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When should you replace a hard drive?

Short answer: now. Long answer: whenever you feel like it, but probably soon. Hard disk drives, or hard drives for short (or HDD's for even shorter), are at the end of their life-span. Just to clarify for those who haven't read my previous articles, a hard drive is not the box that sits on the floor or on your desk (ie. your computer), it's the storage device inside your computer. As cheap storage for large amounts of data they remain stalwarts, but in the future the more modern 'solid state' drives will overtake them there also.

What's the difference? Solid state drives are made up of computer chips much like your computer's CPU, whereas a hard drive is made up of multiple magnetic rotating platters, using a tiny arm to read and write data magnetically. Since it uses moving parts, hard drives are about ten times slower than solid state drives, and about 100 times slower than the more modern NVMe solid state drives. Since they have those moving parts, hard drives are more susceptible to damage via physical interaction, eg. dropping the laptop. But solid state drives are more susceptible to power damage, such as spikes from power line strikes.

One reason to replace your hard drive with a solid state drive is speed. Particularly for modern operating systems like Windows 10 and 11, which are designed with SSD's in mind (and go about as fast like a cats turd sliding off a hot corrugated iron roof on a HDD). The second is the rapidly-approaching demise of your existing hard drive. While SSD's also have a lifespan of about 5-10 years, most computers built with a HDD are pretty old now, which means the HDD is typically close to the end of it's lifespan (6 years on average).

How can you tell if your HDD is about to fail? Bad sectors are the most foolproof measure, as even a single bad sector is a strong indicator for imminent demise according to Backblaze (a data warehouse who publish statistics on these sorts of things) - more info here. You can check for these using HDDscan or a similar tool, if you have better-than-novice computer skills. Backblaze also stated categorically that HDD's fail more quickly than SSD's, though not by much. Generally-speaking as soon as you see 1 bad sector on a hard drive I recommend replacement, or at the very least conscientious backing up of data.

Bottom line: all drives fail, including solid state drives. But if your computer is still running with a hard drive (referred to in a previous article as 'spinning rust drive'), chances are it's a good time to replace it and get a nice speed boost while doing so.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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