Hard drives are the skeleton and lifeblood of digital video. Musicians and other audio-botherers seem constantly amazed by the amount of space required for DV and especially HD-Video projects (with uncompressed HD capture inhabiting an entirely different level), while my video-based friends seem to be ever carrying around stacks of Firewire or USB hard drives for capturing and storing their collections of media.

So a large study of which drives fail most often and when drives are most likely to fail would be of great use to the visualist community. Fortunately, Google – possibly the largest purveyor of hard drive genocide the world has ever known – has run a study covering 5 years and over 100,000 drives, and the results have been condensed by Dan:

You know how mechanics put a little sticker in the corner of your windscreen to remind you when your car will need another service? Hard drives should come with something similar.

Because, one way or another, all hard drives are going to die.

Personally, I start feeling nervous about my drives when they hit their second birthday. Since they’ve then spent almost all of those two years cheek-by-jowl with other drives in the disk-farm PCs I favour, this is not entirely irrational. But, thanks to a couple of recent studies, I now know that it’s less rational than I thought it was.

Google’s study of more than a hundred thousand drives over five years is useful as much for what it says about how hard it is to figure this stuff out, as for what it actually found.

It turns out that working drives hard, or running them warmer than recommended, doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on their life. And the popular idea that failures follow a “bathtub curve”, in which any drive that doesn’t die in the first three months is likely to live for five years, also seems to be invalid. Drives actually just slowly wear out over their lives, like other mechanical devices.

Dan’s writeup is aimed at geeks in general, but I don’t see anything there which isn’t perfectly reasonable and applicable to my geek specialty.