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Which brand of hard disk is most reliable?

hard drive

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 21 Jan 2014 at 14:37

Cloud storage firm Backblaze has released data on the ultimate hard drive battle: which hardware lasts longest under heavy-use conditions?

The company uses consumer-grade drives in its storage arrays, and has previously published data showing that these drives are just as hard-wearing as more expensive enterprise-level equipment. It's also calculated the average life-span of a hard drive.

Now, the company has revealed which brand of drives has the fewest failures and lasts the longest: Hitachi.

"If the price were right, we would be buying nothing but Hitachi drives," wrote Backblaze engineer Brian Beach on the company blog. "They have been rock solid, and have had a remarkably low failure rate."

Find out more

For the full breakdown by model, take a look at Backblaze's blog post.

For each of the tested capacities, Hitachi's failure rate - the average proportion of drives failing each year - was below 2%, while Western Digital's hovered about the 3% mark. Seagate ranged between 4% and 14%.

As well as the highest overall reliability, Hitachi disks also posted the lowest level of "trouble" - when a drive has issues, but doesn't fail completely. While automated recovery can often fix the problem, drives in a "trouble" state sometimes need to be removed and repaired, leading to downtime.

Each of the three manufacturers posted uptime of more than 99%, but again Hitachi came out on top, with 99.99% "active" time, versus 99.83% for Western Digital and 99.72% for Seagate.

Caveats to the figures

The company doesn't use enough Toshiba or Samsung drives to include them in its figures, so the comparison is limited to Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital. And Seagate's third-place ranking doesn't mean all Seagate drives are troubled: Beach called the 1.5TB versions "solid workhorses", despite observing lower reliability levels for other models, notably the Barracuda Green and the Barracuda 7200.

"The good pricing on Seagate drives along with the consistent, but not great, performance is why we have a lot of them," he said.

Beach also noted that Hitachi was bought out by Western Digital a year and a half ago. "Will Hitachi drives continue their excellent performance? Will Western Digital bring some of the Hitachi reliability into their consumer-grade drives?" For that, Backblaze doesn't yet have any answers.

Green troubles

Finally, Beach revealed that low-power drives are more likely to fail - but that's specifically in his company's heavy-use scenario.

"The drives that just don’t work in our environment are Western Digital Green 3TB drives and Seagate LP (low power) 2TB drives," he wrote. "Both of these drives start accumulating errors as soon as they are put into production."

"We think this is related to vibration. These drives are designed to be energy-efficient, and spin down aggressively when not in use," he added. "In the Backblaze environment, they spin down frequently, and then spin right back up. We think that this causes a lot of wear on the drive."

Beach acknowledged that Backblaze uses its hard drives more intensely than is common for consumer drives, and stressed that the company's experiences don't mean low-power drives aren't worth buying. "It wouldn’t be fair to call a drive 'bad' if it’s just not suited for the environment it’s put into," he said.

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User comments

They must have bucked their ideas up recently.

I used to buy Hitachi DeskStar drives (or Death Star as I came to know them), until I started to notice a very unnerving "Urrrrrf" noise coming from them every now and then.

I didn't realise what it was at first, but it was the HDD making this noise. Since the drive continued to work, I ignored it as some noise it made normally.

I had 4 in one desktop machine, all of different capacities, and from the machine there was a regular "urrf.......urrf.......urrf......urrf" as each drive in turn made this noise.

Of course, all the drives failed and needed to be replaced. I swore off them after that.

Some time afterward, I bought a TopUpTV recorder and heard this dreaded “urrf” noise coming from it every now and then. I knew exactly what brand of drive was inside and I knew I would have problems with it. The thing failed after 2 months.

Hate the things.

By John_Greythorne on 21 Jan 2014

Seagate only drives to fail

Having used more than 20 hard drives over the past 20 years, I've had 3 Seagate drives fail within a few years (1-3) after relatively light private use. I have never had a dozen Western Digital internal drives fail or WD external drives. I have stopped buying Seagate all together in the past few years. My one Hitachi drive never failed neither.

By Menzo on 21 Jan 2014

Seagate only drives to fail

Having used more than 20 hard drives over the past 20 years, I've had 3 Seagate drives fail within a few years (1-3) after relatively light private use. I have never had a dozen Western Digital internal drives fail or WD external drives. I have stopped buying Seagate all together in the past few years. My one Hitachi drive never failed neither.

By Menzo on 21 Jan 2014

My Samsung SpinPoint F4 is a Barracuda Green

Just after Seagate took over Samsung HDD section they carried on producing the SpinPoint F4 2TB drive. My one has Seagate Barracuda Green written on it as well as Samsung SpinPoint F4 Eco. So the Seagate failure figures recorded may indeed include some Samsung drives rebranded.

By mr_chips on 21 Jan 2014

the urrf noise on the Hitachi drives is actually the self diagnostics they do on a regular basis.

By mr_chips on 21 Jan 2014

I'm surprised to find a lot of info now about the Hitachi 'Meow'. It was apparently a feature used when the head was idle to stop the drive failing.

It didn't work, obviously.

By John_Greythorne on 21 Jan 2014

It's rather ironic because the only sudden failure I've ever had (so far) was a Hitachi.

Not surprised by the Green issues though, it seems to be quite common judging by the reviews I've seen.

By tech3475 on 21 Jan 2014

WD Has to be Most Reliable...

Western Digital drives must be the most reliable, as the data is backed up by the NSA. You don't get more secure than that.

By mbassoc on 21 Jan 2014

EduRadar.

i am only trust on seagate and Toshiba. I also use both on my personal computer..
http://eduradar.org

By johnymilton001 on 22 Jan 2014

Where are they made

Given that most drives are made in Thailand, a decision entirely made to maximise profits - it's hardly a highly skilled workforce - reliability is unlikely to be at the fore of disk manufacturers thinking.

By milliganp on 22 Jan 2014

@John_Greythorne

I had a couple of 'Death Stars' which failed as well and have never bought Hitachi for that reason. From my personal experience Samsung have been the most reliable but, of course, they are now part of Seagate. I've had at least one WD drive fail, too. However, we're rapidly running out of choices now: it's pretty much WD or Seagate.

By jgwilliams on 22 Jan 2014

@milliganp

Where these units are made is largely irrelevant. The "skill" parts are carried out by robots, and the fleshy bits of the assembly line belt just mashes stuff together.

It would be exactly the same here or in the US, unless you wanted to staff the assembly lines with skilled experts - and pay a significant premium for a drive that has 99.999% uptime, rather than 99.998%.

By TheHonestTruth on 22 Jan 2014

Own Goal

Thank you for the article. Just to note that Backblaze is not an Enterprise level Cloud provider, which is fine, it has a nice simple service for backup for home users and small businesses.
However its hyperbole to call it the "ultimate hard drive battle" no mention of HP, EMC et al, not to mention flash.
The fact that the company uses a "green drive" that's clearly either not being used correctly or shouldn;t have been nought in the first place (tiered data anyone) or maybe the company just doesn't know.

By simontompkins on 22 Jan 2014

Gary Hunt

In my experience external hard drives are the most likely to fail I've had two seagate 2TB drives and both failed within a month. However the cause is not the drive itself but the very poor quality case and control board. Having removed the drive from it's case and fitted it into a new external case, it now works perfectly. So if you have a clicking external seagate HD you know what to do.

By gmhunt on 23 Jan 2014

WD 3TB drives need settings changed before use.

WD 3TB drives have a default idle time of 8 seconds which is way too short and causes constant parking of heads. Using a WD utility called wdidle3 to change this figure to 300 (5mins) resolves this issue. You'll find a lot of people on forums recommending this.

By augur1975 on 23 Jan 2014

WD 3TB drives need settings changed before use.

WD 3TB drives have a default idle time of 8 seconds which is way too short and causes constant parking of heads. Using a WD utility called wdidle3 to change this figure to 300 (5mins) resolves this issue. You'll find a lot of people on forums recommending this.

By augur1975 on 23 Jan 2014

Hitachi drives now made by Toshiba?

After WD acquired Hitachi they sold the 3.5" division to Toshiba. It's therefore likely that these "good" Hitachi drives are now being sold/manufatured under the Toshiba name.

By drslothy on 23 Jan 2014

Where are the >4TB drives? 4TB has been the highest capacity available for years. I miss Moore's Law.

By brendan on 25 Jan 2014

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