Why are some hard drives more reliable than others?

by Hugh Brownstone11 Comments

Thanks to the folks over at ExtremeTech for alerting us to the research of Cloud Backup vendor Backblaze. According to Backblaze, hard drive failure rates for disks of the same size and age can differ by as much as 20X. Maybe we should spend a little less time figuring out which lens we get next and a little more time figuring out which storage devices we use to save and edit our precious footage.
This one was a bit of a shocker: the Seagate 3.0 TB Barracuda 7200.14 hard drive has an annual failure rate of 15.7%, compared to just .7% for the Hitachi Deskstar 5K3000.

Made me wonder precisely what is in my 3.0 TB, RAID 1 OWC Guardian Maximus (yes, it really is named thusly. Makes me think of a character in Monty Python's LIFE OF BRIAN. Know which one I mean?).

But this really begs the answer to an even more basic question: should we still be using hard drives at all, and if so, when – and through what interface?

After installing Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test a while ago, I was able to quantify what I already knew at a gut level: just how sub-optimal my editing storage workflow was.

That whopping 2 TB backup disk I was so impressed with, according to the Disk Speed Test, could only muster 13.0 MB/s write speed and 31 MB/s read speed.


Maybe USB 2.0 really wasn’t good enough anymore.

But that USB 3.0 1 TB disk I then bought to actually edit my files so that my internal hard drive stayed relatively uncluttered? Yeah, cool: 56.4MB/s write speed and 60.4 MB/s read speed. Four or five times faster, dude — and cheap!

Oh yeah!

Except Blackmagic confirmed what I once again immediately experienced: it still wasn’t good enough for editing 1080p24 footage.

Next up? That Guardian Maximus, also running through USB3.0: 165 MB/s write, just about the same — 163 MB/s — read speed.

Oh baby!

Blackmagic confirmed what I already saw: this works for editing and backup. But Blackmagic was already sending up the warning signs: this wasn’t going to be fast enough for 2K at 10 bit 4:2:2, let alone 4K.

And I wanted even faster.

That’s when I went solid state AND Thunderbolt: 230 MB/s write speed, 353.4 MB/s read speed. And lower failure rates, due to no moving parts.

Crushing it!

Yet not really: Blackmagic tells me that while it’s fast enough for 1080p24 even at 10 bit 4:2:2, it won’t handle 1080p 59.94.

And as my project sizes have grown, I really want even faster edit times.

My personal workflow is evolving to RAID 0 SSD via Thunderbolt for editing and exporting final project files, then archiving to RAID 1 HDD via USB 3.0. This way, I don’t have an all SSD cost, but do have the speed when it counts most: while I’m in front of the screen.

What has been your experience with hard drive failure rates, and what works for you?

Why are some hard drives more reliable than others?

Via ExtremeTech:

First up, let’s run through Backblaze’s new figures, and try to weed out any erroneous or untrustworthy data that shouldn’t be used to draw any hasty conclusions. Backblaze produced its first set of drive reliability figures at the end of 2013, when it had 27,134 hard drives plugged in. This new set of data, produced at the end of June 2014, tracks how those original hard drives are doing (some of which are now four years old), and the reliability of some newer drives (mostly the 4TB Seagate Desktop HDD.15 and HGST Megascale 4000.B.

Hard drive annual failure rate

The gray bars show the annual failure rates at the end of 2013; the colored bars show the updated annual failure rates as of June 2014. “Annual failure rate” is a slightly odd statistic, but it’s a good way of measuring a large number of drives that come from different manufacturing batches, different vendors, and are of a different age (some of the drives are four years old; some are just a few weeks old). In short, the annual failure rate is the percentage chance of a hard drive dying in a given 12-month window.

Continue reading this article at ExtremeTech “Why are some hard drives more reliable than others?”

Note: it is our policy to give credit as well as deserved traffic to our news sources – so we don't repost the entire article – sorry, I know you want the juicy bits, but I feel it is only fair that their site get the traffic and besides, you just might make a new friend and find an advertiser that has something you've never seen before

(cover photo credit: snap from ExtremeTech)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone


  1. Yep, the first time I bought a Seagate drive and had it fail in 5 minutes I vowed never to “save money” by buying another one.  I use only Hitachi drives – hundreds at this point.  Each project gets its own drive and is backed-up on our server… Often clients get a third clone – thus three drives stored in three locations. Considering the cost and man-hours involved in production, the cost of an extra drive or two is minimal.

  2. My computer — purchased two years ago — has a Crucial consumer-grade 256GB SSD for the operating system (and some files that rarely change), plus a RAID array of two 2TB Seagate drives. I haven’t had problems with either — yet.
    What has surprised me is that software on the hard drive opens and runs almost instantaneously. (I said almost, okay?) You’d think it was an SSD.
    The reasons are probably that the new drive has a much greater areal density than my old computer’s drive (so the heads don’t have to move as much), and the interface is 6GB SATA, far faster than the ATA on the 11-year-old machine.
    SSDs will eventually fail, whereas HDs can last only a few months, or several decades. I would not use an SSD to store data that comprises huge files that are constantly be re-written to the drive (as when editing photos).

  3. I bought this a while ago for two reasons. It was the only external e-sata 6gbps dock I could find, and it has two bays that you can use to RAID 0/1 the external drives. Add in two SSD drives in RAID is pretty slick. I’ve not actually done that, but it’s possible. You do, however need a m/b with 2 e-sata ports that are 6gpbs. So happens my m/b is (forget which it is now). In a test with a OCZ 240GB SSD, it ran faster in the dock than plugged in to the internal SATA ports. Apparently the external controller was faster than the one used internally on the m/b.


  4. Also keep in mind that your disk speed numbers are factoring in only one camera at those resolutions. We had a workstation that was working fine for editing single and two-camera clips, but when we tried to edit a 4-camera 1080p video, it lagged hard until we upgraded it to an SSD.

    This is definitely one HUGE benefit to NOT using high bitrate video if you don’t need it. We can do three camera 4k video from our GH4s (internal recordings), but if that were raw 4k from a blackmagic, there’s no way we could easily edit it.

  5. William Sommerwerck I disagree about the SSD for editing. I’ve had 7 SSD drives, none have failed.
    I’ve only had a couple HDs fail. Point is, either will fail, randomly, at some point. You just gotta hope you’re not in the middle of editing and lose a ton of work. Hence backups after every so many minutes or so is a good idea while editing. SSDs offer much faster performance for editing especially in RAID. I posted a link in a previous comment to an external e-sata 6gbps dual-bay that allows for RAID setups. I think it offers the best of all worlds.. gives you the fastest (for PC anyway..short of Thunderbolt which sadly is still not easy to find on any non-Mac computer) throughput’s, allows for RAID configuration, and super easy to swap drives should any fail, or when done with a session and want to store them for backups/archive. I still think we need 1TB bluray disks already though!

  6. TonyNorthrup Makes you wonder with 6K sensors with RED and ARRI, and Sony working on an 8K sensor, the hardware needs to edit that level, especially multi-cam, is going to be well beyond the laptop or even beefed up average home editing machine in the range of 3K or so. At that point, I wonder if a machine with 4 cpus each with 4 to 8 cores, with a couple of workstation graphics cards and 128GB RAM isn’t the way to go. By that I mean, you can buy a “server” system that is typically used for server computers with onboard graphics card, but then you’d add a couple expensive Workstations graphics (if you can find a server m/b that supports 2 or 4 cpus AND PCIe 3+ slots for video cards). I am starting to think only specialty 10K+ (probably closer to 20K or more in cost) rigs will be the only game in town soon to edit 4K to 8K content. As fast as 4K content is coming at us, and cameras and such are “affordable”… it may be the computer once again that will hinder us in being able to acquire 4K to 8K content.

  7. justjacksonn William Sommerwerck I won’t gainsay your good experience with SSDs — but I’m curious as to how many GBs have been written to them. It would be interesting to see how rapidly (or not) you’re approaching their lifespans.
    Any device can fail “randomly” due to bad design or poor quality of execution. But the time of failure for a properly designed and built SSD isn’t “random” — it’s predictable.

  8. William SommerwerckYes you are right.. SSDs do have some bit of predictable life span vs a HD. I also haven’t done large projects, so I agree maybe as I fill one up completely things will be different. And, I’ve not used one on a daily basis other than my system boot drive. I am.. to be fair…speculating based on tons of reading, tech knowledge, etc. There is one thing that is for sure in this life and that is nothing is for sure.

  9. justjacksonn William Sommerwerck I’m speculating, too.
    The SSD has only about 1/4 its capacity used, so there’s a good chance that — given a lifespan of about 6000 writes — it should handily outlive me.
    When I bought the computer, I seriously considered having two SSDs. But a combination of “low capacity” and high cost per byte, plus worry about losing everything, led me to a RAID HD setup. Of course, the drives are Seagate, which have a poor reputation for reliability.
    Needless to say, I back up my daily work to a ZIP disk, and periodically copy  everything to ZIP and an external hard drive.

  10. justjacksonn TonyNorthrup Director Bob Tony, nice to see you here in the comments section again.  Gents, I’m a big fan of Larry Jordan, and while the link below is to a product review, as usual he does a great job of explaining the issues and challenges we all face in video editing storage.  I’m thinking about the Thunderbay 4 he reviews and configuring this one Thunderbolt enclosure with two SSD drives RAID 0 and three HDD’s RAID 5 so that I’ve got edit space and backup space all together.  On the other hand, if it’s like OWC’s Guardian Maximus, it is likely to be noisy.   I’m also intrigued by SoftRAID.  Take a look, tell me what you think: http://www.larryjordan.biz/product-review-owc-thunderbay-4-raid/

  11. More notes from Larry Jordan, this time comparing HDDs and SSDs and finding a few surprises! http://beyondville.com/beta/lj/articles/product-review-owc-thunderbay-4-part-2/

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