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HDD reliability in external enclosures?

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What affect do external enclosures have on HDD reliability? I'm particularly worried about the effects of power spikes or brownouts which on enclosures would be going through (assumably) a flimsy power brick and not a beefy ATX PSU.

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If you really value your hardware, then use of a UPS is a must. OTOH, usually external enclosures come with a server grade PSU, but you still should consider using UPS.

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What affect do external enclosures have on HDD reliability? I'm particularly worried about the effects of power spikes or brownouts which on enclosures would be going through (assumably) a flimsy power brick and not a beefy ATX PSU.

I do know that from personal experience the whenever people I know have a failed external drive, it is almost always the power adapter and not the hard drive. These days things seem to have improved. I think in the past part of the problem was with the connectors where some drives relied on the external adapter to handle the voltage split for the 12v and 5v rail. You ended up with a fragile PS2/S-Video style connector with tons of pins. Now most drives make use of a bullet style connection--12v is the most common--and any conversion for the 5v rail is done internally.

One final thing to consider is power supply technology/cost has come a long way in even the past couple of years. Most external adapters are now switching style units instead of transformer based. They are more reliable for a number of reasons but the big one is voltage tolerance. When you have a transformer based brick rated for 110v, any spike is going to be harsh. When you have a switching adapter rated for 100-240v, a blip in voltage (even a big jump) is going to be taken in stride. Most of the technology for switching power supplies has been around for a long time but it has only been in the past one or two years where the price has come down enough where you see them used in cheaper devices.

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I find it depends on the external drive. I have seen hordes killed due to overheating in the external enclosure (poor cooling). I have also seen hordes that the drive and enclosure were fine, but the AC adapter died.

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From my experience, if you're really concerned about reliability I'd recommend having a backup of that external HDD on another form of media, either several discs or another HDD for maximum reliability as unfortunately there are things beyond your control that can go wrong. It's definitely a good idea to read reviews before making a purchase though as there are some HDDs with horrible enclosures but without that extra step I mentioned, your data won't be as secure regardless of the quality of the drive.

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@jus: UPS would be an overkill for me. Besides portable data transfer I want it for non-expensive external backup.

@dietcoke: I wouldn't mind so much the adapter failing as long as the drive is safe. Maybe adapter technology has improved but these are commodity enclosures. I know my network switch gets stuck every now and then on power blips, and I don't think enclosure adapters would be radically different? Maybe with expensive ones, but there's no way for me to tell as reviews wouldn't cover that.

@continuum: I can watch temperature, but not power stability.

@fdrive: It's meant to be a drive for backups. I don't want to backup the backup of the backups. :) Reviews don't cover power handling.

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I wonder if a 2.5" external would be less susceptible to power issues since you remove the power brick in most cases. There are of course other challenges that get introduced when powering the drive over USB. I will say though that I've used a Hitachi external 2.5" drive with a 7K200 inside for a few years now without issue.

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@jus: UPS would be an overkill for me. Besides portable data transfer I want it for non-expensive external backup.

If a UPS is overkill, then I really wouldn't worry about it anymore than you already have. You are far more likely to have the external power brick fail due to shoddy manufacturing or shipping damage than you are to have it fail due to poor power line quality. (as poor line quality would probably damage your computer in the process, too).

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I wonder if a 2.5" external would be less susceptible to power issues since you remove the power brick in most cases.

Yeah, I considered 2.5". Pros: power from PSU, maybe more resistant to shock, smaller. Cons: Need to have enough power on ports, more expensive, more of a problem repurposing the drive for general use (but here there's the issue of reliability of a drive going from running vertically to horizontally... ;) but that's another topic.)

... You are far more likely to have the external power brick fail due to shoddy manufacturing or shipping damage than you are to have it fail due to poor power line quality.

I don't mind (as much) that failing. I'm worried about the drive! :)

(as poor line quality would probably damage your computer in the process, too).

I'm not talking about anything extreme. My LAN switch regularly gets stuck during the winter (when lights dim momentarily), but nothing else is affected (computer, router). I don't know how much of a life shortener something similar would be for drives.

Edited by eshap

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Are you assuming the notebook drive would run vertically? Mine doesn't and we're testing a Samsung right now that doesn't either. In fact, most notebook drives sit horizontal. They're also substantially quieter.

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Jus wrote:

> OTOH, usually external enclosures come with a server grade PSU

Well.... server grade external enclosures would come with a server grade P/S. Whatever "server grade" actually means these days.

The external drives sold at office supply stores don't qualify as "server grade" in my book.

Awhile back a power glitch killed a SCSI drive in a workstation class external enclosure. Far higher quality stuff than what most people call "server grade" these days. (You could drive a car over the enclosure and not hurt it. Who needs a gym membership with equipment like this?)And it was protected by a very serious isolation transformer. (Sadly,the UPS's inverter was kaput or that SCSI drive might still be alive today.)

Mickey asked:

> Why wouldn't a hard drive run vertically? They're tested that way.

It isn't that they wouldn't run. AFAIK all modern disks are rated to run vertically. The concern is that gravity pulling on the head assembly might cause it to sag slightly. So if you have data on the platters that was written with the drive horizontal, then try to read it with the drive vertical, the heads might not be centered on the existing track. Writing data with the drive vertical, then flipping the drive 180 degrees would be even worse.

At least that's what the concern used to be. I don't know how much

difference it really makes. Perhaps they have found a way to compensate.

I've been looking at external enclosures, with similar concerns about P/S quality, cooling, etc.

http://www.lian-li.com/v2/en/product/product04.php?cl_index=12&sc_index=42&ss_index=115

Unfortunately these assume you want a RAID controller included.

I don't, and even if I did, I might not want the one they chose.

http://www.addonics.com/products/enclosures/default.asp

http://www.addonics.com/products/raid_system/ast4.asp

Addonics is more flexible, start with the cabinet & P/S,

then choose if you want hotswap or not, individual data cables

for each disk or a port multiplier, or raid. I could probably

even put a Lian-Li cage, perhaps this hotswap one:

http://www.lian-li.com/v2/en/product/product06.php?pr_index=285&cl_index=2&sc_index=5&ss_index=71&g=f

in Addonics' cabinet. Although it looks like their backplane

blocks the airflow a bit more than necessary. I don't

necessarily need hotswap, although I am very tired of having

to take off both sides to mess with fiddily little screws,

so slides would be very nice.

I have a Lian-Li case, so I'm familiar with their stuff.

(Pro: decent quality Con: expensive) Any comments on Addonics?

Are there other brands I should be looking at?

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Are you assuming the notebook drive would run vertically?
Why wouldn't a hard drive run vertically? They're tested that way.

I didn't mean they won't. But I recall a discussion here about drives at non-standard orientations, and I think something that came up there (don't remember if it was concrete) was that drives might become less reliable if ran at a certain orientation for a while then a different one.

@Konrad: looks like you're after a much higher end enclosures than I am.

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