On the longevity of hard drives

By now, the fact that disk drives fail a lot more than the vendors say they should, and for different reasons than we used to think, should be old news. However, it’s been on my mind a lot lately, as in the last three months I’ve lost two drives, and a third is starting to fail. Coincidentally, all three are Maxtor DiamondMax 10 drives, one 150 GB and two 300 GB, all SATA150. They are all well within their design life (and warranty); they have all operated well within their environmental limits; there is no reason why three out of the six Maxtor drives I have should fail in such rapid succession, while all my Western Digital drives – some of them twice as old – are fine. In fact, I’ve never lost a Western Digital drive; on the other hand, all the IBM drives I’ve had are toast, as is the only Seagate I ever bought, a Barracuda that was pretty much DOA, though I misidentified the problem and let the disk lie on a shelf while the warranty ran out.

It’s not a huge sample – I’m not Google – but it sure doesn’t make we want to buy more Seagate drives (remember that Seagate own Maxtor, although they didn’t when I bought the drives).

It also makes me think about the disconnect between the advertised MTBF and the actual warranty. Remember that the MTBF is determined by engineers and marketeers, while the length of the warranty is decided by bean counters who above all want to make sure they don’t spend more money shipping replacements than they made selling the original drives. Long warranties help sales, but when your RMA rate exceeds your profit margin, your shareholders are going to come knocking on your door with torches and pitchforks.

So what I’m thinking here is, the engineers and marketeers are full of hot air (well, maybe not the engineers, but in my experience they tend to get overridden by the marketeers), but the bean counters probably know what they’re doing.

Still, numbers like these make you wonder. How much do you want to bet that the data sheets for these models all quote seven-digit MTBFs, or annualized return rates of less than 1%?

2 thoughts on “On the longevity of hard drives”

  1. As I read your litany of failed drives my eyes grew wider and wider in amazement. I am, admittedly, an unabashed advocate of the hard drive industry, and quaff greedily the kool-aid of the importance of data storage where HDDs currently reign as champion. Nor are my thoughts, as such, particularly objective, since I have made my living in that industry for over thirty years. Still, I want to declare that at present, in my SOHO set up and my home, there are nine hard drives happily chugging away. Without hesitation I can say that not once, in all of my years, have I encountered a personal hard drive failure. Two of the laptops we currently have in use are at least three years old and one of the desktops is four years old. The office server is two years old, and contains three large drives in a raid configuration. We save a lot of data, and perform backup on a decidedly boring and repetitive basis. With each file replicated at least once, we have a combined total of approximately 1.4 Tera Bytes under our care and feeding. Now I am knocking on wood, as I have not yet had the experience of cursing a hard drive or a hard drive maker. Nothing like my almost daily diatribe at Microsoft (currently wrestling with our first Vista installation and about to give up for now)or our bandwidth provider here in Malaysia, whose service is disrupted as frequently per week as Starbuck’s I can count in a two hour drive across the city. So I bid you better luck with your storage in the future, and suggest that you stick with WD as that maker’s products apparently fits your karma.

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