Tips for Extending the Life of Your Hard Disk

Last week we posted on the life of hard drives and other storage when Gregory Han, our fearless leader, lost his hard disk. So we were curious if there was anything we could be doing to squeeze more life out of these essential bits of hardware. Sure, they will eventually crash and burn no matter what you do, and yes, getting a good drive to begin with goes a long way, but it can't just be a waiting game till you have to recover your data can it?
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Maintenance is key. You change your oil in your car right? Hopefully every few thousand miles. In fact a maintenance schedule, just like the one for your car, is the best way to hedge against a busted drive outside of backing it up. You'll also benefit from increased speed and efficiency. Your maintenance schedule should include: cleaning your case, automatic software updates and disk monitoring. We also recommend keeping your computer in a stable environment: 65 to 80 degrees constantly with less than 75 percent humidity, no excessive vibration and a surge protector. If you're maintaining a computer at work, make sure the boss isn't going crazy with the temperatures at night.

Cleaning Your Case
We've covered how to do this properly before. It's key to keeping your hard drive in good shape and also to ensuring your computer doesn't pump out more heat than a volcano. Heat has a direct effect on the life of the motor in rotating platter drives and though solid state doesn't have a motor that can fail, it still works better in a cooler environment.

Automatic Software Updates
It's a no-duh kind of thing but really this is something not everybody does, despite every modern operating system being set up to do so. Viruses, messed up software and less than ideal security are all major contributors to an early grave for your hard disk. It doesn't take that long, just click yes when prompted.

Disk Monitoring
You probably don't pry open your hard drive very often, and even if you did you likely wouldn't be able to diagnose many problems. Using disk monitoring software will clue you into an impending doom and keep things running smoothly. We like Onyx for macs and CCleaner for windows. Onyx is like Apple's Disk Utility only much more robust in the options department. It will verify SMART status, repair disk permissions (which you should do relatively often. We do it once every two weeks, but we're a little OCD), and run cleaning scripts. It'll give your Mac that fresh, clean feeling. CCleaner for Windows will clean up unused files, help you uninstall programs more completely, change what programs start up when you login and fix your registry. You may also want to consider defragmenting your drive. Defragging = less work = longer life.

Yes, eventually your little brick of precious information will spin (or write if you've got an SSD) itself into oblivion, but if you get a good drive to start and maintain it using these tips there's a better chance you'll only be replacing your hard drive for lack of space, and not because it shredded itself.

(Images: Flickr users Ty Nigh and Justin Ruckman under creative commons.)

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