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How long can an old mechanical hard drive remain still operational, if unpowered?

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c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
Here's a good one. Let's say you somehow know that your very old 2TB mechanical hard drive will die one year from now.

It is still 100% operational today, so you decide to back up some files on it and then you physically disconnect all cables from it.

Now, will you be able to read those files once, if you reconnect it, after it remained unpowered and disconnected for twenty years?


How long can an old mechanical drive last if properly stored unopwered - theoretically - provided we're talking about a mechanical hard drive that would have lasted at least a year if it otherwise remained powered and connected?
 

WhitehawkEQ

Premium Member
Joined
Dec 6, 2010
Unpowered it would last 50 or more years but the Tantalum caps may not last that long. Polarized caps last longer with power on, that is why I have my HDD's set to go to sleep after 15 min, this way the disks stop spinning and the logic board stays on. This saves wear and tare on the mechanics of the drive.
As for using that 20 year old drive, yes you can use it. I have a 300GB drive that old and still works.
 
OP
c627627

c627627

c(n*199780) Senior Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2002
Good. By that time we should have a longer lasting medium, I wonder what it will be?

All these years, there were so many articles talking about how short lasting storage media is... Now that 20 year mark is being reached, we are getting to see what's what.

In the past, they talked about how everything would dry up inside the HD, so it won't be "greased up" to spin....
 

WhitehawkEQ

Premium Member
Joined
Dec 6, 2010
Well I buy End of Life ATA100 HDD's (PATA for you young people) that have been sitting around for 20 years and no problems :)
 

Woomack

Benching Team Leader
Joined
Jan 2, 2005
It highly depends on the storage environment but I would say at least 30 years as you can see old HDD from early 90' still working and even on OCF there are guys (like WhitehawkEQ ;) ) who buy old PCs and run them with their original HDD.
There was an article somewhere in the last days (I don't remember where) that tapes are still the safest way to keep your data for years. I assume they meant datacenter grade products, not something cheap.
I feel like with each new generation, our data is less safe and requires additional backups. I mean tapes were for years, slow but reliable. HDD were for years if you had luck and there were always warnings. SSD have limited cell writes and usually die without any warning. So the performance is going up, data safety per single drive, is going down.
 

EarthDog

Gulper Nozzle Co-Owner
Joined
Dec 15, 2008
Location
Buckeyes!
Heh, if you already 'know' it's about to die...it's a risk to shut it off as it may not power on/be ready to read data the next time (more so than if you don't know it's going to die, lol). The problem with this hypothetical you've set up is that nobody knows when, exactly, their HDD is going to die so it doesn't come across as realistic/common. Some errors have more risk than others as well. For example, a couple of bad sectors here or there I wouldn't worry about long-term storage... but if the arm clicks an inordinate amount when it's active, I would be concerned (and likely wouldn't store it).

The short of it, to me......If you *think* it's sooner than later or an application tells you things are getting wonky, back up the data and get another drive. Otherwise, you risk losing your data (play with fire, get burned, type of thing).

That aside, here's a quick article covering the information that may prove helpful (better than anecdotes). As some said, it can vary wildly as there are several variables involved. The concept of 'refreshing' stored drives like this is still applicable....they are MECHANICAL devices in all. There are plenty of articles like this out there.
 

Niku-Sama

Member
Joined
Jan 13, 2005
i'd say its a crap shoot.

I know old MFM drives didnt like to sit still for long periods of time. some times you could resurrect them but they were very touchy drives to go rooting around in to get them to work to begin with. i've never had much success getting one to go again. as a last ditch effort i tried the freezer thing people had mentioned and i got one to come back for a bit....

my old job i was in charge of upgrades and we got a boatload of lenovo towers that had seagate drives. they were fine except the ones we kept as spares. We imaged them initially and would run them once a quarter for major updates and more often than not we'd get one or two with a drive that would refuse to spin ans squeal like crazy after about a year. little hours since new but the ones in service had no problem. if we pulled a tower from active service and it sat for a month it most likely would have a bad drive in it too.

this was like 2018. i really wanted to order them with SSDs to begin with but the flash storage prices were so high because of flooding where the fabs were and the budget wasnt going to allow it. it was a non profit after all. was a bad time. before i left last year they were all upgraded to SSDs since they are cheap again

any way so new or old, no use or much use, its a crap shoot