I have used hard drives since 20MB was a good size - so I skipped the "bleeding edge" phase, but not much more.
In the olden days we tried to identify brands that worked better than others. By now, though, the survivors have merged and there is only a small number of manufacturers left. If there are issues, then, maybe that has something to do with it?
And, yes, there are different specs to which manufaccturers make drives. After all, even enterprise servers with petabyte disk farms use "small disk" technology today and have ever since IBM's 3390 drives became a historic failure and EMC-square became big by "knitting" a plug compatible replacement disk subsystem from a pile of cheap Seagate 2GB drives. (By the way, the predecessor of the 3390, the 3380, had roughly half the capacity of a regular CD, which hit the market around that time, but originally only as a music medium.)
For use cases where "always-on" and extended reliability is needed - think of 24x7 video surveillance, for instance - you can buy "better" drives by a number of specifications. But, surely, the "ordinary" hard drive that goes into everybody's computer should also work ok, or?
If you had asked me your question a few years back, when a reasonable disk size was around 40 to 200 GB I would have agreed. Quite a few of those didn't even last out the warranty period, some brands and models being worse than others. One of my suppliers shifted their business away from selling drives back then because they took warranty seriously and didn't like the cost of the extra handling they incurred.
Others preferred losing my business to returning my phone calls. Well, okay.
With the "terabyte class" of drives that are on offer today I haven't had any problems yet (and I keep knocking on wood, since eventually the first one will fail me.)
The good thing, though, is that with these big drives and USB3 I don't have any excuse for not doing my backups any more - and, yes, two generations on separate drives. That gives me three places for each item - the original and the two backups. So, in case you are right I hope to be covered
What I have found a few times recently is that an external (USB) drive failed and it turned out that the USB adapter had died; fortunately there was nothing wrong with the drive itself. It will be interesting to see what happens when I get a problem with the first USB only drive - I have at least one 2.5" enclosure that contains such a drive: No IDE or SATA connector, just a USB mini connector on the circuit board. I expect to have to find out at some later time how - if at all - one can scrape data from a working spindle on one of those ...
Maybe that is where my local data recovery service will get a second chance. I tried them once on a five year or so old 250GB drive that had just packed in without any sign of mechanical damage (I do live in an area with lots of lightning in summer.) But they came back with a big fat nothing. If I believe what they told me, then data recovery is mostly a myth. But that is a story for another day.
To be sure, I do have a small collection of really old drives that still work - from about 80 MB to 500 MB. They are waiting to be put "out to pasture" in my irrigation computer in the garage. The 500 MB drive is the warranty replacement for a drive that spent almost all of its just under 5 year lifespan sounding like an angle grinder - which according to the manufacturer was not a warranty fault - and then mercifully started read/write errors just before the 5 year warranty ran out.
That gets me to another problem I had from time to time. If the original merchant is no longer trading and you turn to the manufacturer you may hear a message like this: "Sure, we'll honour the warranty. Just ship the drive to our factory in Hungary (or Germany) for testing and a replacement will be on its way." Then you find out that by now you can buy three drives, each five times the capacity, for the shipping cost. Great, guys, thank you!
That was what was going to happen to my "angle grinder" - but I managed to get it to Germany in a friend's hand luggage and the replacement drive back the same way. I have to admit that I was really gloating that they didn't get away with their avoidance tactics. Needless to say, I never bought that brand again ...
After all these apocryphal stories, the summary remains that I have yet to lose one of my dozen-or-so terabyte class drives. The biggest I ever lost was a 500 GB drive that after falling off a coffee table while running on a temporary USB adapter still gave off the most recently written data before it packed in completely. All the older data was backed up and I ended up losing nothing.
One other thing:
Here and there I have had a system failing to boot although the drive was basically working. I eventually found out that there was a degree of corruption on quite a few files. (Of course, restoring from a backup that reflects those faulty files won't help you then ... yet another story.)
Ultimately, I suspect, this comes from a drve being in a write cycle when you lose power. That will result in an unreadable sector here and there. The drives are equipped to map replacement sectors over such damaged sectors and pretend nothing happened. And maybe nothing ever will. But if a critical file of your OS is affected your computer may not start or work properly. In this case you may need to do one or more of the following in order to get back to work:
1) attach the drive to another computer (possibly using a temporary USB connector) and backup all data
2) rebuild your system on a separate (new) drive reinstalling the OS and all software and restoring your personal data from backups (including the one you did in item 1) above.)
3) Once you don't need any of the data on the old drive you can now perform a low level format on it - or at least a full OS format - in order to make it fit to reliably hold data again. Rememebr, there never was anything really wrong with the drive, except that it couldn't finish a write operation properly on a number of occasions.
Finally, is there mileage in speculating about something else?
Could it be that - being under cost pressure - people putting complete low cost desktop systems on the market buy bulk drives from even lower than normal specs? Is it drives in those systems that you see failing?
I usually source my systems by components and I don't buy the high spec drives (yet) but I also buy "regular retail" components. Maybe that is why I don't have your problem. And what about all the external USB drives we get offered these days. Are they different?
And can it be that some of the drives we buy nowadays were in the floods in Thailand and are not quite good enough?
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