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Reliable notebook hard drives?

Last response: in Storage
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November 22, 2009 12:53:03 AM

When AppleCare coverage for my MacBook Pro is over, I'm thinking I'd like to upgrade the hard drive. I'd like more speed and more capacity. Solid State drives look nice, but they're either way too expensive or not larger capacity.

So I'm looking at mechanical drives. The top rates 320 to 500GB drives on Newegg are:
- WD3200BEKT -- 320GB 7200 RPM
- WD3200BEVT -- 320GB 5400 RPM
- WD5000BEVT -- 500GB 5400 RPM

Samsung also has a 500GB 7200 RPM drive, but the reliability appears to be much worse.

In general, what I'm finding is that in general, these drives suffer from the following problems:
- Higher than reasonable failure rate, usually within the first year, but lots of DOAs
- Strange noises and freezes that appear to be a known problem that WD has never fixed in OEM and retail drives
- High bad sector counts out of the box
- Excessive heat
- Excessive (and audible) vibration
- Lousy customer service, and very long turn-around time on RMA from WD (same is true for Samsung)
- Compatibility problems, especially with Linux and Macs.

Also, I've looked at how ratings have changed over time, to see if these manufacturers have improved things since they came on the market. If they were fixing bugs and improving their manufacturing process, then you'd expect the more recent reviews to generally be better than the older ones. But this doesn't seem to be the case.

If you look at the best case, given the reviews, 83% of people who buy one of these drives and report their experience on Newegg report a flawless experience, which means that there's a 17% failure rate. (Many of the four-star and three-star ratings are from people who had to RMA their first drive with Newegg, who provided a quick turn-around, and the replacement was good.) A 17% failure rate is very high. And moreover, although retailers like Newegg are good with customer service, once you're out of the first 30 days, you have to deal with the original manufacturers, and they treat their customers very poorly.

So this is my question: Is it possible to get a notebook hard drive that works well, doesn't create excessive heat, doesn't vibrate, is compatible with a Mac, isn't overly expensive, will last for a reasonable length of time, and has a high probability of not failing within the first few months? Does anyone make good quality hard drives anymore?

It seems to me that the answer is to buy two so that when the first one fails, you have a spare while the first one is out on RMA. Isn't that kinda sad?
a b G Storage
November 22, 2009 2:03:13 AM

There's not a 17% failure rate. People who have a good experience are less likely to report than people who have a failure.
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a b G Storage
November 22, 2009 2:44:13 AM

In my time as a Newegg customer (back in the day when they only shipped FedEx, anyone else remember that??), I've written two product reviews, neither of which about a DOA / defective part. I've got over 35 orders, with over 100 different parts.

The failure rate is more like around 1-3%. With the way things are made with bajillions of ridiculously tiny parts, something is bound to mess up in some of the products, and there isn't really a cost-effective way to catch all of them before they're shipped out. Then you've got the shipping to the distributor, then the shipping from them to the end user, which it's a miracle that ANYTHING survives that!

Then there's system incompatibilities that most people aren't aware of, there's people that really don't know what they're doing, and then there's outside influences, like moisture and static.

There's any number of things that could go wrong, and most people will initially just blame the product, and write a review saying how it doesn't work. :) 

The 500GB WD is probably gonna be your best bet. Its average read and write speeds are a bit better than the 320GB 7200RPM drive (thanks to a higher areal density rather than rotational speed), plus its power consumption is a bit lower.

EDIT:

BTW, take a look at the 2.5" HDD charts here on Tom's: http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/2009-2.5-mobile-hard-drive-charts/benchmarks-2,53.html
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November 22, 2009 12:57:20 PM

Thanks for the replies.

One thing I'm still concerned about are the problems that even the relatively satisfied customers are having. It seems that the clicking/freezing problem is due to a firmware bug that WD has yet to put into OEM drives (there's an update, but only available to Dell customers running Windows). And then there, the heat. Apple notebook products are already very poor when it comes to ventilation, so I'm not sure how wise it is to add a small furnace.
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