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External Hard Drives - Advice, tips etc to prevent loss of data?
dead zone
post Dec 31 2009, 01:37
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I'm sure probably every one of us is in the same boat. We've all got many gigabytes of valuable data (in my case, archived mp3's, wav files and flacs) backed up to external hard drives. Some of us have never lost any data due to a hard drive failure, while some, ahem, myself, have had some sort of hard drive issue and lost weeks or months worth of archiving.

So, I would think this thread could be of interest to many on this forum.

Do you guys have any advice on how to prevent an external hard drive failure?

Any sort of tips or tricks or general hard drive maintenance info?

Do you defragment or run any sorts of scans etc?

Or, do you just transfer over your data and hope for the best?

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Hengest
post Dec 31 2009, 03:11
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Well, I'd suggest that you avoid letting the drives spin down constantly as this can place a lot of stress on the drive. Allowing the drive to constantly run should increase the lifespan compared to constantly spinning it up and down. See here for some information about a study Google did with regards to hard disk failures (though keep in mind that the research wasn't done on USB drives).

Beyond this, I don't think there's much you can do beyond having a good backup strategy. As a rule of thumb for myself, I make sure I always buy drives in sets of two: one for normal use, and the other as a backup of the first.


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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Dec 31 2009, 13:36
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QUOTE (dead zone @ Dec 30 2009, 19:37) *
I'm sure probably every one of us is in the same boat. We've all got many gigabytes of valuable data (in my case, archived mp3's, wav files and flacs) backed up to external hard drives. Some of us have never lost any data due to a hard drive failure, while some, ahem, myself, have had some sort of hard drive issue and lost weeks or months worth of archiving.

So, I would think this thread could be of interest to many on this forum.

Do you guys have any advice on how to prevent an external hard drive failure?


There is no such thing, other than the obvious such keeping them cool and dry and don't subject them to shock.

Rule number one of hard drive data integrity is:

*********Plan for the hard drive to fail, and have a plan B (and maybe C and D) in place when the inevitable happens.**********

Plan B could be one or more hard drives with the identical same contents. But no matter what the fundamental is having the same data on some other media, even if its another hard drive.

Ideally plan B would put some of the back media off-site, at least a few miles away. Your hard drive doesn't have to fail for internal reasons. There can be a lightning stike, a fire or a flood. Those are all potentially building-wide events that will take out every piece of media in the house. Rule of thumb is that if you lose two copies of something that are like 25 or miles apart, whatever happened that is is this global may have you so occupied with it that you may never worry about the data again. Other than that, if you lose the data you will probably suffer from a profound sense of loss.


QUOTE
Do you defragment or run any sorts of scans etc?


Ironically, defragging and scans arguably shorten the drive's life by putting such an unusually heavy workload on it.

That, and running backups themselves. The only sort of backup that doesn't inherently stress drives are RAID arrays, and if you have to rebuld one of them, you just put a world of stress on your computer.

Two examples of high computer hardware stress:

(1) The most stresful thing that most computers ever do is boot (since we have to include how many times it happens). Second most stressful might be downloading and applying 57+ updates or a service pack from Microsoft's web site or a new web browser.

(2) The most stressful things that most hard drives are subjected to are backups, defrags and scans.

QUOTE
Or, do you just transfer over your data and hope for the best?


Backup, offsite backup, backup, backup, offsite backup, backup, backup... ;-)
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Meeko
post Dec 31 2009, 15:22
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Keep drives cool, and keep them on. Never lost a hard drive yet (internal or usb external) with this plan. My original usb one is going on 3.5 years of being (mostly) on 24/7. and listening to flacs off of it. I'm hoping my backup doesn't die on me because it doesn't have an on/off switch like my old one so it kind of powers off when it wants to.


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dead zone
post Jan 6 2010, 10:07
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QUOTE (Meeko @ Dec 31 2009, 06:22) *
Keep drives cool, and keep them on. Never lost a hard drive yet (internal or usb external) with this plan. My original usb one is going on 3.5 years of being (mostly) on 24/7. and listening to flacs off of it. I'm hoping my backup doesn't die on me because it doesn't have an on/off switch like my old one so it kind of powers off when it wants to.


Thank you all for the advice. seems like you're all in agreement that keeping drives on constantly will prolong a drive's life. Wow, i wouldn't have thought to do that, but i guess it does make sense. Of course, backing up in multiple locations and mediums makes good sense, too.

I get that spinning drives up and down constantly and running scans etc... puts stress on the drive. But, I wonder how much "general usage" (ie editing mp3 tags, playing songs, adding folders, copying and pasting files etc...) contributes to hard drive failure. I heard someone once liken hard drives to magnetic cassette tape, in that, if you are playing the same songs over and over, you're more likely to wear out that part of the drive, and the data can't be read anymore. Hmm ...
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Meeko
post Jan 9 2010, 14:49
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QUOTE
But, I wonder how much "general usage" (ie editing mp3 tags, playing songs, adding folders, copying and pasting files etc...) contributes to hard drive failure. I heard someone once liken hard drives to magnetic cassette tape, in that, if you are playing the same songs over and over, you're more likely to wear out that part of the drive, and the data can't be read anymore. Hmm ...


To be fair, I've never heard of such a thing as wearing out areas of a harddrive by how many times a certain point is accessed. Sectors of a drive can fail, but that isn't necessarily related to how often its accessed. Some sectors fail and they're hardly touched at all.

The main thing that has been repeated (and rightly so) is to have a backup of a harddrive (and maybe two backups) because they can fail at any time...today, tomorrow, five years from now...you never know. General usage as you've described is pretty much standard fare for most harddrives and that won't make them die any faster. If you didn't do the things you've described what would you be doing on a computer? Even browsing the net copies, pastes, and reads files. wink.gif The drives of today are much more reliable than those of a decade ago, so I wouldn't worry a ton if you have backups ready to go when one dies on you.

This post has been edited by Meeko: Jan 9 2010, 14:50


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sthayashi
post Feb 7 2010, 13:18
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I missed this the first and second time around, but I'll put in my 2 cents.

The subject listed and the question asked are similar, but the responses are very very different.
Subject: External Hard Drives - Advice, tips etc to prevent loss of data
Answer: Back it up as best as possible. There are countless ways to back up data with varying different costs and goals.
However, one of the biggest losses of data comes from user idiocy, not hardware failure. Basically, accidentally deleting things you did not want to delete. For the most part, everyone else here addressed this point.

Question asked: Do you guys have any advice on how to prevent an external hard drive failure?
Answer: Experience with recent hard drive failures has me inclined to say that spin ups and spin downs are the most brutal. Specifically, unintended spin downs due to unanticipated power loss. My last 2 hard drive failures came from this. Fortunately, they were in a Raid-5 array with a hot spare. After the second time, I purchased a UPS for this Raid.

However, failures can come in many other ways. Bearings could wear out. Manufacturing could be stupid, like with the IBM Deskstar line. The house/apartment/building could burn down. Thus the advice of backing up. The variety of failure modes is so vast that it is expected that a hard drive will die.

But there IS a fleeting something you can do. Pay attention to S.M.A.R.T. It's not a catchall or a guarantee, but it can help. And if these values start deviating, then you should operate as though you were on borrowed time.
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