What is the Lifespan of an External Hard Drive?

The external hard drive market has exploded in recent years, with models upwards of 1TB becoming affordable to the average consumer. But how long do external hard drives last?

External hard disk drives are mechanical, and they contain moving parts. This means that they will, at some point, fail. It’s not a question of if your external hard drive will fail, it’s when. Because external hard drives contain moving parts, this makes them more susceptible to physical damage. If you factor in the portable nature of external hard drives, the chances of a physical fault like a head crash or motor failure occurring are higher.

Your external hard drive will of course last much longer if you take care in handling it. Hard drives are delicate pieces of hardware, and one slight knock or bump can cause a great deal of damage. One of the most common problems our data recovery technicians see is external hard drives that have been dropped and will no longer power up, or will power up and make a ticking or grinding noise. This could be indicative of a head crash, which occurs when the read/write heads come into contact with the drive’s magnetic platters. Because the heads are positioned a fraction of a millimetre above the magnetic platters, even the tiniest knock or bump can cause a head crash. A grinding noise could suggest a motor failure. In these instances, the drive shouldn’t be powered up if you want to see your data again – but your hard drive won’t be of use again.

The conditions in which you store your external hard drive are important, too. Temperature and humidity can have a huge effect on your external hard drive’s lifespan. Humidity can lead to the oxidisation of internal components, and even a tiny amount of internal rusting can lead to a head crash. High temperatures can lead to media degradation. While this is more of a concern with solid-state media, you should still store your external hard drive in room temperature conditions and not any higher.

The average lifespan for an external hard drive, assuming no physical damage occurs, is around 3-5 years, depending on the make, model and conditions it is stored in. If you’re using an external hard drive to back up your data, you might want to consider replacing it every few years to ensure your data is safe. Even better, perhaps consider backing your data up in the cloud, too.

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