hard drives die

Computer hard drives often die from preventable problems. If you know why they die, you can either prevent the problem entirely or backup your data before the computer hard drive dies.

Don’t Drop Computer Hard Drives

The most obvious reason computer hard drives die is because they were physically abused. Magnetic hard drives—the classic type of computer hard drives—are the most susceptible to physical abuse.

Inside a magnetic hard drive is a set of magnetic disks, called platters, and a magnetic needle on a long arm. Also inside are a set of tiny ball bearings on which the platters rotate and a small but powerful electrical motor to turn the disks.

Dropping your computer hard drive can damage any of those parts, and all of them are required for the hard drive to work.

Computer Hard Drives Wear Out

Magnetic computer hard drives wear out. Solid State Drives (SSDs) have a different problem we’ll discuss in the next section.

The magnetic parts of a hard drive will never wear out on their own. (But you can permanently destroy a magnetic hard drive by sticking it in a demagnetizer.) That means it’s the other parts of the hard drive which wear out.

The motor on a hard drive is usually so well built that it won’t wear out for decades—but most magnetic hard drives fail after two to five years of constant use. Why? Because they wear out their ball bearings.

The ball bearings spin around thousands of times a second for years on end in a nearly friction-free environment. But that tiny bit of unavoidable friction takes its toll over billions of cycles. As the ball bearings wear down, they begin to wear down faster, so a hard drive can go from slightly bad to dead within a week or less.

You know a magnetic hard drive is dying because it starts to make groaning noises. That’s the motor trying to compensate for the increased friction in the ball bearings.

As soon as the friction is greater than the strength of the motor, the computer hard drive dies. That’s when the drive starts making the dreaded clicking noises which indicate it’s dead.

Some people try to fix failed hard disks by performing risky FBI “like” data recovery methods. Ones like popping the hard drive in a sealed bag in the freezer. Not a good idea for the average computer user as it is dangerous.

Computer Hard Drive Write Cycles

Solid State Drives (SSDs) don’t have any real moving parts like ball bearings, so they don’t suffer gradual wear. Instead, the system which allows them to store data only has a limited number of write cycles.

Every time you write a piece of data to your hard drive, whether you’re saving a file for the first time or the hundredth time, the hard drive uses one of its write cycles for the part of the drive which stores the file.

After approximately 100,000 write cycles, that part of the computer hard drive dies. You can still read the data off of it, but you can no longer write to it.

As more and more parts of the hard drive die to write cycle fatigue, the drive quickly becomes less and less useful. The only good news is that you can continue to copy data off of a SSD when it dies this way, instead of losing everything when it dies like on magnetic computer hard drives.