separated with a 3 atom thick nonmagnetic element called Ruthenium. 

Ok, enough of the nerdy stuff, the cooler your hard drive is the better it will operate. But take note of the word cool, not cold. Cold conditions have their own physical effects so don’t store your drives in a freezer! Just make sure they have good ventilation and are out of reach of other heat sources like radiators or sunlight. 

5. Keep it dry.

This sounds obvious but even humidity can play a factor here. water in itself isn’t hugely corrosive but the minerals in water are and humidity can carry those minerals. Corrosion reacts metals with oxygen into usual nonconductive compounds like copper oxide. That means less copper in your wires which means more resistance which means more likelihood of failure.

6. Use decent cables.

I remember getting my first car and buying brand new 6 x 9 speakers, plugging them in, and being very disappointed when the neighborhood watch didn’t complain. A college gave me two lengths of decent speaker cables and I had the curtain twitchers shaking their heads like nobodies business. Decent cables from reliable manufactures will not have corners cut, will be made from well-sourced materials, and will have good and strong connections. All of which decrease the chance of electrical failure.

7. Store your storage safely.

I have a drawer full of hard drives. I also have a toddler and since the discovery of how drawers operate the hard drive drawer/store has been moved to above adult head height. Accidents happen, floods, burst water pipes, mold, even too many burnt meals, there are a million ways for a hard drive that seems well stashed away to get damaged. Keep them in a sealed plastic container away from heat light and humidity and you will prolong the life dramatically.

8. Defragment it.

When your drives are fragmented it means that the data stored on them has become separated on the disk. Imagine trying to play a record but to get the whole song you had to skip the needle to different parts of the record manually. Defragmentation puts everything together so that the read/write head has to travel the least distance possible. This speeds things up and also prolongs the life of your drive by decreasing wear and tear.

Most modern operating systems will do this for you automatically but it is worth checking it is doing a good job from time to time.

9. Monitor it.

Modern hard drives have a lot of error reporting capabilities and will tell you if there is something wrong. It seems a shame that the days of maintaining goods are behind us and that it is so easy to just replace something but that’s the times we live in and hard drives are very hard to maintain. So monitor your drive well and if it looks like there is something a miss, investigate and troubleshoot it might be something that can be fixed if it is dealt with soon enough.

10. Mitigate risk.

Though this doesn’t technically prolong the life of a hard drive it will prolong the life of your data.

1. Back up! –  Back up your hard drives and consider using a raid setup for any vital data or similar setup to ensure you don’t lose any of those precious files!

2. Outsource – Back up to a cloud drive and let the provider worry about the life of their drives.

3. Consolidate data – transfer any data that isn’t regularly used to a storage drive that you can back up and keep in a safe place.

Conclusion.

A hard drive doesn’t come with an expiry date so the best we can hope to do is to give it the best chance at a long and fruitful existence. Take care of your drive and it will take care of your data. While you can expect a drive to be good for 3 – 5 years there is no guarantee so it is up to you to safeguard those files!