What Are The Chances That My Hard Drive Will Crash?

We analyzed the data from a five year study of computer hard drives conducted by Google and determined what the statistical chance is that a brand new hard drive will fail during the next five years.  

When you buy a brand new computer that you plan to use for five years, the chance that the computers hard drive will crash during that time period is– at the absolute minimum; one in three.  Replace the computer every three years and you may fare slightly better with just under a one in five chance of failure.  We also found very little correlation between hard drive failure and operating temperature or hard drive usage patterns (whether the computer is on all the time or off all the time).  That means that one out of every three people that buy a computer planning to keep it for five years will end up either losing their data or spending a considerable sum to have a clean room or data recovery lab get it back for them if they haven’t done a recent backup.  Keep reading to find out which year any given hard drive is most likely the fail in; the answer may surprise you.

Hard drive data is stored magnetically on a round hard 'disk' as 1's and 0's and is easier to lose than many people realize.

Hard drive data is stored magnetically on a round hard ‘disk’ as 1′s and 0′s and is easier to lose than many people realize.

In understanding just how common hard drive failure is, we crunched the numbers from a study of statistical data concerning hard drive crash rates that was conducted by Google in 2007 that tracked failure rates on over 100,000 hard drives over a five year period.  This study found not only that over 90% of all the worlds new data was being stored on hard drives, but that hard drives fail at a very predictable rate throughout their entire life cycle.  With only slight variations the study proved that hard drives failures are predictable and steady on brand new hard drives just as well as old ones and broke the data down into what’s known as an annualized failure rate; the annualized failure rate being the chance that a hard drive would fail during a particular 12 month time period in the drives lifespan.  Some models and makes were found to have higher failure rates than others but we can predict that unless you are in the market for a used hard drive, then knowing which makes and models of older drives are more likely to fail will not help a buyer avoid buying a drive with an above average failure rate given that most models are out of production by the time a large enough sample of failure data has been collected to know which ones to avoid.  In other words identifying which models of hard drives are the proverbial lemons will only give us hindsight as you won’t know if you’ve got one until it’s too late.  With that being considered we must look at hard drive failure rates as a whole rather than focusing on specific models.

The study covered annualized failure rates of hard drives from the moment they left the factory through their fifth year of use and found that neither temperature or activity levels had much correlation with hard drive failures.  The study concludes that during a consumer grade hard drives first year of use there was a 1.7% chance that it would fail.  Of the drives that did fail during their first year of use there was a greater chance that they would fail in the first three months as opposed to the rest of the year.  In a hard drives second year of use the annualized failure rate jumps to over 8% and then in the third year the rate of hard drive failure rises again to over 8.6% and then by the fourth year the rate of failure declines slightly to just over 6% before rising again to slightly below 8% for the 5th year of use.  What this tells us is that if you were to buy a brand new computer and use it for five years then you have over a 32% chance of the experience ending in the failure of your hard drive.  Since computers typically remain in service for a lifespan of anywhere from 5-8 years it is safe to say that the average computer user stands a one in three chance of having their hard drive crash and possibly losing their data.  This alone should be reason enough to convince most computer users to do regular backups of their data, yet data recovery labs still find customers streaming in on a daily basis who’s hard drive crashed when they haven’t made a recent backup.

Due to the mechanical nature of hard drives preventing hard drive failures may not be possible, however the next best thing to preventing hard drive failures is being able to predict it so as to be able to replace the drive in time and thus avoid the consequences of a hard drive crash.  Watch for our upcoming article on Predicting Hard Drive Failures where we explain how to determine if your hard drive is about to crash.

In cooperation with IT Connect Data Recovery Labs, Milwaukee WI
Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population; Google

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