Jan 10, 2012

How long will the data on an unused hard drive survive?

There are a few hard drives from the early days of my company sitting in the storage closest. I am curious how long the data will remain accessible. I'm not really worried about the data, it's really only of value from a nostalgic standpoint, but I wonder how long the drives can sit there and still retain data. How long do unused hard drives last in storage?


You may run into interface issues before the HDDs degrade to the point of being unusable.  Still have a PC with an IDE interface, for example?  That said there is a life span for HDDs, even sitting on the shelf.  As far as I know, though, it is a known unknown.  Think of VHS tapes.  They degrade over time, but I have some pretty old VHS tapes that still play.  I watched Pulp Fiction on VHS just the other day, and it looked fine (for VHS).  I got it in 1995.  Still, a HDD is magnetic storage.  Magnetic dipoles have a half life, and over time data will be lost.  How long?  I'm not sure, but I have seen the figure 15 years used.  I can't vouch for the accuracy of that figure, but that seems like a reasonably long time, and I wouldn't be surprised if the actual life is longer. 

I have absolutely no idea. I imagine that if they are in good condition and not subject to bad storage conditions then they might last for many years. I suppose it might differ though based on the manufacturer and model. Some drives have better reputations for longevity than others, so it's hard to generalize without really knowing what kind of drives they are.

I guess you'll find out the next time you decide to see if they work, eh? ;)
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