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How Long Do Hard Drives Really Last?

February 12, 2014 Published by Rajesh Goel

100% of all hard drives will eventually fail. This is a fact. Some will fail prematurely due to manufacturers’ defects while others will fail because a mechanical part finally wears out. The question is, how long until that happens?

Online backup provider Backblaze.com has kept 25,000 consumer-grade hard drives constantly running for the last 4 years, diligently noting whenever a hard drive breaks down. The results are very interesting.

  • 92% of all hard drives will survive the first 18 months. These failures are typically due to manufacturers’ defects (oftentimes called the “lemon effect”). Hard drives’ warranties are typically 1 to 3 years, which is basically the manufacturers saying that they are only on the hook to replace the lemons.
  • During the next 18 months, only a very small percentage of drives (~2%) will fail. These failures are from random “unlucky” issues and occur rarely anytime during the life of the drive.
  • Beginning in year 3, hard drives start to wear out due to usage. They are simply mechanical devices that are getting old. 80% of drives will make it to year 4 and then they drop off at about 12% or more per year thereafter.
  • As illustrated in the graphic, the failure rate is essentially a U curve with most failures very early on or after the 3-year mark.

So, What Does This Mean?

Simple. Back up your data. With a 1-in-10 chance that your hard drive dies in the first 3 years of its life and an accelerating chance of failure after that, there is no excuse for being caught without a solid backup. Ever.

Make a plan. Build equipment replacement into your budget at least every 4 years for most devices, with a 10% equipment-replacement expense built in over the 1st year and then again starting in year 3.

As for that 10-year-old PC in the back room still running Windows XP and your most critical reporting software, the clock is ticking …

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