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Laptop hard drive reliability -- the bigger the poorer?

Discussion in 'Laptops' started by Arvo, Mar 19, 2005.

  1. Arvo

    Arvo Guest

    Are large laptop HDs, say, 60 to 100 GB, inherently more likely to fail
    than smaller ones, say, 30 GB? I wonder about this because they pack
    information more densely, with more platters and more complexity, if
    I'm not mistaken.

    I'm going to buy one abroad and it probably will have only a very
    limited local warranty, that's why I ask. Thanks for your thoughts.
    Arvo, Mar 19, 2005
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  2. Arvo

    John Doue Guest

    I am not sure what you mean when you say abroad since I don't know where
    you live but I have been using an 80G for nearly two years without any
    problem. I cannot say anything about 100G, may be someone has some
    experience but they are fairly new anyway.
    John Doue, Mar 19, 2005
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  3. Arvo

    Notan Guest

    100 GB, new? Not even close.

    Terabyte drives are now entering the consumer market.

    Notan, Mar 19, 2005
  4. Arvo

    John Doue Guest

    Notan, wake up, this is a laptop group!
    John Doue, Mar 19, 2005
  5. Arvo

    Notan Guest

    Sorry. I posted before my first cup of coffee.

    Notan, Mar 19, 2005
  6. Arvo

    J. Clarke Guest

    Nope. (a) for laptops 100 gig is the largest available drive, and (b) the
    largest available drive of any kind is 400 gig. There are some 500s
    announced but not yet available in stores. The terabyte external drives
    that you see advertised are not single drives in a box, they are arrays of
    various kinds. Since they are necessarily implemented using at least 3
    drives I do hope that they are RAID5 or better.
    J. Clarke, Mar 19, 2005
  7. Arvo

    Notan Guest

    While John Doue was kind enough to wake me up, and remind me that we're
    in a laptop newsgroup, terabyte drives *are,* in fact, available in
    "single boxes."

    For example, have a look at http://www.provantage.com/scripts/search.dll/x/0.

    Notan, Mar 19, 2005
  8. Arvo

    Paul Rubin Guest

    I don't see any terabyte drives there. As J. Clarke says, there are
    some boxes containing >= a terabyte of storage, but those boxes have
    multiple drives inside.
    Paul Rubin, Mar 19, 2005
  9. Arvo

    Notan Guest

    Multiple drives or multiple platters?

    Notan, Mar 19, 2005
  10. Arvo

    Notan Guest

    It's possible the URL, that I provided, didn't go to where I intended...

    How about http://www.provantage.com/pr_86988.htm?

    Notan, Mar 19, 2005
  11. Arvo

    wbw Guest

    As previously speculated, that "drive" actually contains 4 normal 3.5"
    250GB ATA/133 "drives" inside of it:


    By that same standard, Apple sells a 5.6TB "drive" for $13k.

    To clear up the terminology.... rather than "boxes" or "drives" the term
    "spindle" is what you're looking for. A TB on a single spindle is not
    available right now.
    wbw, Mar 19, 2005
  12. Arvo

    J. Clarke Guest

    Yeah, that's a Lacie drive array. Four drives in a box. See
    J. Clarke, Mar 19, 2005
  13. Arvo

    J. Clarke Guest

    Multiple drives. Lacie does not make drives. They buy drives from Seagate
    or Maxtor or Hitachi or Western Digital or one of the other companies that
    does, and puts them in a box with a power supply and a bridge board.
    J. Clarke, Mar 19, 2005
  14. Arvo

    Notan Guest

    Notan, Mar 19, 2005
  15. Are large laptop HDs, say, 60 to 100 GB, inherently more likely to fail
    HD data capacity depends on 2 factors:
    o Areal density -- and importantly the head technology to read it
    ---- areal density uses fewer crystals to retain the 0 or 1 bit
    ---- however head technology, ECC & media has improved
    o Number of platters -- laptops are thickness limited
    ---- increases in Areal density has allowed a reduction in platters
    ---- more platters means more heat in the FDB bearing, motor etc

    Recently HD makers moved to glass platters from aluminium:
    o Glass platters can be made "flatter" - allowing more uniform coatings
    ---- important since latest areal density uses multi-layer coatings
    o Glass introduces a new potential risk - microscope slide thickness
    ---- bashed drive with alloy platters -- remove them for data recovery
    ---- based drive with glass platters -- hire the NSA

    For practical purposes, it's the usual story - backup :)

    An argument is 4200rpm 2.5" HD is more established than 7200rpm:
    o Cost difference between 4200rpm & 7200rpm is likely to be marginal
    ---- incremental difference in FDB-Motor, chipset, head etc
    o Price difference between them is likely to be considerable
    ---- 4200rpm = less pricing power, less margin, more competition = cash-dog
    -------- invites QC step removal (production line cycle time) & outsourcing
    ---- 7200rpm = high pricing power, more margin, fewer competitors = cash-cow
    -------- risk is largely that of new technology re early adoption & design failure
    o Latest drives benefit from very different concept-design-build process
    ---- Physics of Failure (PoF), Eng & QC will be superior on a later drive
    ---- known unknowns in terms of product risk are smaller, better understood

    Hence CDR quality went variable once priced dropped below a certain level,
    since it was no longer a sufficient cash-cow for the company. Big companies
    hit the law of big numbers - if you sell 50B$ then a new product that makes
    you 0.5B$ is still 500M, but it doesn't impact on the bottom line much. There
    is as much a portfolio of costs re "make or buy, do or dump". There comes
    a point when the latter product can be "safer" than the older technologies.

    So packing data more densely, more complexity is not likely to be a big
    issue - cooling may be for some drives (eg, 7200rpm over 4200rpm).

    Thermal dissipation is the likely sole risk:
    o ID where you are now
    ---- ID the dissipation (W) of the drive supplied with your laptop
    ---- ID the present operating temp - HDDTemp using S.M.A.R.T. s/w
    o ID where you want to go
    ---- ID the dissipation (W) of the drive you wish to fit

    If the proposed HD dissipates > watts than your existing HD, then you
    ideally want your existing HD to operate comparatively below max spec.

    Generally the only risk re bigger HDs is in battery life due to current draw.
    o Yes a 7200rpm or 5400rpm drive transfers data quicker re SDTR than 4200rpm
    ---- whilst more current is drawn, it is drawn for a shorter time
    o However if the application is all I/O seeking, there may be shorter battery life
    ---- seeking time is slow electromechanical latency, current draw for longer
    o So the actual impact on battery life depends on application-set & data-set

    Sad that more makers don't put the drive in a shock-mounted caddy.
    There is a small space impact, but it need only be about 3mm around the drive
    if the recent Poron shock absorbing materials are used. Peanuts too in quantity.

    Drive life still comes down to temperature pretty much as primary failure mode.
    Dorothy Bradbury, Mar 19, 2005
  16. Just curious: which manufacturers are doing this? Are you referring to
    what IBM calls "HDD Shock Absorber" (available on some Thinkpads)?

    Thanks, Dominique
    Dominique Pivard, Mar 20, 2005
  17. Arvo

    Arvo Guest

    Dorothy, so I gather that you feel that temperature is the key issue.
    Well, then, is an older slower drive going to heat up less than a newer
    faster one?

    Actually, I have an older laptop and it sits on my desk most of the
    time with the top cover removed so that the HD is exposed to the open
    air. My current HD is 30 GB and I want to get another one to back it
    up. I plan to put the second hard drive in one of those external USB
    boxes. Now, those are pretty small and I don't know how well ventilated
    they are.

    I am looking to go for the most storage for least dollars, and don't
    care about speed so much, as I never have the latest equipment.

    How do you feel about the external boxes? Are they reliable? Are they
    more likely to cause drive failure due to poor ventilation? I have seen
    full size hard drive external boxes with fans, but the boxes for the
    laptop hard drives are much smaller and never seem to have fans.
    Arvo, Mar 20, 2005
  18. Just curious: which manufacturers are doing this? Are you referring to
    There are 2 approaches to shock absorbing, and can be combined:
    o Drive sits in a shock-absorber
    ---- Toughbook -- new use Poron, older use Sorbothane gel
    -------- I think Poron gives same cushioning from less thickness
    ---- Dell -- old Dells had the drive in a gel bag, now I think just some Latitudes
    ---- IBM -- some IBMs use a thin shock absorbing membrane (Poron I guess)
    o Drive detects G acceleration & parks heads
    ---- IBM developed this to stop heads smacking into platters
    ---- basically it gouges the platter as it spins like a bouncing bomb

    I suspect the IBM Thinkpads use both the G-detect & membrane.

    Remember a drive has 2 shock limits, and a vibration limit:
    o Operating shock is *much* lower than non-operating shock
    ---- solution is a) sway space & cushioning -- poor in a laptop
    ---- alternatively b) detect the G & park the heads -- ideal in a laptop
    o Vibration limit which is very low for operating shock
    ---- solution is a visco-elastic cushioning material
    ---- basically a) absorbs 80-97% of the energy, b) slow rebound so doesn't double-G
    ---- additionally c) be as thin as possible -- re laptop packaging

    Laptop packaging is really quite ugly:
    o PCBs can withstand 1,000G for short-duration -- risk is heatinks = copper = mass
    o Casing needs to be unbelievably stiff -- solution is mag-alloy or carbon-fibre
    o Hard-drives are the risk factor -- laptop can be replaced/insured, HD can't

    The Toughbooks sound a good idea - but are very expensive:
    o It is not expensive to shock mount just the HD -- and insure the rest
    ---- in terms of TCO it is actually far more economic than a Toughbook
    o Toughbooks are about usability in such environments
    ---- not just shock, but water - and ability to keep operating

    All laptop makers could introduce a 3mm pad around the HD:
    o E-A-R ConFor foam -- downside is hardness at low temps, less of a risk for laptops
    o Sorbothane gel -- proven on the early P1 & P2 Toughbooks
    o Poron material -- proven to give benefit in less than 3mm & used in medicine

    Poron is well proven in the medical area, as is ConFor foam.

    The simplest would be to stick a 2.5" drive in an external case and fit some corner
    pads of Sorbothane. That drive is then both portable, external (offline + elsewhere),
    and also offers a degree of ruggedness to protect what matters - the data.
    Even simpler is to backup to a remote server somewhere, for some that can be too
    difficult re bandwidth & data-set size, but for others it's a useful option. Many ISPs
    give free web/ftp-space, WinZIP supports AES encryption etc.
    Dorothy Bradbury, Mar 20, 2005
  19. Dorothy, so I gather that you feel that temperature is the key issue.
    It comes down to the drive :)
    o Very old drives had low areal density, so more platters - 12.5-19mm
    o Recent drives fit far more density per platter - so thinner

    Most laptops are ok on drive cooling:
    o The only time it may become marginal is re multi-hour continuous I/O
    o That is near enough uniquely limited to a) server blade or b) virus scan
    Those external enclosures mainly cool by conduction & convection.
    Again, they are largely ok - drives to not dissipate many watts, the only
    critical area on laptop cooling is when doing a virus scan of 40GB+.

    Generally a drive spends life at near idle - low temps:
    o During winter say 37oC, during spring say 40oC, summer 45oC

    However the max op temp is typically 50, 52, 55oC
    o You can exceed that temperature, just life is shortened progressively
    o You can undercut that temperature, so life is lengthened progressively

    So it comes down to the "on balance figure"
    o Which for most laptops is well within spec even if 7200rpm or 100GB

    The only time when this isn't true is where it isn't in a normal laptop:
    o Blade servers increasingly use 2.5" drives
    ----- as such they are used 24/7 in continuous I/O operation
    o Hence Hitachi make EK7, extended 24/7 continuous use, rated drives

    So on balance it is simple prudence.
    If the existing design is marginal - eg, at idle HDDTemp reports 55oC
    when it should be more like 40-42oC for a 4200rpm drive - then I would
    suggest a 5400rpm HD over a 7200rpm HD.
    Wise, since it will obsolete just the same despite the price premium.
    I would look at 5400rpm drives over 7200rpm - eg, Seagate Momentus,
    since they tend to provide higher capacity at a better price point.
    Yes the external boxes are reliable - simple right-angle PCB mounted USB
    micro-connector for outside, drive mini-IDE connector, surface mount bits.

    Remember USB ports are limited to 500ma per port, so...
    o Ideally the external USB enclosure should plug into 2 USB ports
    ---- one is for data-transfer, the two combined are to share the power draw
    o So avoiding the laptop pico-fuse cutout/reset problem
    ---- generally that is unlikely, the ports are simply limited on power

    It just means you can't plug multiple USB-powered items into a laptop.
    Dorothy Bradbury, Mar 20, 2005
  20. Arvo

    Arvo Guest

    It just means you can't >plug multiple USB-powered >items into a

    Thanks for the advice, Dorothy. But are you saying that I can only have
    one USB powered item at a time? I've already got three -- an optical
    mouse and two USB pen drives--connected to a 4 port USB hub, which is
    in turn connected to my one and only USB port on this old laptop! So
    the external HD will not work with this setup???
    Arvo, Mar 21, 2005
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