[README] Before You Buy A Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

Which make and model of hard drive should you buy, and how long can you expect a hard drive to last? These questions come up on a regular basis. Read on to get the latest scoop on hard drive reliability, from a company that has kept stats on tens of thousands of consumer hard drives...

Which Hard Drives Are Most Reliable?

A hard drive is a hard thing to lose. It holds all your data, often terabytes of family photos and video memories, important documents, software and e-books you've purchased, and that novel you’ve been working on for fifteen years. Even if you have current backup copies of everything (as you should), recovering from a hard drive crash can be a long, painful process. So you want a highly reliable, long-lived hard drive.

One of the best sources of hard drive reliability data I have come across is provided by cloud-storage provider BackBlaze. The company uses consumer-grade hard drives in capacities that many consumers use (4 to 10 TB). These are the same drives you can buy at Best Buy. So BackBlaze’s reliability statistics are relevant to consumers’ interests, and boy, does BackBlaze have a lot of statistics!

In 2014, BackBlaze boasted a herd of over 41,000 hard drives. In Q3 2017, that number had ballooned to 86,529. Together, they give BlackBlaze a total storage capacity of 400 petabytes; that’s 400,000 terabytes!

Hard Drive Reliability stats

BackBlaze has a curated mixture of drive manufacturers including Western Digital Corp. (WDC), Seagate, Toshiba, and HGST (formerly Hitachi, now a brand of WDC). The specific drive models range in capacity from 3 to 12 TB, with the vast majority of total drives falling in the 4 to 6 TB range.

It’s noteworthy that most of BackBlaze’s drives had an average age of less than 4 years as of September 30, 2017; about 80% were less than 3 years old. Only about 2500 drives, all 4 TB HGST DeskStar NAS 3TB (model HDS5C4040ALE630), were more than 4 years old on average. As a general rule, BackBlaze keeps drives in service until they show early signs of failure, so these age stats should provide a good clue of how long you can expect to keep a hard drive.

The warranty period offered on a drive provides an indirect look at how long the drive’s manufacturer expects it to last. Most consumer-grade drives have a 2 year warranty, while enterprise-grade versions of essentially identical drives may have 5 year warranties. Enterprise-grade drives also come with significantly bigger price tags, and features that may or may not matter to consumers.

Which Drives Are Performing Best?

The uniquely long life span of the HGST model HDS5C4040ALE630 is appealing; so is its price of $211 at Newegg and as low as $193 on Amazon. It spins at 7200 rpm; not the fastest these days, but much better than ancient 5400 rpm drives. It’s one drawback is relatively low 3TB capacity, but no multi-terabyte drive can be considered “small.”

Among 8 TB drives, the Seagate ST8000DM002 has the lowest annualized failure rate (1.10%) among 9879 units that BackBlaze owns. It’s going for $289 on Amazon, direct from Seagate. A more recent version of this drive, the ST8000DM004, goes for $273.

BackBlaze has a limited number of very young 10 and 12 TB drives. It’s too soon to report annualized failure rates, but the company chose Seagate for its venture into high-capacity drives. Specifically, BackBlaze is running the models ST10000NM0086 (10 TB) and ST12000NM0007 (12 TB), selling for $362 and $430, respectively.

BackBlaze offers a very candid, transparent discussion of its hard drive ecosystem here. I recommend that you give it a read, even if you're not in the market for a hard drive right now. You can even download the raw data on drive life and failure rates to slice and dice your own way, if you wish.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "[README] Before You Buy A Hard Drive"

Posted by:

clyde
08 Jan 2018

I back up every time there is a change auto and in RAID backup also do not trust a cloud no matter who has it

Clyde


Posted by:

Bryan
08 Jan 2018

A while ago I bought an external hard drive .Now when I go to use it ,it wants to delete what is already on it. Is this normal or am I missing an instruction??? 1 is a WD MY PASPORT 2 IS A 1 TERA BITE BOTH FROM STAPLES
Thank you
Bryan


Posted by:

bill
08 Jan 2018

"The warranty period offered on a drive provides an indirect look at how long the drive’s manufacturer expects it to last. Most consumer-grade drives have a 2 year warranty, while enterprise-grade versions of essentially identical drives may have 5 year warranties. Enterprise-grade drives also come with significantly bigger price tags, and features that may or may not matter to consumers."
The longer warranty period may also exist on an "essentially identical drive" with the same failure rate but be the "insurance" cost to the maker for the expense of replacing more drives in that period.
A comparison of the failure rates for the long vs short warranty versions of the "essentially identical" drives would be interesting.


Posted by:

bill
08 Jan 2018

Bryan: wanting to erase things before each use is not normal for a portable hard drive.
WHAT IS THE EXACT ERROR MESSAGE THAT YOU GET!
Kind of important information for anyone to help you without wild assumptions.


Posted by:

DaveM
08 Jan 2018

Bryan: your hard drive probably has an error on one of the sectors. Is the error message a small window that pops up telling you that this drive needs to be formatted? If so, close out the window (you may have to click the "X" and/or "cancel" several times. DON'T click on "format now"). Open the Properties for the drive and select the "Tools" tab. Under "Error-Checking" click on "Check Now" and the drive will be checked for errors and, hopefully, said errors will be fixed. This process can take awhile, so be patient. BTW, this problem can be caused by not using the "Safely Remove Hardware" function before physically disconnecting the drive. Always use the "eject" or "safely remove hardware" before you unplug the drive.


Posted by:

Robert Connors
08 Jan 2018

I have 7 hard drives connected to my computer, 3 internal and 4 external.

Internal Drives
---------------
WDC WD10EZEX-00BN5AO (1TB - Drive E:)
Hitachi HDS721010CLA630 (1TB Drive F:)
Samsung SSD 840 EVO (1TB Drives C: & J:)

External Drives
---------------
WD My Book 1235 USB (4TB - Drive G:)
Samsung Portable SSD T3 (500GB - Drive D:)
WD My Book 1230 USB (1TB - Drive H:)
Seagate Wireless Plus (2TB - Drive I:)

I also have a Seagate DVR 2TB Expander Drive connected to my Dish Hopper2 w/Sling receiver.

I own and operate a web hosting company (on a separate server) and use my Desktop PC for redundant backups of all my system data and customers' accounts (downloaded from my server nightly). Needless to say, I need reliable drives. In the past, I used to use Seagate drives entirely for my external storage because I used to be able to depend on them. That was in the old computing days. After 2 consecutive Seagate drives failed in a row, I switched to Western Digital as my primary source for disk drives.

All the drives I own are 1-2 years older than the desktop they are attached to (I purchased the Desktop in Jan 2016) except for the Hitachi which came with the PC. All my current drives, with the exception of the Samsung Portable SSD have performed flawlessly to date, some up to 4 years and counting. I have had occasional hiccups from the portable SSD drive but I attribute that to the constant switching of the drive from my desktop to other desktops/laptop when I am traveling which I do a few times a year, even though I use the Windows app that "ejects" the drive from the computer before actually removing it from the device it is connected to. Thankfully, Windows repairs any problems I have encountered (so far).

To monitor my drives, I use a free utility called CyrstalDiskInfo, which monitors the health of my drives and provides an estimate of each drive's lifespan. It uses S.M.A.R.T. technology to perform its magic (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.M.A.R.T.) It is a handy utility but I cannot atest to its reliability so far since none of my drives have failed. It shows that all my drives are in perfect health as of now. If one of them fail and CyrstalDiskInfo does not alert me to the pending failure before it happens, then I will stop using it. You can download it from https://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskInfo/index-e.html and find help at https://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskInfo/manual-en/.


Posted by:

Yes
08 Jan 2018

"ancient 5600 rpm drives" Don't you mean 5400 rpm? If not, name those drives.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, a typo, thanks.


Posted by:

Wes
08 Jan 2018

Your HD article was timely. I have two Western Digital (WD3000JS) 300G Dated 2006. They were removed from an older PC because both had blue screens that I previously could not overcome. I decided to removed the circuit board from each drive, cleaned the contacts and replaced the circuit board. I have a computer with a 1TB HD running Win10 OS. I connected one of the 300G drives as a secondary drive. I booted with Win 10 and I was able to retrieve files. I then disconnected my 1TB drive and used a boot CD and then continued to format and load Windows 10 on the 300G drives. My diag's indicates that both 300G drives are OK. Both drives are now operational. I use these extra drives for backup, image restoral and other trouble shooting ventures. A learning experience for me after reading your article and wondering if there can be life after the apparent death of a Hard Drive.


Posted by:

Perry
08 Jan 2018

I recently purchased a 2 TB external Seagate Ultra Slim drive for personal use with 2 laptops. One of the decisions consumers have to make is if the external drive will be connected to the computer or if they want it connected via their network to avoid plugging and unplugging the USB. The one I bought does not work as a network drive which is a little inconvenient, but for the price, was not too bad.


Posted by:

Yes
08 Jan 2018

In both of the 2 tables on the page you reference at backblaze, it is noteworthy that all of the 5 highest annualized failure rates are from Seagate.
This very much supports my own experience of hard drive failure rates over my ~25 years involvement.


Posted by:

JP
08 Jan 2018

Another typo: "Together, they give BlackBlaze a total storage capacity of 400 petabytes; that’s 400,000 terabytes!" -- Don't think that's supposed to be "BlackBlaze."


Posted by:

RandiO
08 Jan 2018

Mr. Rankin, thank you for an informative article.
If I am not mistaken: Recommended Hitachi HDS5C4040ALE630 (Model GST 5K4000) is a 5,900rpm drive, whereas Hitachi 7K4000 Model is the 7200rpm class offering. Not that normal users would appreciably notice this ~20% faster access and R/W times. But both are older PMR technology HDDs (circa ~2012).
Although warranty period (2 vs. 5years) maybe a good indication of reliability, the real MTBF hours (mean time between failures) is the parameter which dictates the warranty period and more importantly; the HDD reliability. Especially since the server grade HDD usage/reliability may not necessarily indicate longevity of same HDD in consumer applications. Server drives are continuously being read from (and written to (R/W)), are rarely turned off/on and are protected from environmental extremes (heat, shock, etc.) Periodically checking (and logging) the S.M.A.R.T. stats for determining the “health” of any drive will allow a user to decide when to replace it… in most situations (I’ve heard ~75% prediction accuracy, if one has the smarts to makes sense of S.M.A.R.T. stats!) Otherwise, the best money-bet would be to periodically backup/image your data elsewhere; with extra points for keeping your operating system drive away from your data drive.
IMHO: “Buy them by price, buy them by the bunch, back them up often!”


Posted by:

IanG
08 Jan 2018

I have 5 HDDs connected to my computer - one of which is the primary.

One of my external HDDs (a Seagate 500GB) is ten years old this year, and still going strong. I only turn my external drives on when actually backing up.


Posted by:

Therrito
08 Jan 2018

I'm a strong advocate for Western Digital hard drives. I've had the same 74g Raptor for C: drive since my first build 16 years ago and it's still running strong.


Posted by:

Steve
08 Jan 2018

Never had a drive bigger then 1tb because I don't need it, although for some reason I have 5. Two are only on when being used, unplugged otherwise. Had problems with seagates a lot, and always when they are my primary system drive.


Posted by:

RandiO
09 Jan 2018

@Therrito >> yeah, the VelociRaptors (at 15k rpm) were the bomb... after SCSI-320 bowed down to SATA. In the interim, I hope you have upped to a smallish (120GB) SSD for your OperatingSystem to get with the times! lol


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
09 Jan 2018

WOW - Awesome article, Bob!!!


I have an older Dell Optiplex 960, that was refurbished, cleaned up a bit and sold as a refurbished/Used desktop computer. I got a really good price on this desktop, $315 plus shipping, total a little under $340, it also came with a 6 month warranty. I have gotten desktop computers from this company since about 1997. I have been very pleased with their overall product and service. I have bought for both family and friends from them.


This computer has an Intel CPU working at 3.15GB, 8MB memory modules(4GB modules x2), 2 DVD R/W optical drives, 1TB WDC Hard Drive (year made about 2009) still going strong(!!!) and 6 USB 2.0 ports, 4 in front, 2 in back. I got this computer with integrated graphics on the motherboard, I did "replace" with an EVGA Graphics Card - G-Force 210. I know it was older, but that is what would fit with my motherboard's criteria. But getting the graphics card gave me a HDMI port and my monitor has 2 HDMI ports! I can get 1080p HD videos and watch my movies on VUDU in 1080p.


I was one happy camper when I saw that my "new" desktop had a WDC HDD. I have preferred WDC since I first started using computers. I had major issues with Seagate, back in 1997. Their HDs were not the greatest, at that time. I did have a WDC die after 3 months, but it was completely covered by its warranty and WDC honored it immediately. I believe the code was 250 and the Tech Support said, "Yep, that's a dead hard drive and not your fault at all!" In about 4 days, I got it's replacement and that puppy worked for years!!!

Lot of years learning what may or may not be best for your computer. You have to treat a desktop different from a Laptop. Yes, there are many similarities, but they are really 2 different kinds of computers. The Laptop is highly portable, but you must look at the time usage when not being plugged in to the battery charger, to evaluate how good it will be for you.


Laptops are truly great for the college student and traveling businessmen or women. What has really surprised me - There are some mighty fine Gaming Laptop computers!!! It really is much easier to carry a Laptop to a LAN party than a desktop, but have you seen the prices on those??? WOW they are really expensive!


I haven't had any experience with SSDs. I am waiting for the prices to come down some more for me to try them. I do know that they will be the next power HDs on the market and take over the field, like the SATA HDs did. }:O)


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