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Early failure of hard drive

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#1
mike13

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If my antivirus is constantly scanning the hard drive in the background when the computer is idle, will this scanning lead to an early failure of the hard drive. Does this scanning cause the hard drive to keep spinning, or is the hard drive constantly spinning anyway ?? Thanks, Mike


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#2
CharlotteTheHarlot

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Interesting question because the cause for HDD failure has a lot of possible variables. IMHO, there are several variables that are far more significant than simply accessing data, which is what you describe. Here are some larger contributing factors to HDD failure in the order I believe matter ...

  • Physical Shock ... incredibly important if the drive is powered up, less so when not powered ( think of UPS and Fedex as the beta testers here :lol: ). If the drive is "on", the platters are spinning and when accessing data the heads are floating directly over them so it is very very vulnerable to damage. If you want to maximize the useful lifetime of a HDD, control this variable. Don't even think about moving a powered-on computer. Use SSD's in laptops and treat normal HDD's as if they contain nitroglycerin.
  • Heat ... very few people keep an eye on this but it is critical. My number one trick is to always add a case fan directly on all HDD's ( specifically, I mount all HDDs in the lower front of computer cases and cut out a hole in the front and mount a 120mm fan which can cover four 3.5" drives ). I never use a HDD without a fan on it. I still have working drives from as far back as 1993 ( 20 years! ) and if it wasn't for the fact that modern BIOS's don't seem to recognize my older ones, I'd bet that even some of my sub-100 MB late 1980's drives might even still work. Ever since the AT sized and then ATX sized cases arrived, I have always placed fans blowing right on disk drives and this is what I mostly attribute their longevity too.
  • Dust ... related to the previous, disk drives are equipped with at least one breather hole which can very easily get blocked by dust. Furthermore, dust is bad in general for any electronics as it retards cooling by counter-acting the breeze of air that blows over it allowing heat build-up ( heat sinks or any bare electronics should never be allowed to have dust on them ). As often as possible people should check for dust on drives ( the bottom electronics and top where the hole is ) and all other components like the motherboard and case fans, and use canned air or a vacuum or compressor or even a paintbrush ( carefully! and avoid moisture ). Clean components are readily cooled by even the slightest movement of air, dusty ones defeat the purpose of all those case fans.
  • Static Shock ... if you ever develop static shocks walking around your space from rugs and shoes and other conditions, then you are vulnerable to this eventuality. Be sure to touch grounded surfaces ( the bare metal in a computer case with the power supply plugged into the wall ) when doing stuff in the case like mounting HDD's because this will bleed off static buildup which will kill DC electronics when discharged from your hand. BTW, an unplugged case is not actually grounded at all, but touching this still might bleed off static because its lower potential is still better than nothing, but touching something actually grounded is best practice.
  • Power On ... aka Uptime. This one is obvious because as long as a HDD is "on" the spindle is rotating at 7200 rpm ( or whatever ) and firmware subroutines are busy doing periodic chores like relocating bad sectors and polling sensors and recording SMART data, etc. All electronics have a limited lifetime even though most such parts are presumable spec'd to outlast the useful lifetime of the drive. The "obvious" part is that a HDD with total uptime of 100 hours is newer than one withh 1000 hours even though the HDD unit itself in the former case might be physically older than the latter. But this is actually controversial because of the flip-side of this coin ...
  • Power Cycling ... when a HDD is turned on and off. This has influence because of several problems, one is the sudden inrush current which can stress even the best spec'd parts and best designed circuits. Secondly, a drive that is "off" has electronics that are by definition cool, but a drive that is on have "warm" ones. The thermal stress is literally in the expanding and contracting physical size of the parts and is one cause of failure of the classic "cold solder joints" ( though less likely in the modern era ). It is an ongoing debate as to whether in theory it is better for any electronic device to be "always on" ( almost no power cycling but massive uptime ) or "only on when necessary" ( massive power cycling but little uptime ). No easy answer but the compromise seems to be visible in two broad product ranges with "consumer" drives that presumably have better tolerance for power cycling, and "enterprise" drives that have better tolerance of constant uptime. Someone in this industry could offer better opinions.
I said that the question is interesting because it actually specifies a completely different variable, focusing on the head assembly itself. The difference between a "powered on" drive that is idle and one that is accessing data is that the heads are being moved by a little motor against that powerful NIB magnet ( yep, I tear dead drives apart and save them ) so presumably there must be some wear and tear on that actuator motor over time. My gut instinct is that modern drives using these designs are probably infinitely more durable than the old style with stepper motors, and that means that the head actuator will probably greatly outlast all those other variables. But that is uninformed opinion, I very well might be wrong! I would be interested to hear from someone that is in the industry for some useful education.

Now about that antivirus. I'm not sure that is the only thing causing disk thrashing, here's a few other possibilities: (1) Windows since XP has been using Disk Indexing, ideally when the computer is idle to build a database to speed up later file searches. I always turn this off but other will disagree. (2) Many computers come equipped with preinstalled Backup solutions which also try to work when idle. Perhaps Norton or McAfee or Carbonite. (3) Windows also has System Restore which has an automatic component. (4) Windows Update can theoretically get stuck in a state of never-ending work in certain situations if updates are pending. (5) There are an increasing variety of Tasks that run on a schedule and/or when idle. Program Updaters whether 3rd party standalone like Adobe and Java and whatever, or the Windows Installshield program updater, and many, MANY more. I would use a fine-toothed comb and audit every Service and Task and Startup ( NOTE: those are three different sets of things ). This will help you determine if the AV is the only culprit.

Personally I don't use antivirus, but I can suggest that between the concept of Realtime Scanning, Scheduled Scanning ( including when idle ), and On-Demand Scanning I prefer the latter. Furthermore, if you have realtime scanning enabled ( this means it is actively intercepting every single thing you do ) then theoretically you should only have to run a full and complete manual scan just once and disable the scheduled ones. But that is just me, because I don't like to supply a computer and electricity and cash payments just to keep AV software busy. :lol:

EDIT: typo

Edited by CharlotteTheHarlot, 28 March 2013 - 11:39 PM.

... Let him who hath understanding reckon the Number Of The Beast ...


#3
mike13

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CharlotteTheHarlot---Many thanks for the detailed descriptions of what causes hard drive failure. Mike




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