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DRIVE RELIABILITY

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September 24, 2011 4:56:10 PM

I just had two WD1600AAJB drives, used for the OS in two different machines, go to numerous bad sectors. This caused aborted backups and CHDSK was unable to remap the data, so not only were the drives not something I'd want to rely on, but I lost nearly a weeks worth of data since the last backup. The WD drives were put into service in, respectively, November 2010 and March 2011 and replaced Seagate 200GB drives each of which had also lasted less than 12 months. S.M.A.R.T. attributes did not give any forewarning of any of the drives' failures. 80 GB Maxtor drives I bought back in the 1990s ran without problems until I wanted larger drives for XP Pro OS, which I did not move to until about 2006 - in other words, I got 10 years of service out of them. I have always kept all of my machines powered on 24/7 unless I have to reboot for software installation or updates. Are there any reasonably reliable internal desktop drives :(  made anymore? I am looking for a 160Gb to 250Gb drive to use for OS and applications, plus the relatively small data files which seem to function better if integrated into the related program files and will keep data files on larger separate drives.

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September 24, 2011 5:36:15 PM

I ain't impressed with newer HD reliability at all.
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September 24, 2011 6:24:15 PM

sminlal:
Thanks for the link.

It looks like the reliability is changing a lot from the previously reported numbers - those in parentheses ( ). From that small study, I'm leaning toward the Maxtor DiamondMax. But, then I had a run of bad experiences with Maxtor drives in the mid-oughts (2003 to 2006, after which I quit buying Maxtors). The whole drive thing is beginning to seem like a crapshoot to me at this point. I've had at least eight external drives which I've used for backups fail, (in)conveniently just about the time the drive I'm using them to "protect" failed.

I finally got a four bay HDD Raid system, but have no idea what kind of drives to put in it. At this point, I'm thinking I should just go with two different kinds of drives (neither one matching the drive I'm backing up), in non-matching pairs, each pair backing up the source drive in a RAID 1 array (so backing up two drives in a 4 bay), get more four bay Raid systems for each of my computers, in the hope that I will never have more than one of the two backups fail at the same time the source drive fails.

Actually, with all of the drive failures I've had over the past 5 or 6 years, I'm leaning toward keeping tons of paper and DVD copies of anything important to me. I'm so frustrated with the short life/"disposable" drives I've encountered in recent years and would gladly pay much more for truly reliable hard drives.
a c 415 G Storage
September 24, 2011 8:12:45 PM

VEK said:
I've had at least eight external drives which I've used for backups fail, (in)conveniently just about the time the drive I'm using them to "protect" failed.
That's pretty unusual unless you're using an awful lot of drives or you use them for more than 5 years - in which case you're getting up into range where they'll start failing due to age. I've used dozens of drives with my home computers over the last couple of decades and never had any of them fail. And the sometimes-quoted average average annual failure rate of around 5% seems pretty close to what I experienced as a datacenter administrator.

You might stop to ponder whether there's some environmental or handling issue that's causing your failures. If you live in a dry climate then static electricity can be a problem, especially for components that get handled a lot.
a b G Storage
September 24, 2011 10:12:42 PM

Any hard drive from any manufacturer can fail. WD overall probably has the best reliability rating. I base this on statistics of feedback I read on newegg.com. But they can and do fail also. You pay your money and you take your chances.

I have built/rebuilt 7 computers in the past 2.5 years, using a total of about a dozen WD drives. Just a few weeks ago one of the WD drives failed, or at least Windows gave some warning signs of an impending failure. That machine had two drives in it so I used Acronis to clone the OS into the second hard drive and the machine was back in business in about 15 minutes.

I recently needed to add a large drive to one of our machines so I researched feedback on newegg. The only 2TB drive they had that didn't have scary feedback was a Samsung so I bought one of those.

We have a Linux server that has been running for a long time and recently one of its drives started failing. We put in a new drive and restored our data from another backup. We didn't lose any data but it took a couple of days to get the server fixed and get all of the data restored.

We bought 4 new computers for our office in 2000, each with 2 hard drives. In the 4 years that we used those machines, 7 of the 8 hard drives failed.

I backup everything frequently, to multiple hard drives.

I've been interested in hard drive technology since I installed a hard drive in my floppy-drive based IBM PC. I remember at one time there were companies that would buy broken hard drives, repair them and sell them. They would buy BROKEN hard drives for $1 per MEGAbyte. Nowadays they are very much cheaper. That 2TB drive that I just bought cost 4 cents per Megabyte. That change in price and competition between manufacturers has probably caused them to manufacture drives that are just good enough to last for a few years.

The lesson is to backup your data. And the more important the data is to you the more you should back it up.
September 25, 2011 12:23:59 AM

sminlal:

Thank for your follow up assistance.

I run four desktop machines, each of which have 2 to 3 drives, and a laptop with one drive. All of the drives need to be backed up. I've installed additional air-conditioning in my home "office" to keep the temperature at 65 degrees, 24/7.

The "old" 80 GB Maxtor drives I bought in the mid 1990s (and used without benefit of supplemental air conditioning) lasted until they were too small for more recent OS (generally 10 years) . Drives I've bought since 2004 don't seem to be good for more than 18 months, with many of them dying within 6 months. The manufacturer's warranties are meaningless because they do not give me back lost data and I wouldn't begin to rely on the "refurbished" drive they provide as a warranty replacement.

My backup protocols have failed because the drives I have relied upon for backups have have been every bit as unreliable as the source drives. The lack of quality control and reliability in hard drives over the past 6 to 8 years is a travesty. It does not provide any protection to back up data if the drive you are backing up to is every bit as subject to failure as the source drive. It is time that manufacturers started focusing on long term reliability or, at the very least, being honest about how many months a user can reasonably rely on the integrity of a given drive.

Also, drive vendors should provide free (and guaranteed, to be 100% accurate), data recovery for any drive failure within 5 years of manufacture. Then we would all know to replace drives at 4 years (or, for those who want to push it, 4.5 years).

It does not do any good to back up data if the drive it's backed up on is a dodgy as the source drive. We need reliable drives, such as those which could be purchased in the 1990s.
September 25, 2011 12:55:12 AM

fyi, Seagate bought Maxtor a few years ago. I find WD drives to be the most reliable. Green drives have a 1 yr warranty, Blue has 3 yrs, and Black has 5 yrs (those are also known to be very high quality). I have a WD Black myself. I've had it for a year and a half under moderate usage.

Also, what is the drive temp? They say it doesn't matter TOO much, but extremes aren't good. And too cold is actually bad and can induce early failure - they are mechanical devices after all. I think 30-42C is a good range. Right now my WD is at 38C and my spare Samsung is at 33C, which I think is fine.
a c 415 G Storage
September 25, 2011 2:04:25 AM

VEK said:
It does not do any good to back up data if the drive it's backed up on is a dodgy as the source drive. We need reliable drives, such as those which could be purchased in the 1990s.
I'm still a bit puzzled as to why you're having such a problem with recent drives - my experience is the opposite.

Have you tried using "green" drives for your backups? They spin slower and don't generate as much heat, so common sense at least suggests that they may be less susceptible to the kinds of stresses that can cause issues for faster drives. This seems to be borne out by the article on reliability rates that I linked to above. And since for backups you're generally not sitting in front of the computer waiting for them to finish (at least I hope you're not!), their slower transfer rate probably aren't an issue.
September 25, 2011 2:46:56 AM

sminlal:

Thank you for your continuing followup and advice.

My drive backups run overnight, so I don't care how long it takes. I've tried "green" drives and they failed even earlier than others for me (I sort of think they may not be as robust, but am not sure?).

I've had the best luck, in recent years, with WD black - but they still don't last very long (12 to 18 months) before degrading.

My drive temps run from the mid 30s to the high 30s (C), even after being "on" for weeks at a time. I keep my "office" cold because it is not large and I run 3 desktops, plus printers, etc., in it. The networked server I run backups through is in another room and never runs above 38C, so that should not be an issue?

I'm OK with cloning and replacing drives every three years (or even every two), but I just need to have a clear idea of how often I can trust a drive (source or backup) to last. I am frustrated that there is no accurate information about drive life available. :( 
September 25, 2011 2:47:04 AM

sminlal:

Thank you for your continuing followup and advice.

My drive backups run overnight, so I don't care how long it takes. I've tried "green" drives and they failed even earlier than others for me (I sort of think they may not be as robust, but am not sure?).

I've had the best luck, in recent years, with WD black - but they still don't last very long (12 to 18 months) before degrading.

My drive temps run from the mid 30s to the high 30s (C), even after being "on" for weeks at a time. I keep my "office" cold because it is not large and I run 3 desktops, plus printers, etc., in it. The networked server I run backups through is in another room and never runs above 38C, so that should not be an issue?

I'm OK with cloning and replacing drives every three years (or even every two), but I just need to have a clear idea of how often I can trust a drive (source or backup) to last. I am frustrated that there is no accurate information about drive life available. :( 
a c 415 G Storage
September 25, 2011 2:56:31 AM

The Google Study on Hard Drive Reliability shows that the best temperature ranges seem to be in the 30-45C range, so the temperatures you're describing should be causing any issues.

Unfortunately predicting when a hard drive is going to die is a little like trying to predict when your car is going to break down - an inexact science at best. SMART data is supposed to shed a little light at what's going on under the covers, but there's not a whole lot of correlation between SMART events and actual failures.

Another possibility to consider is whether or not you're experiencing "real" failures. For example RAID controllers often "fail" drives when they take to long to do error recovery, even though the drive itself continues to operate just fine (see: this Wikipedia article). And I've found that USB connections are not particularly reliable - they sometimes drop the connection in mid-transfer and occasionally corrupt data with no visible indication. I've gotten to the point where I don't trust anything important that I've copied to a USB drive unless I checksum it first and then verify the checksum after the copy. I discover errors that cause me to re-copy the data perhaps once every 1-200 or so transfers (these are large transfers of several to hundreds of GB each)
September 25, 2011 2:59:47 AM

livebriand said:
fyi, Seagate bought Maxtor a few years ago. I find WD drives to be the most reliable. Green drives have a 1 yr warranty, Blue has 3 yrs, and Black has 5 yrs (those are also known to be very high quality). I have a WD Black myself. I've had it for a year and a half under moderate usage.

Also, what is the drive temp? They say it doesn't matter TOO much, but extremes aren't good. And too cold is actually bad and can induce early failure - they are mechanical devices after all. I think 30-42C is a good range. Right now my WD is at 38C and my spare Samsung is at 33C, which I think is fine.


Yes, I am aware that Seagate bought out Maxtor. That is when Maxtor quality tanked. I have several pre-Seagate Maxtor drives (all at least 12 years old) which are still humming along wonderfully - although at 80 GBs they are too small to use for OS & Apps.

All drives (source and backup) are running between 32C and 38C (once in a blue moon one will hit 39C), so that should not be an issue. Do you think I'd have any better luck with SSD? Except for 1 laptop (which never has anything important on it that's not copied on one or more of the other machines), all of my machines are desktops, so they don't get moved/bumped or otherwise abused, which seems to be the main issue between HHD and SSD.

I'd appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.
a c 415 G Storage
September 25, 2011 3:05:06 AM

VEK said:
Do you think I'd have any better luck with SSD?
I'm not sure that reliability is the best reason to buy an SSD. I swear by my Intel X25M G2 SSD, but I'm getting the impression from various posts that people are tending to have issues with some of the newer ones from other manufacturers (although I haven't followed them that closely). Not to mention the fact that they're quite expensive compared to hard drives.
September 25, 2011 3:12:38 AM

sminlal:

Thanks for the link to the Wikipedia article. It will help me as I move forward to my Raid 1 array backups - just finally got a four bay Raid system (and am obviously going to need four more of them). Until now, I've been backing up onto drives in, and externals attached to, a server in another part of my home.

September 25, 2011 3:24:53 AM

I accidentally "submitted" my reply before I was finished writing :(  .

Since I haven't been doing any Raid arrays before now, the TLER issues wouldn't have mattered in past backups.

I am thankful to have your advice to checksum and then verify the checksum on my copies and will follow it going forward.

I don't consider drives failed unless I either can not read from them in any machine or unless they have a good number of bad sectors which are incapable of being remapped and which preclude me from copying or backing up data.
September 25, 2011 3:33:23 AM

1877260,14,450409 said:
I'm not sure that reliability is the best reason to buy an SSD. I swear by my Intel X25M G2 SSD, but I'm getting the impression from various posts that people are tending to have issues with some of the newer ones from other manufacturers (although I haven't followed them that closely). Not to mention the fact that they're quite expensive compared to hard drives.[/quotemsg

If the SSD drives are actually more reliable over a period of years, I would be more than happy to pay a good bit more for them. What I've read indicates mixed thoughts about SSD reliability. What are your thoughts?
a c 415 G Storage
September 25, 2011 4:13:07 AM

I think SSDs are still pretty new for there to be enough real evidence about long-term reliability. I read something not too long ago (which I can't find at the moment) that suggests actual mechanical problems with hard drives are not the largest cause of failures, but rather connectors and component printed circuit connections also play a large role. If that's true then SSDs may not have quite as much better long-term reliability that some people expect. Still, I do expect them to be generally more reliable than hard drives.

However there are two technological limitations to SSD longevity. First is that the flash memory chips inside an SSD can only sustain a finite number of write cycles before they wear out. This means that there's a maximum limit to the amount of data you can write to an SSD. It's a big limit, one that will take many years for most people to reach - but it's definitely there.

The other issue is the fact that data is stored as a series of static charges which, like the static on a balloon, dissipate over time. This means that data, once stored on the SSD, will eventually "evaporate". This is completely independent of the number of writes done to the drive, except that retention times are shorter for cells that have sustained more writes. It's very hard to come by solid data on retention times, but the impression I have is that 10 years is considered normal. Based on that my own proclivities would be to re-write any critical data on an SSD after, say, 5 years to refresh it and avoid any retention issues.

From posts I've been reading the biggest issue with SSD reliability may be firmware issues. This isn't surprising since the wear leveling algorithms inside a drive are very complex. I think the way to mitigate that risk is to avoid buying a brand new drive. Wait until the end of a product cycle when all of the bugs have (hopefully) been worked out before you buy the drive, apply the latest firmware for it, and don't muck around with it from that point on.
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