When Will Your Hard Drive Stop Working?

Girl holding broken hard drive

When you purchase a new computer, you’re probably expecting it to last for a few years before having to replace it. But how long can you realistically expect it to last? Brian Beach, of Backblaze, writes that they’re researching the average life expectancy of hard drives so you can have realistic expectations for your devices.

  • Type of drives and usage

Before diving into the numbers of the study, it’s important to understand the hard drives being examined and how they’re being used. Backblaze tried using consumer-grade, internal hard drives, which would be the same as you would find in your PC. They ran into a shortage of these types of hard drives, however, so some are from external units. That could arguably alter some of the data found in their study, but considering there are more than 25-thousand drives involved, it likely won’t make that much difference.

Though the drives used are similar to what you’d find in your computer, they’re not used exactly the same way you use yours. Backblaze’s hard drives are kept spinning at all times. They’re used in data centers so there’s never any down time. So, their life expectancy is in time of use. If a hard drive is expected to “live” for four-years, that’s not four-years from purchase, but rather four-years of use, which in your PC could be closer to ten years from purchase.

  • Three phases of life

There are three distinct phases of a hard drive’s life. In the first phase, which is the first 18-months of life, five-percent of hard drives are expected to fail. These are mostly drives with a factory default that cause them to break.

In the second phase, which extends to the three-year mark, hard drives actually fail less. During this second phase, the average fail rate is only about 1.4-percent. In this phase, the factory defects have all been weeded out. The failures that are seen are attributed to random failures, which are freak accidents that can’t be planned for or avoided.

The third phase begins at the three-year mark and contains the highest failure rates. Up until year five, failures hover between about 10-percent and 18-percent. This is where Backblaze’s data ends. They’ve only been monitoring hard drives for four years, but speculation says year five marks another increase in failure rate.

  • How long will your drive last?

This research seems to suggest that any hard drive you purchase has a chance of breaking at any time, with the chances increasing significantly after three years. That’s true, but overall 80-percent of hard drives last for at least four years. An informed estimation is that at least half of hard drives will survive for six years.

Remember that this is referring to time of constant use. If you’re fortunate enough to buy a hard drive that will last more than six years of use, you’ll likely have no problems with it before you’re ready to buy another computer.

The threat of a hard drive failing is constant, however. One in five won’t make it to year four. Unfortunately, there’s no user practices that can extend the life of your hard drive. It’s just blind luck whether yours lasts or doesn’t, assuming you aren’t being unnecessarily hard on it. That underscores the importance of backing-up your files. Given that your hard drive could fail at any time, using your hard drive as a storage option isn’t as reliable as you might think. Instead, be sure to explore other storage options before your hard drive crashes so you’re not left with nothing.

Geek Rescue offers a number of storage options and we also fix hard drives. We’ll recover lost data and get you back up and running in no time. Bring your broken devices in to on of your locations or call us at 918-369-4335 today.

November 12th, 2013