How Long Does an External Hard Drive Really Last?

Hard Drive Life

  1. Some hard drives may work properly for a few months and other might outlast the computers you have them attached to. Hard drives don’t have an exact life expectancy, and some fail more quickly than others for a variety of reasons. Since hard drives are made up of moving pieces, mechanical failure is a possibility. Though if a hard drive works well for the first year of its life, it’s likely to last for several years more. Mechanical failures tend to occur early on the life cycle of a drive.

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How long do Hard Drives and SSDs last? How do they die

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 · However, it is always a good practice to replace any hard drive or SSD after 3-4 years. If you continue to use the drive while the drive is degrading, you …

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External Hard Drive Lifespan: How to Prolong It

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 · How Long Do External Hard Drives Last – 3 to 5 Years. External hard drives have many uses. Can you use it forever? Definitely, the answer is no. How long do external hard drives last? This mostly depends on how you use it and other factors like configuration, brand, size, and environment. The average external hard drive lifespan is about 3 to 5 years, provided that no physical damage occurs.

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Blu-Ray

Verbatim writeable Blu-ray disks come with a lifetime warranty, though I couldn’t find any reliable info on how long they supposedly retain data (or how long other brands of Blu-ray discs last). Under prime environmental conditions, they supposedly last quite a bit longer than CDs and DVDs because the method for recording data results in more durable storage, but even though they likely last quite a bit longer, they’re still optical media, which means they’re susceptible to scratching, high temperatures, and sunlight, just as the others.

What causes hard drive failure?

Short answer: Factory defects and vibration

Long answer: A useful way to visualize the cause o

Long answer: A useful way to visualize the cause of failure rates in hard drives is with something called the Bathtub Curve.

The Bathtub curb tells us hard drives have a high rate of failure in their first few days, weeks, and months of use. This is usually the result of factory defects. A hard drive might be dead on arrival, for instance. Some call this the hard drive “infant mortality” rate.

If a hard drive has no factory defects, it will typically endure over the next two or three years without issue, which means the failure rate falls. By year four and five, the failure rate is well on its way back up again. These failures are due to general wear and tear, but pinpointing a specific cause has proven troublesome for researchers.

Conventional wisdom would have you believe hard drives that get hot will generally fail faster than those that don’t. Some studies conclude as much, but the largest study on the subject matter to date performed by Google suggests otherwise. You might also assume that hard drives which are used more fail quicker than those used less. Not so, says Google:

“Contrary to previously reported results, we found very little correlation between failure rates and either elevated temperature or activity levels.”

Google measured activity (also referred to as “utilization”) levels by analyzing the total time spent reading or writing data on the drive over a period of time. Drives that were utilized more failed significantly more in the first three months, but then failure rates dropped off in the subsequent months and years. The failure rates remain even and even less than the less-used drives until year five, when drives with higher utilization levels start failing more often again. Google attributes this to what it calls the “survival of the fittest theory,” in which the causes of failure that are associated with higher utilization are more prominent early and late in a drive’s lifetime. In short, utilization might not be causing hard drive failure, it just makes the actual causes of failure surface more quickly.

In Backblaze’s report, the company notes tha

In Backblaze’s report, the company notes that some drives were incompatible due to what they surmised was vibration. While the impact of heat and activity is still inconclusive, vibration, bumps, drops, and shakes can definitely shorten the life of a hard drive.

Calculating Life Expectancy

What’s the life expectancy of a hard disk drive? To answer that question, we first need to decide what we mean by “life expectancy.”

When measuring the life expectancy of people, the usual measure is the average number of years remaining at a given age. For example, the World Health Organization estimates that the life expectancy of all newborns in the world is currently 73 years. This means if we wait until all of those new people have lived out their lives in 120 or 130 years, the average of their lifespans will be 73.0.

For disk drives, it may be that all of them will wear out before they are 10 years old. Or it may be that some of them last 20 or 30 years. If some of them live a long, long time, it makes it hard to compute the average. Also, a few outliers can throw off the average and make it less useful.

The number that should be able to compute is the median lifespan of a new drive. That is the age at which half of the drives fail. Let’s see how close we can get to predicting the median lifespan of a new drive given all the data we’ve collected over the years.

Disk Drive Survival Rates

To this day it is surprisingly hard to get an answer to the question “How long will a hard drive last?” As noted, we regularly publish our Drive Stats reports, which lists the AFRs for the drive models we use. While these reports answer the question at what rate disk drives will fail, they don’t tell us how long they will last. Interestly, the same data we collect and use to predict drive failure can be used to figure out the life expectancy of the hard drive models we use. It is all a matter of how you look at the data.

When we apply life expectancy forecasting techniques to the drive data we have collected, we get the following chart:

The life expectancy decreases at a fairly stable rate of 2% to 2.5% a year for the first four years, then the decrease begins to accelerate. Looking back at the AFR by quarter chart above, this makes sense as the failure rate increases beginning in year four. After six years we end up with a life expectancy of 65%. Stated another way, if we bought a hard drive six years ago, there is a 65% chance it is still alive today.

The bottom line

ensure you’re prepared for hard drive failureHow long a hard drive lasts comes down to—not a total shocker—taking good care of your drive. Averages will be averages, but that doesn’t mean failure is scalable. You can try to plan around estimated failure rates, but you always want to make sure you have your data in at least two different places, whether local or in the cloud, to ensure you’re prepared for hard drive failure, whenever it happens.

Originally published Mar 5 2020, updated Mar 9 2020

Final Thoughts

How do external hard drives last? It mostly depends on how you use it and the factors, like brand, size, environment, and more.

To safeguard your external hard drive, you should carefully move it, eject it from your computer safely after using, monitor its health regularly, and so on. Moreover, you can consider replacing your external hard drive every five years and backing your data in the cloud (OneDrive or Dropbox).

If you have any doubts about the external hard drive lifespan, please leave them in the comment zone and we can discuss them with other readers together. If you have any ideas when testing your external hard drive or recovering data from the failed disk with MiniTool Partition Wizard, please contact us via [email protected].

What Are the Best Practices for Hard Drive Health

The lifespan of your Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Solid State Drives (SSD) is in large part dependent on the way you use them, how frequently you use them and whether you store and operate them in optimal conditions.

There are various precautions that you can take and the best practices that you can adopt to extend the life of your drivers. Doing so will keep your drives performing well and also keep you safe from situations where you may face unexpected hard drive failure and data loss: Some smart steps to take include:

  • Avoid using your drives when not required. Regular use and prolonged use can shorten its life.
  • Drives that are used for backup only must be used once every 4-5 months to retain the charge. Do this, particularly for SSDs.
  • Protect them from humidity and extreme heat. Using sealed plastic bags/boxes or static shields is always a good idea.
  • Never store your drives in a drawer or cabinet that your kids can open. It is also not a good idea to leave them for prolonged periods in a spot where they would accumulate layers of dust.
  • Do not subject your external drives to extreme conditions. Protect them from jolts, bumps, and dropping from a height.
  • Use high-grade and quality cables for attaching external drives to your laptops and computers. No need to cut costs on cables and lose your data as a result.
  • In case of hard disk drives (HDD), defragment them using built-in OS utilities or specialist apps. This minimizes the wear and tear on the magnetic disk platters. The read heads in the hard drive also have to move less to locate data.
  • Never remove the cable connecter abruptly from the USB port. Instead, eject the media or unmount the external drive or SSD drive before physically removing it from your system.
  • Keep backups of your data in more than one place and, if possible, replace your external drives every couple of years.

However, the most crucial factor remains the usage of the drive for its lifespan – the more you will use it, the faster it will reach its data transfer limit.

If you rely on an external hard drive for data backup, you should consider investing in new drives and replacing the old ones every few years to ensure the retention and safety of your data. Another efficient and intelligent habit to develop is to back up your data to the cloud, in parallel to maintaining external drives and SSDs.

Which Lasts Longer, SSD or HDD

In general, frequent or infrequent usage matters for both types of drives. Also, the optimal operating conditions that you can provide for your drives are the deciding factor. Moreover, how much you care for the devices by avoiding mismatch drivers, viruses, and malware, can all add or take away from the lifespan of the drives.

Reliability can be defined as whether your data is stored on the drive as intended without it getting corrupted. Considering this fact, we find out that, in general, SSDs are far more reliable than HDDs. This is due to its construction which has no moving parts. So, SSDs are not affected by vibration or thermal issues, which in turn makes them last longer.

Thus, we can conclude and safely assume that your SSD drive will outlast an HDD most of the time.

Hard-Drive Backup: Prevention is the Best Medicine

Backing up your hard drive is a smart thing to do, even if the small percentage of a chance your hard drive might fail doesn’t scare you off. There are many other ways to lose data other than a disk crash, including human error, natural disasters, malware and software corruptions.

Backup tools replicate not only your files, but your file system as well. That way, if you have to switch to another hard drive, you can recover everything as it was with just a few mouse clicks.

When backing up your hard drive, you can elect to go with a local backup option like an external hard drive or a network-attached storage (NAS) device. If keeping data locally seems like a bad idea, there are also online backup options, which means your files will be kept in servers in secure data centers.

The approach most data-backup gurus suggest, though, is to follow the 3-2-1 backup rule, which calls for storing backup data both locally and in the cloud to gain the advantages of both.

If you’re looking for an affordable online backup solution that requires little effort to implement, Backblaze is a good choice. Not only does the company have the easiest backup tool to use we’ve reviewed, you get How Long Will Your Hard Drive Last?, which is the best backup deal we know of.

HDD life expectancy

One of the industry benchmarks is the BackBlaze Hard Disk Reliability Report. Here’s a recent one. They report quarterly on the failure rates they see in their data center, right down to the specific drive and model, over the lifespan of the drives. They’ve been reporting since 2014 and have a nice collection of data to generalize from.

The comparison is slightly off-target for consumer drives, as they’re specifically looking at the drives in their data center. Unlike most consumer computers, these are likely to be higher quality drives that are in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But I think the patterns, if not the specific numbers, are still valuable to look at.

The short answer appears to be: A Really Long Time.

Looking at the trend line, there’s an initial bump of drives that fail within the first year, often referred to as “infant mortality”. Clearly, having worked for 15 years, your drive is well past this stage.

After that, drive failures seem to accumulate at a rate roughly (very roughly — remember, I’m over-generalizing here) at a percentage rate proportional to their age in years. Put another way, from their graph it appears that 4% of all four-year-old drives will fail, 5% of all five-year-olds, and 6% of all six-year-olds, etc.

If we apply this data-center data to your 15-year-old consumer-level drive and extrapolate, it implies you’re looking at around a 15% chance of failure. Put another way, an 85% chance it’ll just keep chugging along.

Conclusion

When it comes to hardware, skimping to save money won’t pay off in the long run, especially if you lose precious data, which can cost you far more than you would’ve saved. Select the right hardware, and make sure you backup data somewhere else to be sure it lasts, you never know when any type of media might fail.

To review, here are the lifespans of each of the above data storage methods:

Media Estimated Lifespan
Magnetic data (tapes) Up to 10 years
Nintendo cartridge 10-20 years
Floppy disk 10-20 years
CDs and DVDs 5-10 unrecorded, 2-5 recorded
Blu-Ray Not certain, probably over 2-5 recorded
M-Disc 1,000 years (theoretically)
Hard disk 3-5 years
 Flash storage 5-10 years or more (depends on write cycles)

Curious about the future of data storage? Take a look at this piece on a new up-and-coming optical disc.

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