Thursday, August 11, 2011

Failing hard drives

Hard drives fail. Several people commented on my thread about the new computer I ordered pointing out that solid state drives fail a lot more than classic hard drives, especially if in Raid 0 configuration. So I'm reconsidering the raid configuration, especially due to the TRIM issue. But the fundamental issue of the increased likelihood of my solid state hard drive failing doesn't bother me all that much, and here is why.

What exactly is the damage if your hard drive fails? Well, if it fails after the guarantee ran out, there is a financial loss. You need to buy a new one. But generally what people fear more is the loss of data. If that hard drive was the only place where you stored the photos of your children and now it's gone, you've lost something irreplaceable. If the hard drive that crashed contained the nearly finished thesis or book you were writing, you need to start over. And so on. I've been using hard drives for quarter a century now, at work and at home, and I've lost tons of data to hard drive crashes over the years.

Which is why my solid state drive(s) will not have any data of the sort I care about on them. For years already I have separated the drive containing the operating system and programs from the drive containing all the data. My new computer will have all my photos, documents, and other data I care about on the big regular hard drive. With one or two backups (depending on how much I care) on external hard drives, plus in some cases burned on DVD. I've implemented a solid backup strategy for home and work years ago, and haven't lost anything since.

Furthermore a lot of my data these days isn't even stored on my computer any more. I used to play single-player games where if you hard drive with your saved game crashed, my progress in the game would be lost. That isn't the case with MMORPGs. I can erase every trace of World of Warcraft from all my computers and drives, and if I ever restart WoW all my characters will still be there with all their possessions. (I just shouldn't throw away the authenticator.) The same is true for other online games I'm playing, like World of Tanks. My blog is stored somewhere in the Google cloud. So is all my e-mail. Right now Google going bankrupt would be a much bigger loss of data for me than if my main computer with all hard drives exploded.

Hard drives fail. But between data being stored off-site, and a good backup plan, that has stopped worrying me years ago. If my new solid state drives go belly-up in a year, it will not be a catastrophic loss. I just lose the price of the new one and an afternoon to re-install everything. And the next generation of drives will be cheaper and more stable again. The risk of crashing is the price I pay to be at the edge of technology.

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