10 Replies Latest reply: Oct 22, 2010 4:22 PM by thomas_r.
iMan G3 Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)
In May, I was using my computer one day and it froze. So I forced a shut-down and started it back up and one day I opened Disk Utility and it reported the SMART status as failing. I created a Western Digital warranty replacement and have been using the new drive ever since. Well, lately Windows won't start up so I went into Disk Utility to write zeros to the disk. I came back after a while and it said "Unmounting..." and was frozen, so I forced a shut-down again and when I opened up Disk Utility again it said SMART status failing again! This is the hard drive that I got as a replacement just 5 months ago!

So my question is this: do I trust its reporting? Is it possible that it's report of it failing is bad or do I really have to go through the stupid warranty replacement again?

I am currently in the middle of a warranty replacement for my WD MyPassport Essential because half of the disk was bad sectors, so this would be my third warranty replacement from Western Digital in less than six months.

Black 2GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook, Mac OS X (10.6.4)
  • lkrupp Level 4 Level 4 (3,400 points)
    The S.M.A.R.T. status report comes directly from the hard drive itself, part of the firmware. I've had good luck with Western Digital drives but others not so much. Sounds like the drive is indeed going south.
  • Kiwi Graham Level 4 Level 4 (1,850 points)
    My understanding of SMART is that it is likely to "under report" problems rather than "over report". So a "failing" status shouldn't be ignored.

    Even if the probability of having 3 drives fail for one person is low, randomness doesn't prevent clusters from happening, unfortunately!
  • etresoft Level 7 Level 7 (26,235 points)
    iMan G3 wrote:
    So my question is this: do I trust its reporting?


    Yes. If anything, the SMART status doesn't identify failing drives often enough.

    I am currently in the middle of a warranty replacement for my WD MyPassport Essential because half of the disk was bad sectors, so this would be my third warranty replacement from Western Digital in less than six months.


    There is a reason why Apple is moving to flash storage. However, I think you have just been unlucky. Western Digital drives are no worse than any other brand. Hard drives typically start to fail at 3 years of age - or sooner.
  • thomas_r. Level 7 Level 7 (29,950 points)
    Hard drives typically start to fail at 3 years of age - or sooner.


    I've heard this timeframe bandied about quite a lot on these forums, but it just doesn't hold water. I have a 7-year-old PowerBook G4 whose drive has never failed. I also had a MacBook Pro that made it to 3 years without failure... then I dropped it, but I've still got the drive months later and it's still working. I've got a LaCie backup drive on the kids' iMac... that one is about 5 years old and just fine. I've got a little LaCie Porsche drive that is about the same age and is still functioning fine. I've got a 3-year-old G-drive. My wife's business has multiple 4-year-old Windows laptops made by a variety of different manufacturers, none have had drives fail. And should I count my old drive-based iPod that still works just fine? Only one drive I have ever owned has failed on me: the one in my kids' iMac.

    Seems to me that those kind of real-world statistics - one failed out of twelve drives purchased in the last ten years - belie the claim that drives typically start failing at 3 years of age. Although it can happen, I don't believe that it is typical at all.

    Of course, all that said... if the SMART status is reporting failure, then failure it is.
  • etresoft Level 7 Level 7 (26,235 points)
    Thomas A Reed wrote:
    Hard drives typically start to fail at 3 years of age - or sooner.


    I've heard this timeframe bandied about quite a lot on these forums, but it just doesn't hold water.


    Sure it does. See the chart on page 4: http://static.googleusercontent.com/externalcontent/untrusted_dlcp/labs.google.com/en//papers/diskfailures.pdf

    Seems to me that those kind of real-world statistics - one failed out of twelve drives purchased in the last ten years - belie the claim that drives typically start failing at 3 years of age. Although it can happen, I don't believe that it is typical at all.


    Those aren't statistics, those are anecdotes. Your 1/12 is unusually good. The original poster's 0/3 is unusually bad. Neither means much. It is pretty simple to figure out when hard drives are expected to start failing. The manufacturers have very good statistics and they publish them with each drive sold - it is called the warranty and it is usually 3 years.

    If you have a 3 year-old hard drive and it starts behaving strangely, toss it. There is no repair that is cheaper or easier.
  • thomas_r. Level 7 Level 7 (29,950 points)
    I've heard this timeframe bandied about quite a lot on these forums, but it just doesn't hold water.


    Sure it does. See the chart on page 4


    To quote from another part of page 4:

    While it may be tempting to read this graph as strictly failure rate with drive age, drive model factors are strongly mixed into these data as well. We tend to source a particular drive model only for a limited time (as new, more cost-effective models are constantly being intro- duced), so it is often the case that when we look at sets of drives of different ages we are also looking at a very different mix of models. Consequently, these data are not directly useful in understanding the effects of disk age on failure rates


    I have thus far only skimmed this study, as it's the first I've seen it, but the study's findings - according to the study authors themselves (see p. 2) - have nothing to do with failure rate vs age comparisons. They mostly have to do with the predictive ability of SMART status. The study also looked at drives in one specific use (server farms at Google), and thus any incidental out-of-context data may not apply to drives in other uses.

    Besides which, just because there's a slight spike of increased failure rate at 3 years, it does not follow that drives "typically" begin failing at 3 years. That wording implies that most drives die sometime at or near the 3 year mark, which I feel is obviously not correct.

    Those aren't statistics, those are anecdotes.


    LOL, at what magic number do anecdotes become statistics? 20 drives? 50? 100? I would agree that you can't say anything meaningful about a population of 3, but 12 drives starts to show at least some statistical relevance. More drives are, of course, more predictive, but data on the failure rate among a sample of 12 drives is not something to be discounted outright.
  • etresoft Level 7 Level 7 (26,235 points)
    Thomas A Reed wrote:.
    at what magic number do anecdotes become statistics? 20 drives? 50? 100?


    More like a million. I wasn't joking about the warranty. Manufacturers know when it becomes cost ineffective to replace equipment for free. I never said every drive is going to fail after 3 years. 3 years is the point at which it isn't worth your time anymore. You've gotten good use out of it. If a machine starts behaving strangely at 3 years of age, replacing the hard drive is absolutely the fastest and cheapest way to fix it. Even if the problem is software, the reinstall onto a faster, bigger drive is probably going to clear it up. My goal here is not to help people squeeze every bit of life out of a hard drive, it is to help people use their Macs better and more effectively. I consider replacing the hard drive to be a standard maintenance like replacing belts or brake pads on a car, only cheaper. At worst, you've wasted $50 and two hours. At best, you've saved your data and given your computer another 3 good years. I don't have a problem with that.
  • thomas_r. Level 7 Level 7 (29,950 points)
    I wasn't joking about the warranty.


    By that logic, my Mac should be thrown away if it causes me any trouble after only one year.

    3 years is the point at which it isn't worth your time anymore. You've gotten good use out of it. If a machine starts behaving strangely at 3 years of age, replacing the hard drive is absolutely the fastest and cheapest way to fix it.


    I'm going to have to disagree with that, as well. There's no point in spending the money and effort to replace a drive if there is no indication that there's something wrong with it! There are many, many more reasons for a machine to be "behaving strangely" than just hard drive failure. If I had followed this advice, I would have replaced my old PowerBook G4's hard drive at least a couple times in its seven year life. Since it didn't need that, as simpler fixes always sufficed, that's a not insignificant amount of money that I didn't end up spending. Plus, keep in mind that most people probably aren't tech-savvy enough to replace the drive themselves, so those folks are also looking at a hefty fee for the installation.

    Certainly, following your advice won't do any harm. However, we live in a society that is steadily moving more and more towards disposable everything, in spite of the obvious environmental and economic impact that attitude has. We don't need to be encouraging people to treat hard drives as disposable for no good reason after only 3 years. Especially when that 3 year statistic is being based on out-of-context data.
  • etresoft Level 7 Level 7 (26,235 points)
    Thomas A Reed wrote:
    I wasn't joking about the warranty.


    By that logic, my Mac should be thrown away if it causes me any trouble after only one year.


    If you can find a bigger, faster, more reliable Mac for $ 50-100, then yes.

    There's no point in spending the money and effort to replace a drive if there is no indication that there's something wrong with it! There are many, many more reasons for a machine to be "behaving strangely" than just hard drive failure.


    Certainly. But if the problem persists after all attempts at correction, including the catch-all solution of reinstalling the OS, what would you suggest then?

    I would have replaced my old PowerBook G4's hard drive at least a couple times in its seven year life. Since it didn't need that, as simpler fixes always sufficed, that's a not insignificant amount of money that I didn't end up spending. Plus, keep in mind that most people probably aren't tech-savvy enough to replace the drive themselves, so those folks are also looking at a hefty fee for the installation.


    Well, I think I replaced the hard drive once or twice in my old iBook over its 6 or 7 year life. I'm quite tech-savvy and that was a two hour, nerve-wracking ordeal. But in the newer MacBooks, it is almost as if they have been designed to swap out hard drives on a regular basis.

    We don't need to be encouraging people to treat hard drives as disposable for no good reason after only 3 years.


    Sorry, but they are mechanical devices. They all fail - every last one. It is only a question of when. If you maintain good backups, and don't mind replacing the hard drive at whatever inopportune time it happens to fail, then keep using it until it starts to whine or grind.

    Especially when that 3 year statistic is being based on out-of-context data.


    The hard drive's manufacturer warranty is hardly out-of-context data. Where I work, they toss servers out the door once the warranty expires. Our data is irreplaceable, the hardware isn't.
  • thomas_r. Level 7 Level 7 (29,950 points)
    if the problem persists after all attempts at correction, including the catch-all solution of reinstalling the OS, what would you suggest then?


    It would depend on the problem. Problems can just as easily be caused by other hardware issues besides a bad hard drive, and in those cases, replacing the hard drive is just a waste of money and won't fix the problem. That is why I object to making such a blanket statement.

    I think I replaced the hard drive once or twice in my old iBook over its 6 or 7 year life. I'm quite tech-savvy and that was a two hour, nerve-wracking ordeal. But in the newer MacBooks, it is almost as if they have been designed to swap out hard drives on a regular basis.


    So? For many people, it doesn't matter if there were a door on the bottom with a smiley face and letters spelling out "Open Here!" - the idea of messing with computer innards is still scary for them. I've been fiddling with such things since the old Mac SE, when it was a real task to open the case, but I never make the mistake of assuming that others will be comfortable with such things just because it's easier to do.

    \[Mechanical devices] all fail - every last one. It is only a question of when.


    By that reasoning, I suppose everything can be considered disposable. You're ignoring the point I was trying to make, which is that we don't need to be throwing out these kinds of electronics prematurely. That's just plain wasteful.

    The hard drive's manufacturer warranty is hardly out-of-context data.


    That wasn't the data I was referring to, but even so, that's still out-of-context data. You're taking the date that the manufacturer stops covering defects and using that as the date that the item wears out. That's silly. My Mac doesn't wear out after one year. That is not what a warranty means.

    Where I work, they toss servers out the door once the warranty expires. Our data is irreplaceable, the hardware isn't.


    That's a different case. We're talking about end-users here. In a server application, hardware must keep working without any downtime - at least, none that the customer notices - and the budget to keep it going is typically much higher. Comparing end-user hardware and server hardware is meaningless.