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Hard Drive Wear and Tear - Does Spinning Down Help or Hurt?

When a computer's hard disk drive is first accessed after the system is turned out, it takes a second or two for it to "spin up" before data can be read. Turning off a hard disk drive has the opposite effect, resulting in a "spin down" process to discontinue usage in a safe and secure manner. Some hard drives, particularly those featured in external hard drive systems, may even spin down after a specified amount of inactivity. While this does save a small amount of energy usage, repeated spinning up and spinning down of your hard drive can actually shorten the lifespan of the device by a considerable measure.

Heating and Cooling Issues

All electronic devices are prone to failure when subjected to temperatures that are too high or too low, and the same goes for your computer's hard disk drive. While the "spin up" process of the hard drive does prompt a heat increase, the "spin down" process has the opposite effect. The internal elements of the average consumer hard drive have been known to fail from rapid and repeated heating and cooling.

Power Consumption

Most consumer-grade hard drives of today require more electricity to maintain a spinning drive platter as opposed to keeping the drive within a readied state of accessibility, so it makes sense that protocols would be used to automatically shut down a hard drive after a specified amount of time. On average, a 7200rpm hard disk drive will use up to 10W of energy, while an idling hard drive will only use 0.5W of energy after its been spun down. Laptop computers in particular usually have a setting to control this on their own behalf, which lets the individual user determine the length of inactivity required to initiate the spin down process. However, this is not a common feature seen in desktop computers or external hard drive systems.

The power consumption of today's energy efficient drives, known as "green drives" within the industry, is a little different. A green drive running at a rate of 5400rpm, for example, only uses a maximum of 3.5W when idling. Since this is a moderate number to begin with, such drives don't require the normal spin down techniques used with older drives.

Solid State Drives

A relatively new trend within the world of hard disk storage, solid state drives do not rely on a spinning disk platter of any kind. Instead, these drives utilize Flash-based memory, similar to that of a thumb drive, to store and access your files. Because your information is stored on a solid chip as opposed to a spinning disk, the processes of spinning up and spinning down are completely eliminated. Because of this, the lifespan of SSDs far outweighs that of the average, disk-based hard drive available today.

However, because solid state hard drives are still in their infancy, the pricing difference when compared to older, disk-based hard drives, as well as the decreased storage capacity seen in each drive, may be difficult to justify in some cases.


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