The first point to make here is that we are talking about HDDs, not SSDs. Hard disks have been the de facto choice for desktop and laptop users for years, and though they are everywhere they don’t get noticed until they begin to have problems. Knowing how long they last is essential to managing the storage and backup of all your data.
To arrive at a number that is useful to everyone, we need to find a data source that is reliable instead of listening to our friends’ good fortune or misfortune with their hard drive. Also, if we think our warranty has any actual value, the disk manufacturer may replace the physical device but that does nothing to salvage the data that has been lost.
Fortunately there is a company that has taken this question seriously. Backblaze has kept a record of the failure rate of more than 25,000 hard drives over the last four years. Their method was relatively simple: when a hard drive failed, swap it out for a new one, record the data, then keep the others spinning. Note that these results only apply for the first 4 years of the hard drive’s life. There will be HDs that last longer, and some shorter.
The report shows that the vast majority of hard drives will last about 3 years. After that, more than 1 out of 10 will fail before reaching year 4. After year 4, more than half of all hard drives will require replacement.
What needs to be considered in all of this is exactly how hard you are on your hard drive? There are several factors that need to be considered as to why your hard drive clunks out before your friend’s.
1) Use of the hard disk. Some people constantly are using applications that require constant use of the hard disk, while others run apps that mainly depend on RAM. Like any physical device, the more you use it, the faster it will wear out. Your specific purposes for your computer may require consistent hard disk access, so just be aware of the physical realities.
2) Ambient temperature. This is one of those tech terms you hear a lot about, especially when you are looking at buying a new system. Heat also wears on a device over time, so if you use your computer in a warm room constantly you are asking for a faster failure rate.
3) Manufacturer quality. This is a factor that most of us learn about either through hearing about it from friends or personal experience. The fact is, not all HDDs are created equal. If you get a hard drive for cheap, there is a reason for it. It’s not that companies know they are shipping products that will fail, but the testing and quality of materials are two things that they do know about. Higher quality materials cost money. But this is not to say that can’t buy a hard disk for cheap – just don’t expect it to survive the first year or two.
The rule of thumb that has been true for years is: backup early and backup often. This is especially true with critical data. There are companies that perform this function online at a scheduled interval, so keeping your data safe from HD faults is very doable. Everything that is built will eventually fail. For you to assume that because everything is fine today with your hard drive does not apply to tomorrow.