How to Extend the Life of Your Hard Drive

Learn Tech Talker’s 4 tips to increasing the life of your hard drive—plus, a special secret trick to rescue files from a broken drive!

Eric Escobar
4-minute read
Episode #17

If you’ve read or listened to pretty much any of my earlier episodes, I’m sure you’ve heard me mention hard drives. However, to many people, this is still a vague term that refers to the place where your data is stored. In today’s episode, I’ll break open the hard drive and teach you how to get the longest life out of it!

What is a Hard Drive?

There are two different types of hard drives available on the market:

  • Solid state drives (or SSDs) –  these drives have no moving parts

  • Hard disk drives (or HDDs) – these drives have spinning platters that store your information and use magnetism to save your data as a 1 or a 0 (known as binary).

I will talk more about the differences between these drives in a future episode, but in general, solid state drives have a small amount of storage, and are expensive, but they are very fast. The traditional spinning hard disk drives are much cheaper, offer more space and are comparatively slower.

Okay, so why does this all matter?

How Hard Drives Malfunction

Hard drives are made so well that you almost never realize how critical they are until they break or “crash.” This can happen for a number of reasons which can be broken down into two (sad) categories: gradual or immediate.

You’ll be pretty lucky if your hard drive dies gradually, mostly because you’ll see the signs coming, and that will give you the chance to replace the drive and save all of your data before it croaks completely. This gradual drive failure is caused by the wearing down of the moving parts or degradation of the material that holds your data.

The signs of gradual failure are:

  1. An extremely slow transfer rate. And when I say slow, I mean slow, as in copying a picture takes 5 minutes kind of slow.

  2. The dreaded clicking sound that emanates from within the drive.

  3. Corrupted files.

You may not experience all of these symptoms at once. At first, it might just be one or two. But keep in mind that a red flag should go up when these things happen as they are the tell-tale signs that you and your data should jump ship to a new drive.

If you are unlucky, like I normally am, you will experience unexpected drive failure in which one day you will start up your computer and sit there watching the screen blink endlessly. This is where those good old backups come in handy! Having a hard drive crash is a bummer, but it won’t be catastrophic if you follow my earlier episode on How to Back Up Your Data.

How to Extend the Life of Your Hard Drive

So how do you extend the life of your hard drive? First of all, the traditional hard drives I mentioned before have a life span of about 5 years if used constantly. But this can vary a lot depending on the drive’s living conditions.

For example, a hard drive that is in a laptop being jostled around back and forth to class every day probably won’t last as long as if the same drive were kept in a desktop computer that maybe got bumped every now and then. This movement isn’t usually enough to hurt a hard drive, but just like anything else, abuse and repetition are definitely not going to help extend your drive’s life span.

The next and probably biggest factor in a hard drive’s life is heat. Heat can cause many problems. It can cause many of the parts to expand, or become loose, and it can greatly increase the wear on all of the mechanical parts. So try to avoid overheating your laptop, and if you own a desktop, make sure that the cooling fan is in an open spot, not too close to anyplace where dust bunnies like to hang out.

And obviously, if you own an external hard drive, the less you use it, the longer the life you can squeeze out of it.

If you have a sneaking suspicion that something is wrong with your hard drive, Seagate has a free tool that will scan your PC’s drive to find some possible errors. And if you own a Mac, a program called Smart Utility will also give you a few free test scans of your drive.

So here are your 4 Quick and Dirty Tips to giving your hard drive a long and healthy life:

  1. Try not to jostle or drop your computer

  2. Keep your hard drive reasonably cool

  3. If you don’t have to keep it plugged in all the times, just turn it off!

  4. Listen for unusual sounds coming from your hard drive and take it to the doctor as soon as you hear anything out of the ordinary.

Special Quick Tip: This is going to sound really weird, but if your hard drive is dead and you forgot to back up one or two small files, I have a trick that might just save you! Take your drive out, put it in a plastic bag, and suck out most of the air. Next, put it in the freezer for about an hour. Then take it out, plug it into your machine, and try to transfer anything to a backup as quickly as possible.

I’ve used this technique many times and it usually buys me about 20 minutes of extra time to get all my files out of the hard drive. It works wonders as a last resort. I can’t find a definitive answer on why this works, but my theory is that the cold causes all of the metal parts to contract, freeing up any problems momentarily.

Well that’s all for today!

Have a question about anything in this episode? Or a suggestion for a future podcast? Send me an email at techtalker@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Tech Talker Facebook wall.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.