FileSlinger™ Backup Reminder 9-17-04: Hard Drive Warranties

Dear FileSlinger clients, colleagues, and friends:

In the past week, I’ve had one person report problems with her less-than-two-year-old external hard drive and another ask for recommendations on buying one, so I thought that it might be good to return to the topic of external hard drives for today’s reminder.

First I should say that the difference between an internal and an external hard drive is the case you put it in. The actual drive is the same. In theory, I could open up both my computer and my XHD, take out the drives, and swap them around. In practice, I’m unlikely to do it, given that I have a laptop and my desire to mess around with its insides is very low. But the only difference between the drives themselves is the amount of storage space: the internal drive has 30 MB and the external drive has 80 MB.

So anything you read about hard drives applies pretty much equally to both internal and external drives. And you know, because I’ve warned you about it, that your chances of your internal hard drive failing you within the first two years are pretty high, because as hard drives have gotten less expensive, they’ve also gotten cheaper.

Rather than improve the quality of their products, drive manufacturers are now trying to get an edge over one another by offering longer warranties. The standard is one year, but warranties of up to 3 years are becoming more common.

Usually if a company offers a longer warranty, it’s because they don’t think their products will fail. (Otherwise, of course, they’d lose money.) In this case, that may not be true—it could just be an attempt to get a short-term edge over the competitors. But for you, the consumer, the important thing is to protect yourself as much as possible. So check the length of warranty when you start comparison-shopping for drives.

If an external drive fails, it probably is a flaw in the manufacturing, since they normally don’t get as much use as internal drives do. On the other hand, an external drive might be more likely to be exposed to extremes of heat or cold (if you keep it in your car, for instance) or dropped. My guess is that the risks balance each other out, unless you treat one drive in a particularly harsh way and the other with much greater care.

But if both your internal drive and your backup drive could fail, where does that leave you?

First, it’s not very likely that both will go at once. (I don’t have enough actual numbers to work out more specific statistics than that.) I haven’t yet heard of it happening, though it could, and somewhere on the planet no doubt it has.

Second, this is one reason it’s a good idea to have at least one extra backup of your important files, e.g. a CD or DVD that you can put in a safe-deposit box or mail to a friend or even store at home. That way, even if your XHD fails and you can’t restore, or create, a full-system backup, at least you’ll have the part that’s hardest to re-create: your own data.

Which is why my Quicken backup still goes onto ZIP disk as well as DVD, and why the files go onto DVD as well as XHD. It sounds like a pain, but once it’s set up, it doesn’t take that much extra time. The only drawback in my mind is that I have to be careful to compare dates when restoring something.

It can be enough to make you wish for the days when your whole computer could fit on a floppy disk.

Well, maybe not. But I don’t blame anyone for being frustrated and wishing they didn’t have to use a computer at all.

May your drives stay healthy—but let me know if they don’t!


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