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Many consumer electronic items are built with planned obsolescence in mind.
So when your parents or grandparents say, “…they just don’t build them like they used to…” they’re actually more right than they could know.
Manufacturers need you to buy the bigger screen, the faster computer, or the smarter smartphone, so they can stay in business. And the only way to do that is by making those items not last as long as they used to.
Apple were caught red-handed deliberately slowing down older iPhones, but claimed this was to counter “battery issues”.
But it was nothing more than a sneaky way to force people with perfectly good iPhone 4s and 5s into buying a new phone.
And the really sick thing is they got away with it – a smaller company would have been dragged through the media, exposed and then bankrupt by one lawsuit after another.
When Will My Hard Drive Die?
But do external hard drives have the same problem with forced obsolescence?
The good news is that the short answer to this is, “No”.
And this is for the simple fact that any company manufacturing hard drives that lasted no more than a few years would go out of business before the warranties on their products expired.
Look at how upset people get when their hard drive crashes and they lose all the family photos they haven’t backed up. Now imagine that happening, on a completely unpredictable timeframe, to every single external hard drive on the planet?
Here’s the thing though – even the big names in external hard drives offer no more than a 3-year limited warranty on their products.
So, does that mean it’s a case of hope for the best but plan for the worst?
Buy Brand Name Drives
As long as you buy an external hard drive from a reputable company.
And here’s why buying from a brand name is important.
High-quality external (and internal) hard drives are manufactured in completely sterile environments – the same type of “clean room” you’d find used for assembling satellite components.
The failure rate has to be as close to zero as possible.
And when those clean rooms are infected in any way, companies can lose entire batches of hard drives – literally thousands of hard drives destroyed forever.
So this also plays a part in whether or not your hard drive lasts for the entire duration of your warranty.
How Long Do They Actually Last?
But back to the original question you want an answer for – how long do external hard drives last?
If you turn to the “experts” they’ll say between 3 and 5 years, as if that was written in stone somewhere.
It’s not, and they’re wrong in the timeframes provided.
In fact, anyone quoting numbers like that is probably just basing them on manufacturer warranties.
A cheap external hard drive will probably keel over and die within a year or three.
But a high-quality hard-drive from a reputable brand name can last an awful long time – my best run so far has been 12 years from a Western Digital My Passport 750GB.
And it’s still not completely dead but has become incredibly slow and unreliable.
That’s 4x the manufacturer’s warranty, and 4x as long as “experts” claimed it would last.
Of the other dozen or so external hard drives I’ve owned I’ve only ever had to bin one after 2 years of ownership…because it fell off my desk onto a concrete floor…and died instantly.
Apart from that my external hard drives (and the ones I’ve bought for friends and family) have all lasted at least a decade.
I can’t even say I took extra special care of them – I just didn’t drop them on the floor, spill coffee on them, or expose them to a powerful electromagnet.
So, if you buy a cheap external hard drive then you can probably counts its life expectancy in months.
But my Western Digital external hard drives have served me well for at least a decade each.
Factors That Shorten The Life Of A Hard Drive
- Inferior quality product
- Overuse – used in place of an internal drive
- Extremes of heat and cold