With the recent release of the first 8 Terabyte hard drive most people could easily store a lifetime of personal data on just one drive.
With all this data going on individual drives we are increasingly putting a lot of faith in hard drive manufacturers whether we like it or not.
With this in mind – what type of drive is best? Who are the most (and least) reliable brands and manufacturers? Does it matter if it’s enterprise or consumer grade? And what about HDD vs SSD?
If you are looking to buy a new drive today let’s do a roundup of what should be on your short list.
Solid State Reliability
Solid State Drives (SSD’s) are touted as superior in performance and reliability to traditional hard drives.
The performance benefits of using a SSD are clear, and it would seem there’s a certain ‘truthiness’ to the reliability claim given SDD’s replace the hard drive’s moving parts (that cause failures) with non-moving flash chips.
But it would appear this is not entirely true. Tom’s Hardware did a survey of data centres using SSD’s and concluded:
When it comes to enthusiasts, we really can’t make the assumption that an SSD is more reliable than a hard drive. If anything, the recent flurry of recalls and firmware bugs should be proof enough that write endurance isn’t our biggest enemy in the battle to demonstrate the maturity of solid-state technology.
But it does appear that they jury is still on SSD reliability being better as they have not been deployed for more than 2-3 years at most of the organizations surveyed.
So they not ‘definitely’ more reliable than HDD’s based on today’s limited data, but they may well prove to be more reliable in time.
Consumer Grade vs Enterprise Grade
Most manufacturers sell ‘enterprise grade’ versions of their hard drives. They come with longer warranties and supposedly better reliability to “meet the demanding environments found in global data centers and enterprises”.
With the same capacity and interfaces enterprise drives can be more than double the price of their ‘consumer grade’ cousins. So does the enterprise label justify the step price? Not according to ongoing reliability reporting by Backblaze here and here:
“We have no data on enterprise drives older than two years, so we don’t know if they will also have an increase in failure rate. It could be that the vaunted reliability of enterprise drives kicks in after two years, but because we haven’t seen any of that reliability in the first two years, I’m skeptical.”
“The assumption that ‘enterprise’ drives would work better than ‘consumer’ drives has not been true in our tests. I analyzed both of these types of drives in our system and found that their failure rates in our environment were very similar — with the “consumer” drives actually being slightly more reliable.”
Now some commentators have questioned the way backblaze have reported their data, but it seems clear enough that even if they add some value, enterprise drives are not worth the significant extra cost involved.
Best and Worst Drives by Manufacturer
This is where things get interesting. Drive manufacturers are very reluctant to reveal reliability data. The good thing for us is that a number of organizations who buy or service hard drives from multiple manufacturers have published data of reliability in their environments.
First up Storelab a Russian data recovery firm, released a study in 2010 covering over 4,000 drives sent in for recovery. Comparing the failure rates to the market share of each manufacturer.
Storelab – HDD Failure Rates
In comparing the graphs three results stand out:
- Seagate with failures almost double their market share (56% vs 31%)
- Western Digital also failing less that its market position (19% vs 30%), and
- Hitachi (now HGST) who’s failure rate was less than a third of its market share (5 vs 16%)
Backblaze track drive failure by manufacturer on an ongoing basis. There most recent reporting (Sept 2014) showed the following results:
Interestingly they award the same placing as Storelab. Hitachi taking the gold, Western Digital the silver, and Seagate a distant third.
Now it’s important to note that these results are a snapshot in time. They can be heavily influenced by one bad drive model or batch. Also drive technology and manufacturing processes is constantly evolving. This means the results below may not be relevant to drives on the market today from that manufacturer.
Results and Conclusion
So if you’re in the market for a new drive what can you take away from this post to guide your next drive purchase.
- Enterprise grade hard drives do not provide any noticeable improvement in reliability, and given their higher price you would be better to put any additional budget towards a drive with greater capacity or an SSD.
- An SSD is not necessarily more reliable than a HDD but the performance is noticeably better if the drive is going to be used for a computer operating system.
- When it comes to manufacturers failure rates have been shown to be very model (vintage) specific so historical data is of limited value. That said, you may want to think twice before buying a Seagate drive, and you may be safer with Hitachi (now HGST) or Western Digital.
No matter what hard drive you have or choose to buy, you may buy some time but getting a more reliable option – but it will always fail. It is just a matter of when.
Make sure anything important is backed up regularly to at least one (and preferably two) other drives.
That said, if money is no object then you could buy a drive that will last One Million Years!