A hard-drive engineer's answer to the question: Probably not
The post was extremely unscientific -- but I will attempt an answer.
The definitive site for hard-drives is certainly not CNET. It is here: http://www.storagereview.com/
They include a comprehensive reliability review, but sadly, you don't get to learn about reliability
until AFTER a drive has been out a few years... you can still look at early comment though, and
remember that there is a bias in that people tend to report the fails and not the "running smoothly"
I haven't used 1000 drives in four years as one poster had. I've used 50, and only one has failed.
(Three external drives failed, they were all 'Fantom" brand and they were all electronics in the
USB box, not the hard-drive itself). In general I get 5-7 years out of all my drives, and i haven't
noticed recent changes. Since I used to design hard-drives, let me give you some insight
into the design tradeoffs.
I have worked for IBM, Seagate and Maxtor/Quantum.
When I started designing hard-drives in the 1980's, storage cost $10/Megabyte.
Now it costs about ten cents a Gigabyte or $0.01/Megabyte. So cost has fallen
by a factor of 10,000. There is probably NO other metric in the computer
industry that has improved so much. Modern hard drives (since 1990) have
had essentially the identical design. Every generation the heads are made smaller
and the channels are made faster. Costs are brought down by combining
previously separate components. (Look at the chip count on circuit boards on
the last 20 years. It's gone down by literally a factor of 10).
I always thought there was a market for incredibly reliable hard-drives, but the
marketing guys always said, "just make the faster, bigger and cheaper". Having
said this, the materials have improved so much that the "head crashes" that were
relatively common in the 1980s are less common now. There MAY have been a
peak in reliability in the early 2000's, which is when I left the industry. Since that
time, flying heights have decreased so much that the heads are essentially in contact,
but new cleverness like dynamic fly-height control have been intended to protect
the drive from this problem. One COULD ship a drive with three-year old capacity
(for example, ship 500 GBytes today) and it probably WOULD be more reliable
than the latest capacity points ... but people generally did not seem to want
to buy the old technology. When I buy drives, I do tend to wait at least a year
on a new capacity point before buying. The first drives at any capacity ARE less
In general, drives these days fail on electronics more than they fail on head crashes.
Also, if you are rating external drives, the third-party drives (the real cheap ones,
Fantom, LaCie, etc) use their own electronics. I have had bad luck with those.
I always buy my external drives from an actual hard-drive company (WD, Seagate, Hitachi).
Since I HAVE seen the sausage made, I ALWAYS run my computers fully mirrored.
(That's two hard drives, with one backing up to the other every Sunday night). Since
hard-drives are dirt cheap there is NO EXCUSE for not having mirrored drives (except
that system makers never build them that way!!). Of course you could mirror
to an external drive. ALSO ... companies do periodically ship a really bad drive.
It could be ANY company. Seagate, IBM/Hitachi, Maxtor/Quantum and WD have ALL shipped awful drives (I'm not even counting Samsung ... I just wouldn't buy those). So when I mirror, I always have drives
by two different manufacturers. You just don't know who is having a disaster this quarter, and
you don't want to find out by losing your data.
More industry insight. We would grade the drives (like eggs). The best ones went to Apple, Compaq (when
they existed), Dell ... etc. In other words, the name brand companies got the best drives. The lower
grade drives went to "distro" (e.g. Newegg ... Fry's). (Having said that, I currently buy most of my drives
from Newegg ... but ... I mirror). You could spend more for an "enterprise" drive. They have similar components, they are tested more severely. They may spin faster (which is a bad thing for reliability BTW). But anything
can, in principle, fail. Mirror the drive.
By the way ... back at IBM in the 80's, we would actually try to prove that our drives would last 7-years.
It was expensive to do, but those drives cost $10,000 for 20 Gigabytes ... so we could afford it.
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