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Should you leave a hard drive running when it's not in use?


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Mike Bell asked if he should shut down his hard drive when he doesn't need it. "Will that constant powering up [and down] add wear and tear…?"

From what I can tell, regularly turning a hard drive on and off can wear it down. But so can running it around the clock. For that matter, you can kill a drive by leaving it off and untouched for too long (I've actually done that).

In other words, these things are fragile, and there's little agreement on how best to treat them. I checked with two experts on hard drive technology, and got two very different answers to the leave on/turn off controversy.

Fred Langa has been writing about technology for decades. In a 2005 article, he wrote that "Most of the normal wear is on the drive bearings: They’re always in use whenever the motor’s spinning, even if the rest of the drive is idle. That’s why letting the drive 'spin down' (stop rotation) during periods of idleness can extend the drive’s life."

I asked Langa if he still agreed with what he'd written nearly eight years ago. He did. (Full disclosure: Fred and I both write for Windows Secrets.)

But I got a very different answer from Steve Gibson, author of SpinRite, a venerable and highly-regarded hard drive maintenance program. "Cycling the drive [turning it off and on] is definitely worse for it…Almost everyone's experience [with hard drive crashes is] that they turn on a computer that was working perfectly the last time it was in use [and it doesn't work anymore]."

So what's my view?

If there's that much controversy between experts (and I've read plenty of others on both sides), the differences can't be that great. Your chances of crashing that drive before you replace it with something better will be about equal either way.

And with that consideration, I vote for shutting the drive down when it's not in use. You use less electricity, and that's better for your monthly bills and for the planet.

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I have my settings on my PC to allow hard drives to spin down when they are not in use. I got 3 of them in a PC and well.. it's kinda pointless to have 2 of them running if they are not being accessed. I have shut down PC's when not in use and have left them running. It doesn't matter that much, but if you want to save money letting them spin down will be beneficial. I think what really shortens the hard drives lifespan is excessive heat, never defragment it (although the higher capacities usually don't matter much if there is very little fragmentation) and moving the device around constantly (or dropping it, giving it shock). I will usually replace a storage/backup hard drive within 3-5 years if i run out of space on the primary one, ill use one and leave the other alone only using it for backing up.

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I think what really shortens the hard drives lifespan is excessive heat, never defragment it (although the higher capacities usually don't matter much if there is very little fragmentation).

If you are talking about HDD and not SSD, me thinks de-fragmenting a HDD will increase it's life. The drive will need to spin less and if one is using a folder/file optimization / placement software, even the HDD head will need to move less, hence, lesser power and energy required, hence, lesser wear and tear and hence, longer life.

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All I can say is that one cannot vote a simple Yes or No on this topic - the debate is much more complex.

Like most other Reviewers, Lincoln Spector has made an obvious blunder by not taking into consideration 2 basic parameters:-

  • The idle time between 2 boots and
  • The continuous period of time the system would be run
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