The average life span of a hard drive is approximately three to five years. This number is not absolute because several things affect a hard drive, its life span and its performance.
Any electronic device can last a lot longer or just die quickly for unknown reasons. Lifespan of a hard drive is very dependent on user needs and proper care to determine how long a hard drive will be operational.
What is the Function of A Hard Drive?
A computer hard drive’s primary function is file storage and retrieval. Contrary to popular belief, the hard drive is not the computer’s memory. The hard drive itself is where all of the files a computer uses are stored.
For example, when loading new programs on a computer, the files required to run the program are stored on the computer’s hard drive. When a user opens a file he or she saved, they are most likely opening that file from the hard drive.
A Hard Drive Stores- Memory Accesses
The main difference between a hard drive and memory is that a hard drive only has a set capacity to store a certain amount of data, while memory can only process a certain amount of activity. One of the reasons the hard drive and computer memory easily confused is because a computer really needs both to do two different things:
- It needs a place to store the data, files and software it uses to function and access quickly
- It needs a way to access that data so the person using it can use the computer in a meaningful way.
Think of something simple, something that you’re probably looking at right now…your desk.
Memory is like the top of your desk- it’s a space where you can put things either permanently or temporarily to function. The larger your desk is, the more things you can put on it. As your desk gets cluttered, it’s harder to find things, which slows down your productivity. Sound familiar?
A hard drive is like your desk drawers, or a filing cabinet in your office. Its where you store anything that you’re not using that might be useful in the future. It can also be accessed quickly and easily- unless it’s cluttered and disorganized, which makes finding things much more difficult.
The caveat is that your computer won’t work without these two things- take one away, and the computer grinds to a halt.
Hard drive capacity can influence life span
In most cases, the life span of a hard drive is primarily dependent upon its capacity. The number one reason computer users replace hard drives is not because they had died, but rather because the user needs more space.
Each computer file is a certain size, and that size is calculated in bytes. Both the hard drive and RAM can only handle a set amount of bytes. A kilobyte, the smallest file storage capacity, is 1,000 bytes. A megabyte is 1,000 kilobytes. A gigabyte is 1,000 megabytes, and a terabyte is 1,000 megabytes. The hard drive’s capacity is the maximum amount of bytes it can handle. So, a 1 terabyte hard drive can hold 1 terabyte’s worth of data.
You always want to try and buy a computer with a hard drive that will be larger than you would need for at least 5 years. But many inexpensive computers are fitted with smaller capacity drives, and if you save large data files, such as video files, music and gaming programs, the smaller hard drive will run out of space quickly. Therefore, the life span of a smaller hard drive is relatively short, as the user will likely need to upgrade faster.
Physical Hard Drive Issues
Aside from running out of space, computer hard drives fall prey to other issues. Aside from running out of space, computer hard drives fall prey to other issues.
A computer’s hard drive is a sensitive piece of electronic equipment. If the computer is not cared for properly, the hard drive might fail. Anytime a computer receives a jolt, whether that is an improperly grounded power outage or physical stressor such as being dropped, the hard drive suffers.
If the computer is improperly ventilated and overheat, the hard drive could also be damaged. This is why it’s critical to ensure all computers are set squarely on a desk or flat surface with proper ventilation. The computer’s vents should never be covered, including sitting a laptop on the user’s lap. A computer should also always be plugged into a properly grounded surge protector.
Data-related Hard Drive Issues
Data can also compromise a hard drive’s life span. If the hard drive is hit with a computer virus or a computer worm, the hard drive is in danger of losing its life.
These viruses and worms, as well as poor data structure, can alter the hard drive’s ability to save the data effectively and not only compromise disk space, but also degrade disk performance.
As dangerous data damages the hard drive’s clusters, the life span is diminished. Eventually, the hard drive will fail and no longer be able to store or retrieve data.
How Long Will it Take?
Hard drives not properly maintained will fail long before their average three-to-five-year life span. If the computer faces a physical failure, the hard drive might fail immediately. If the hard drive is infected with a virus or worm, it might take several months before it begins to fail – it just depends on the type of infection.
To prevent premature failure, computers users should protect their hard drives, both physically and with regular maintenance checks and protective software. Short of any unforeseen problem and running out of space, these measures should ensure the hard drive a healthy three to five years and possibly beyond.
Be Sure to Have a Backup Plan Implemented- and Use It!
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance your hard drive is on the verge of collapse. We hope you have a solid backup plan in place. If not, we have professionals that can guide you to the service that might work best for you or your business. You have several options at your disposal:
- Cloud Storage – Online storage of records. This is commonly known as cloud storage or cloud backup. Your documents can be maintained on our servers to prevent the need to maintain your own server farm.
- Hard Drive Recovery Services – Get a quote on recovering your data from a damaged, accidentally erased, or virus-ridden hard drive.
- Records Retrieval – Get the record you need when you need it. We provide consulting to create a total records management system. The goal is putting all of your valuable information in an easy to find system.
- Backup Tape Rotation – Backing up data to a tape and then storing it in a secure, offsite facility. We will set up a schedule to pick up your tapes. In the event of a disaster the tapes are delivered to your recovery location. A more secure solution to keep back up tapes in a secondary location for disaster recovery.
- Disaster Data Recovery – Good practice for data recovery mandates that you keep a copy of your data in a secondary location. Your data can be backed up on physical media and taken to our media vault or it may be saved using a cloud backup service.
Any of these options will help keep you protected from an unexpected failure- don’t wait until it happens to make a change!
Learn more about the expected life span of your hard drive below!
- Cal State Berkeley: Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population – This Berkeley abstract explains some trends behind larger disk drive failures.
- University of Florida: Lifespan of Electronic Products – The University of Florida cites the average life span of electronics in this link.
- The Amherst Student: Amherst Bytes – Contributor Peter Le discusses the average life span of hard drives and why it is important to back up data.
- Mississippi State University: Disk Basics – Mississippi State University takes readers on a technical journey of how hard drives are built and partitioned.
- University of Wisconsin: Hard Disk Drives – University of Wisconsin explains all there is to know about computer hard drives and how they function.
- MIT: An Introduction to Disk Partitions – Hard drives are partitioned for storage, and MIT explains how this is done.
- Lehigh University: RAM Vs. Hard Drive Memory – A computer’s memory is a different function from its hard drive as explained by Lehigh University.
- Indiana University: Troubleshooting Hard Drive Problems – Indiana University gives reader a guide to troubleshooting hard drive problems in this article.