Hard drives may be falling in popularity, but not with me
A recent report about hard-disk drive reliability suggests that not only do most HDDs die within three years, but those produced after 2014 can be less reliable, too. For many people, such news may signal ample reason for an accelerated death of the HDD—at least for consumer use.
With solid-state drives both having fallen in price and gradually increased in available capacities, they’ve become all but ubiquitous in laptops and dominant in desktop PC builds. In fact, I myself often recommend an SSD to friends building computers over a hard disk drive. But I’d never take that advice myself.
No, even with this data casting a cloud of gloom over the viability of hard disk drives, it’s going to be a long time coming before I give up my army of spinning platters. (OK, maybe more like small platoon.)
Why? First, the report (as picked up by Blocks and Files and then Extreme Tech) comes from a Los-Angeles based data recovery service’s look at failed hard drives sent in by clients—but a relatively small number, as compared to cloud storage provider Backblaze’s statistics about its massive collection of disk drives. More importantly, Secure Data Recovery’s results look solely at failed drives, while Backblaze’s data covers all of its working drives, which have longer service lives on average.
So, the takeaway here is that if your drive is going to fail, it’s most likely going to do so within three years, not necessarily that all HDDs will fail within three years.
Secure Data Recovery
Secure Data Recovery also shows that the issue with newer drives relates to modern technology in hard drives rather than the actual age of the drive. HDDs that use shingled magnetic recording (SMR) appear more susceptible to problems than drives based on conventional magnetic recording (CMR). Given that most hard disk drive enthusiasts avoid SMR drives for NAS and servers, due to slower read and write speeds in situations with continuous use, that already improves the odds of avoiding premature data death. And for folks who pop in just a single hard drive into a machine, buying a CMR drive is still easily done.
So, I haven’t written off hard-disk drives just yet, as old and decrepit they may seem. You shouldn’t, either. Especially since SSDs still can’t match their capacities nor cost per terabyte: a 4TB HDD is only about $70 while a 4TB SDD starts at around $225. Put another way, I could get a 14TB HDD for the same cost as a 4TB SSD. That makes a set of HDDs incredibly economical, whether for a NAS or server, or even just cold storage for your PC. Why spend major bucks for those drives if you don’t need to?
The main reason for my seemingly contradictory advice about HDDs vs. SSDs when talking to friends and family is that most people these days use just a single drive in their primary PC. And, for such a situation, an SSD is the better choice—you get faster boot times, quicker game loads, and all-around snappier responsiveness when on the computer. But you know what I also recommend when my friends are buying those new laptops, desktop PCs, and build components? To figure out a good backup solution for that one lone drive because drive death is inevitable. The question is not if, but when it’ll fail.
Want to know the easiest (not to mention cheapest) solution? Usually, it’s a good old trusty HDD in the form of an external backup drive. Honestly, the major point for all of us out of this study—not that HDDs are unreliable and should be avoided—is that no drive is safe from the Grim Reaper. A fact that Secure Data Recovery also emphasizes in its post…and they would know that best.