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Can a hard drive become mecahnically old?

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July 1, 2007 7:40:34 AM

Hello chaps

My 4 year old Pentium 4 (2.4Ghz, 1Gb, GeForce 6600) was beginning to get really slow. It was 2 years since I last reformatted the hard drive, so I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Since reinstalling the essentials, the machine is quicker, but still nowhere near as quick as I remember it being when new (and full of rubbish trial software courtesy of Dell.) Apps still take a lot longer to load than I would like.

When I bought my PowerBook G4 laptop in October 2004, I always felt that it was slower at just about everything than the Dell PC. However, this is no longer the case.

Having said all this, I have no quantifiable information to back it up.

So my question is: Can a hard drive become mechanically old and slow over the years? This one has had quite a hard life. Or might there be some other reason for the slow down.

I'm pretty sure I'm not imagining it....it's not that I use computers at work and have gotten used to newer faster machines.

Any thoughts?

Regards
Gav

More about : hard drive mecahnically

July 1, 2007 8:15:29 AM

Most likely it's just your memory that is deceiving you. When you first got the computer it was an upgrade and thus seemed faster at everything. Now with your PC being outmoded it will seem slower than when you first got it but it's actually the same speed.

If you want to, you can run some tests on your drive and compare the access and load times with the manufacturer's specifications or benchmarks ran on that drive during its time.

Additionally, are you using more disk intensive applications than you were when you first got it? Without the same load as the initial it would be hard to determine if the drive is actually under-performing; unless it is extremely slow I doubt that there was any change in speed—merely what you consider being speedy has changed in the past four years.
July 1, 2007 9:00:19 AM

When the machine was new, wishful thinking made it appear fast. Now that you've seen faster machines at friends' or at work, you think your machine is now slow.

The other thing may be that you've upgraded some of your programs, and now are more resource heavy.

The hard drive will also be fuller of data now, compared to when it was new. (I'm talking about the data partitions, not the boot partition).

I've seen hard drives go very slow, but that's when they're very near their end and are continually retrying to read some bit which they can't. (The magnetism goes so weak).
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July 1, 2007 9:09:45 AM

have you checked the bios to see that the ram is running at full speed, also you may want to double check the AGP settings and the memory aperture size to make sure that its is correct.
Then again that system is starting to show its age.
July 1, 2007 9:32:12 AM

I agree with the other posters that it's more of your perception than anything

Also, programs are becoming more resource intensive than ever before, back in 2001 I bought a machine with xp that had 256mb ram, and that seemed like a ton to me, now I wouldn't put less than 2 gigs in a machine, modern programs would never run on 256.

Hard drives are mechanical devices and they do wear out, but you'd notice it more in noise and instability than slowdown...a 7200rpm drive will spin at 7200rpms no matter how old it is, and if it doesn't spin at that speed the data would corrupt. The actuator could in theory slow down but I've never heard of that happening and it's unlikely.
July 1, 2007 10:35:47 AM

Ive played COD2 on 256mb RAM and an athlon thunderbird @978mhz, it ran quite poorly, but it did run (that is with win XP). Loading times made you want to go and get a coffee and something to eat while you wait tho.
July 1, 2007 11:08:59 AM

Quote:
Additionally, are you using more disk intensive applications than you were when you first got it?


Not at the moment. It is essentially a very clean system, having been reformatted, patched, and then a minimal set of applications installed.

It's probably as you guys have said though; my perception of what is a fast machine must have changed over the years.

Which then brings one back to the upgrade cycle. ;)  I must say that it has done quite well, this system. Normally I find myself itching for an upgrade long before 4 years. Although saying that, new games have been off the agenda for a while now!

Would it be fair to say that this machine is a little past it as far as installing Vista is concerned?
July 1, 2007 11:10:30 AM

If you play games or do RAM heavy stuff, yes, otherwise it should be fine.
a b G Storage
July 1, 2007 12:50:16 PM

If you think it's slow now, load Vista and it will simply crawl.
July 1, 2007 2:00:11 PM

Quote:
Hello chaps

My 4 year old Pentium 4 (2.4Ghz, 1Gb, GeForce 6600) was beginning to get really slow. It was 2 years since I last reformatted the hard drive, so I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Since reinstalling the essentials, the machine is quicker, but still nowhere near as quick as I remember it being when new (and full of rubbish trial software courtesy of Dell.) Apps still take a lot longer to load than I would like.

When I bought my PowerBook G4 laptop in October 2004, I always felt that it was slower at just about everything than the Dell PC. However, this is no longer the case.

Having said all this, I have no quantifiable information to back it up.

So my question is: Can a hard drive become mechanically old and slow over the years? This one has had quite a hard life. Or might there be some other reason for the slow down.

I'm pretty sure I'm not imagining it....it's not that I use computers at work and have gotten used to newer faster machines.

Any thoughts?

Regards
Gav


When you reinstalled ,,did you zero the hdd??not having done any serious maintanence for 4 yrs will make quite a a mess of the magnetic surface,I usually ghost my primary partition store said ghost safley and then use either the manufactures software or spinrite to revitalize the surface of a given hdd as needed,results hdd runs like new again..Now then if you THINK that your hdd is getting slow,then find some hdd test utlis test same ,compare it to manufactures spec's or a review on the web just to be safe
you do not need your hdd crashing on you when you least expect it,,eh what??:) 
July 1, 2007 2:46:33 PM

Quote:
When you reinstalled ,,did you zero the hdd??


Don't really know what it means to zero the disk. Is that like doing a low-level format, or is that something different again?

In either case, the answer is no, I didn't. How do you create a ghost image of a drive?
July 1, 2007 3:41:34 PM

Quote:

So my question is: Can a hard drive become mechanically old and slow over the years? This one has had quite a hard life. Or might there be some other reason for the slow down.


Ok, I'm going to disagree with some of the posters. As one noted, "a 7200 rpm drive will spin at 7200 rom no matter how old it is". Well, not really. As a hard drive gets older, the bearings can start breaking down, gumming up, or otherwise cause problems and the drive can slow down. Further, the platters can start to warp, though if that happens, the drive is subject to failure in a short time without giving advance notice.

Despite the notion that the ideas that its slowing down only because your memory is bad or that modern systems are faster, well, your memory can be bad, but when it comes to hard drive performance, the rest of the system has little effect, if any, on the hard drive. A faster CPU will make programing operations faster, but will not affect transfer rates, read/write times, etc with the hard drive. Since you have cleaned the system, reformatted, patched and have a minimal set of applications of the drive, nothing should be there to cause a problem. Essentially, you have a fresh drive, same as a brand new one, unless age and mechanical problems have caused it to slow down. In my opinion, any hard drive older than 5 years should be viewed as suspect to mechanical failure. As madmurph pointed out in a Google study, older drives are subject to sudden failure.

Ok, it still may be just your memory, but it can be the drive. Since hard drives are fairly cheap, it may well be worth it to at least buy a new one and copy everything to that one and save it as a backup, just in case your present drive is getting ready to have a bearing freeze, platter warp, or something else that kills it and takes all your stored work with it.
July 1, 2007 6:08:11 PM

Quote:
Despite the notion that the ideas that its slowing down only because your memory is bad or that modern systems are faster, well, your memory can be bad, but when it comes to hard drive performance, the rest of the system has little effect, if any, on the hard drive.


We were referring to his memory, as in the recollection of thoughts in his mind, not RAM.
July 1, 2007 7:17:25 PM

Actually Dells do seem to slow up more. I've been building systems for close to 20 years and I do IT support for my department. I notice the Dell P4's have noticable increases in their hard drives access times after a while that reformatting and new OS installations do not seem to help. I have never liked the air flow in those systems and suspect the heat does cause more mechanical wear :twisted: , However alot of the machines I have serviced also have quite a collection of dust bunnies inside :wink: . As others have pointed out perception also has a dramatic effect so working with faster machines and using new versions of bloated software also causes a feeling of "slowness"
July 1, 2007 7:47:17 PM

Quote:
Despite the notion that the ideas that its slowing down only because your memory is bad or that modern systems are faster, well, your memory can be bad, but when it comes to hard drive performance, the rest of the system has little effect, if any, on the hard drive.


We were referring to his memory, as in the recollection of thoughts in his mind, not RAM.

Didn't realize that I said anything that refered to ram, but maybe the wording seemed like it. I was in fact refering to his memory as in the recollection of thoughts.

@tmouse, I agree with you completely in the reference to problems with Dell's I owned one once and it was a furnace. As troubles arose, I figured that the heat was cooking all the components. Twice I had to replace the hard drive on it and my guess was that the heat was affecting the bearings or otherwise causing trouble with the hard drive. I do know that I cleaned it often enough that there was no problem with dust bunnies. I also know that bloated software slows down operations a lot, but the OP said that he had cleaned and reformatted the hard drive, so I figured that bloatware wasn't the problem. It could be only in the memory of his mind, but it may be real. Know way to know that from this end.
July 2, 2007 12:53:01 AM

Quote:
My 4 year old Pentium 4 (2.4Ghz, 1Gb, GeForce 6600) was beginning to get really slow. It was 2 years since I last reformatted the hard drive, so I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Since reinstalling the essentials, the machine is quicker, but still nowhere near as quick as I remember it being when new (and full of rubbish trial software courtesy of Dell.) Apps still take a lot longer to load than I would like.


You also have to remember that 4 years ago, you were running Windows XP RTM (or maybe SP1), with only a few patches, an older anti-virus app, probably no spyware protection, no firewall, no spam filter, and 2003-era drivers and software.

Even though you have a "fresh" installation of Windows, look at what additional you now have running:

1. XP SP2 and probably about 50 post-SP2 patches. All of that extra code contributes to additional processing overhead over what you used to run.
2. A modern anti-virus application does much more under the hood than older ones did. It's now looking for rootkits & other malware in addition to plain jane viruses. This adds extra overhead.
3. You're probably running some type of spyware protection now, and it's background tasks are actively looking for malware.
4. You're now running some kind of firewall, which is inspecting and processing every network packet entering or leaving your machine.
5. You might be running a spam filter for your e-mail.
6. The newest drivers you installed with your most recent build do more than the older drivers. The video driver alone has much more code to implement DX9 APIs vice DX7 or 8.
7. Newer software applications, even something simple like Windows Media Player 11, have more background code to run that older versions.

The additional system overhead has pushed your 4-year old system beyond what it was originally designed to do. This is the same thing that people experienced in 2001-2002 when XP was first released. Many people thought it was bloated and slow, and went back to Windows 98 because it ran so much faster. The reason it ran faster is because it only did 1/3 of the things that XP did.

I doubt what you're experiencing has anything to do with the hard drive. Simply put, it's psychological from the impression of the machine you got when you first upgraded, plus now it's actually somewhat slower from the additional software and overhead you're running.

It's sad, but a P4 2.4GHz is no longer considered a fast machine - it's now average given the typical software load that people run.
July 2, 2007 2:28:33 AM

Hence the reason my anti-virus and spyware software is always disabled unless I run a scan, and I only use the windows firewall (not smart, but I little data of use to someone with ill intent).
July 2, 2007 7:14:25 AM

You make a very good point, SomeJoe. I hadn't really thought about the extra overheads from the updates to basic software.

As you say a 2.4Ghz P4 is old hat (and has been for some time really.) Pretty kick ass when I bought :) 

Perhaps time to start looking at an upgrade 8) I'm sure the local primary school can make excellent use of this machine.
July 2, 2007 7:48:36 AM

most HDD MFG's have some sort of test / repair software on their website. Get the one that's appropriate for your drive and see if it has an issue.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 9:37:03 AM

SomeJoe7777 is right. What has changed in the 2 years since you last formated?

RAM - if you still have the same amount and the BIOS is running it at the same speed then it could be bad. That won't make it run slow, that will crash your machine.

Hard Drive - yes they will physically slow a little over time, but not enough to notice, until errors start occuring. They may start to make strange noises and cause your system to become unstable. Fragmentation can cause your machnine to become 'less responsive' and that, I suspect, is why you reformated and reinstalled your OS. You don't have to be so extreme to try and revive a slowing OS. When you install / uninstall programmes etc 'debris' gets left behind like registry settings & directories.
Using a good registry / hard drive cleaning programme (even on a new install) followed by a defrag can boost system response and extend / negate the need to re-install.
July 2, 2007 9:39:09 AM

Quote:
RAM - if you still have the same amount and the BIOS is running it at the same speed then it could be bad. That won't make it run slow, that will crash your machine.

Please provide evidence as to why that is...

I have a 7 year old system with generic RAM that was running the same speed for 6 years and OC for 1 year. It's still going.
July 2, 2007 9:48:39 AM

??? I've not re-formatted in about a year, and don't know what you are on about.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 11:27:28 AM

You have a Dell desktop. They usually come with a recovery CD. Re-installing from a recovery disc is not the same as re-installing from the Windows product CDs. The recovery install will wipe the disk before copying an image of the install back to the drive.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 11:31:34 AM

I am not sure what you are asking for. Do you want proof that ram will not slow down due to age?
July 2, 2007 11:41:25 AM

Quote:
That won't make it run slow, that will crash your machine


Thats the part I have a problem with, that combined with the the BIOS running it at the same speed part.

EDIT: It wont necessarily do anything, there are many 10+ year old pcs running with no problems at all.
July 2, 2007 12:48:36 PM

In all these posts, I cant believe that someone hasnt suggested to check drivers.

In some cases (maybe not this one), a motherboard will have special drivers that you have to load to "enable" speed functions on the IDE or SATA controller and/or the northbridge/southbridge chipsets.

Also, could be that these drivers ARE loaded, but are a newer or older version of said drivers that do not perform as well as the origional drivers that were installed by Dell.

Just a thought.

--Shodar
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 1:43:42 PM

Maybe I could be clearer so here goes.

If the BIOS setting for your ram are the same before and after you noticed your PC running slower it won't be down to the rams speed decreasing due to age.

If the ram is set to run at 400mhz it will continue to run at 400mhz whether it's 2 days old or 10yrs.

However over time the ram may develop a fault. That won't make the ram run slower. That will cause the PC to lock up, BSOD or reboot itself.
July 2, 2007 2:15:52 PM

Quote:
You have a Dell desktop. They usually come with a recovery CD. Re-installing from a recovery disc is not the same as re-installing from the Windows product CDs. The recovery install will wipe the disk before copying an image of the install back to the drive.


Now you're confusing even me. I don't see where croc said he had a Dell desktop, much less reformatted it in any way. I see where tmouse wrote of working on Dells and that I had a Dell a few years ago, but nothing from croc that he had a Dell. Unless my eyes are getting very old and I'm missing something, of course.
July 2, 2007 2:57:23 PM

Finally! Somebody who understands the wonder that is Spinrite!!

Hooray Gibson Research!!
July 2, 2007 3:33:53 PM

Check to see what DMA mode your drives are running in.

It could be that your disk drivers did not get setup properly upon reinstall.
July 2, 2007 3:51:04 PM

I have never seen a hard-drive "too old". Even 10 year old drives.
Assuming you are not running a 24/7 shop:
Just do a full format every year or more (unless you never install software). Also every 5 years or so, do a low-level format. This just writes every sector with all "0"s. Some low-level programs also blocks out damaged sectors/tracks. If you drill a little hole in your drive, then sure it will mechanically fail from curruption of outside elements.

Some drives just die. Not much we can do about that.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 4:22:00 PM

The original OP said this....
Quote:
When I bought my PowerBook G4 laptop in October 2004, I always felt that it was slower at just about everything than the Dell PC. However, this is no longer the case.
July 2, 2007 4:28:58 PM

One thing to note... Windows XP SP2 gave us added security features and along with that came a nasty performance hit. You've got enough memory that it shouldn't be VERY noticeable, but SP2 is definitely slower than the earlier versions of XP. Perhaps that and your less-than-perfect memory is contributing to the difference.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 4:42:39 PM

Now your confusing the issue. I guess you mean the memory in his head and not on his motherboard. LOL.
July 2, 2007 4:47:46 PM

In addition to the HDD manufacturers' utilities, SpeedFan can also access the drives S.M.A.R.T utility and give you an idea of actual drive performance and comparisons.
July 2, 2007 5:22:59 PM

Quote:
Now your confusing the issue. I guess you mean the memory in his head and not on his motherboard. LOL.

Yep. I should have chosen my words more carefully.
July 2, 2007 6:30:08 PM

One thing i havent seen talked about causing old PCs to slow down is P4 thermal throttle. The intel stock heatsinks are poorly designed and after about a year or two can totally fill with dust. This continues until no air moves and results in high CPU temperatures and permanent throttle ( 1/6 the speed i think ). This was causing terrible performance in a friends PC until the issue appeared with overheating and reboots.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 8:25:02 PM

To TheRodent
That's a VERY valid point you make. If you are a gamer you would soon notice the frequent interuptions as the CPU throtles. As a general user doing word processing etc you would just notice pauses now and again which when the hard disk was loading data would make it seem that it was slower.
July 2, 2007 9:07:47 PM

Quote:
You have a Dell desktop. They usually come with a recovery CD. Re-installing from a recovery disc is not the same as re-installing from the Windows product CDs. The recovery install will wipe the disk before copying an image of the install back to the drive.


Dell desktop? Huh? I do have a Sony notebook, I use it on trips and vacations...
July 2, 2007 9:52:01 PM

Quote:
You have a Dell desktop. They usually come with a recovery CD. Re-installing from a recovery disc is not the same as re-installing from the Windows product CDs. The recovery install will wipe the disk before copying an image of the install back to the drive.


Dell desktop? Huh? I do have a Sony notebook, I use it on trips and vacations...

I don't know about you, but I'm loosing track of everything in this thread.

But trying to get back to the original subject, I found an old 3.1 gig hard drive in my closet. Does that qualify as being mechanically old? I think it came from a Windows 95 machine. Don't even know what's on it, or if it still woks at all.
July 2, 2007 10:03:03 PM

I'll give Major_Trouble the benefit of the doubt... The website database is messed up and mis-directs who he posts to.
July 2, 2007 10:33:58 PM

Quote:
I have never seen a hard-drive "too old". Even 10 year old drives.
Assuming you are not running a 24/7 shop:
Just do a full format every year or more (unless you never install software). Also every 5 years or so, do a low-level format. This just writes every sector with all "0"s. Some low-level programs also blocks out damaged sectors/tracks. If you drill a little hole in your drive, then sure it will mechanically fail from curruption of outside elements.

Some drives just die. Not much we can do about that.


I use SpinRite to refresh my drives data 1-2 times each year and have some near 10 year old drives that still work as well as the day I bought them.

#1 cuase of data not readable (without a hardware failure and most common issue) is the surface it is stored on is MOVEING from the position the HD's controller thinks it should be.
Just like GLASS the storage surface of the HD is not a true solid...it is a type of matter called a PLASMA.
The spinning moves it out from under the heads after awhile.

#1 cuase of HD -failure- problems is the HD's onboard controler.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 11:36:47 PM

Thank you. My comments in this thread have been about the OPs PC not anybody elses. I may have clicked reply on a person like yourself and Sailor but I have been refering to the OP. Sorry if I created a bit of confusion there.
a b G Storage
July 2, 2007 11:44:53 PM

I grabbed this from Wiki

Quote:
Platters are typically made using an aluminium or glass substrate. In disk manufacturing, a thin coating is deposited on both sides of the substrate, mostly by a vacuum deposition process called magnetron sputtering. The coating has a complex layered structure consisting of various metallic (mostly non-magnetic) alloys as underlayers optimized control of crystallographic orientation and grain size of the actual magnetic media layer on top of them, i.e. the film storing the bits of information. On top of it a protective carbon-based overcoat is deposited in the same sputtering process. In post-processing a nanometer thin polymeric lubricant layer is deposited on top of the sputtered structure by dipping the disk into a solvent solution, after which the disk is buffed by various processes to eliminate small defects and verified by a special sensor on a flying head for absence of any remaining asperities or other defects


It doesn't mention Plasma. Can you point me to the plasma hard drives?
July 2, 2007 11:56:54 PM

Unless your drive lived a previous life in a data center, I can guarantee you it has not led a hard life.

That said, consumer level drives can and do die occasionally and while they can technically slow down, I don't think it could get to the point where you'd notice before it started to have serious problems.

There is controller hardware on the drive that could be faulty and generating disk errors so the disk has to re read often. or there could actually be bad sectors.

Have you tried running scandisk to see if there aren't any bad sectors?
July 3, 2007 1:17:59 AM

Quote:
Thank you. My comments in this thread have been about the OPs PC not anybody elses. I may have clicked reply on a person like yourself and Sailor but I have been refering to the OP. Sorry if I created a bit of confusion there.


That's ok. I've contributed to confusion now and then myself. Usually my problem is not getting my thoughts clear enough as I type. Anyway, maybe its time we all have a beer and enjoy the small pleasures of life, rather than getting worked up over little things.
July 3, 2007 2:18:26 AM

[Reffering to original post]

Actually, a hard drive can become mechanically old. My old PC, which had barebones Windows XP on it, became slower and slower and slower recently (last 6 months). I found, after testing it, that the hard drive was SO outside of Spec's....... that the advisor from Seagate told me that it was slowly dying, and I should replace it immediately.

I haven't yet, but I did stop using the machine and tested my parents computer hard drive. It also was out of specs, though not nearly as much as my old PC's computer.

Bearings inside the drives slowly dry up, and that can cause excess heat that causes readability problems in the drives. I wish it wasn't like that, but it is. Once we have bearingless drives (I think the one in the notebook PC I am using is bearingless) we won't have this problem anymore.
July 3, 2007 8:49:03 AM

Quote:
[Reffering to original post]

Actually, a hard drive can become mechanically old. My old PC, which had barebones Windows XP on it, became slower and slower and slower recently (last 6 months). I found, after testing it, that the hard drive was SO outside of Spec's....... that the advisor from Seagate told me that it was slowly dying, and I should replace it immediately.

I haven't yet, but I did stop using the machine and tested my parents computer hard drive. It also was out of specs, though not nearly as much as my old PC's computer.

Bearings inside the drives slowly dry up, and that can cause excess heat that causes readability problems in the drives. I wish it wasn't like that, but it is. Once we have bearingless drives (I think the one in the notebook PC I am using is bearingless) we won't have this problem anymore.


They aren't supposed to do that. That isn't normal. You are describing a form of disk failure. The amount of performance reducing wear for normal use under normal circumstances is not supposed to be noticeable especially in the time frame he is referring to.

He either has as dying drive due to mechanical failure or abnormal wear, software errors or simply having a different standard for fast.

What he really needs to do is provide information regarding his drive's slow performance and he need to run a disk check utility. If all pass then most likely it's just the effect of seeing something again that initially impressed you several years ago then finding out it wasn't as great as you remembered.
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