Tech Blog


Why are all hard drives doomed to fail?


Described as spinning rust, most people see a hard drive as mundane; when actually despite being mass produced, they are extremely precisely manufactured and here are other facts about hard drives that turn the mundane in to the interesting.

The read and write heads fly very close to the surface – riding a thin air-cushion which is created by the rotation of the platters.

The read/write components are more effective the closer to the surface they fly so they only create the strength of the magnetic field required to read or write.

Hard drives are self-healing. Thanks to Error Correction Code, errors are found and corrected and severe failures detected by ECC cause the drive to re-home data.

The hard drive is dust sensitive, and often not hermetically sealed. This means that dust can enter the chamber where the data resides. They have dust collection pillows and the same air pressure that keeps the heads aloft prevents most of the dangerous dust landing.

They contain small quantities of rare metals without which they could not work.

With all of that technology, precision and ingenuity, surely they should last forever, right?

Well, no.

The reality is that all hard drives are destined to fail. Hard drives are rated for 10,000 hours of operation — approximately 3 years. That doesn’t count other factors that can significantly shorten its life.


Some of the external factors and common scenarios where you might have some control:

Poor power supply:
– If the power supply on the computer is dying, it can provide too little too much voltage and current to the hard drive
– An underpowered Power Supply Unit can cause internal brown-outs
– Unstable power to the computer. A power conditioner will iron out power spikes and the computer as a whole will benefit immensely

– Cold winter months, and a running heater makes a naturally hot place even hotter. Clogged fans or covered vents can cause heat to build up internally

– Sudden, violent collision of the head with the platter can damage the head and or the surface of the platter. Most drives are capable of sustaining a fall from about a metre, but don’t count on it
– Fumbling with the device while disconnecting it before the drive has spun down
– During transport


Factors where you have little or no control over:

– Manufacturing defects. Some manufacturers provide warranties for up to 2 years – but they won’t do data recovery for free.
– Water damage. If it can be recovered, consider yourself very lucky.
– Heavy usage – specifically heavy writing. Frequently update databases are a very good example of this usage pattern.


How do I tell if my hard drive is reaching end of life?

– Hard drives are rated for 10,000 hours of operation – so if your computer is more than 3 years old, it is time to think about whether it is time to replace the hard drive

– If you have noticed it going slower than usual

Other evidence:
– If you have to repair the drive using programs like check disk
– There is a diagnostic tool called S.M.A.R.T and it is embedded on the hard drive controller that may result in a Windows alert
– Disk errors in the Windows Event Logs
– Unusual noises


What to do about it?

Prevention is much faster and cheaper than the cure. If a drive is beginning to decline, now is the time to get the information off.

Invest in a backup solution, and remember to test it.

Mark Coleman
About Mark Coleman
Director of Brainworx Computer Services and the sub brands of Mailworx and Dataworx

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