Why I'm Finally Getting Rid of All My HDDs Forever

Illustration for article titled Why I'm Finally Getting Rid of All My HDDs Forever
Photo: Sam Rutherford
Refresh WeekRefresh WeekThis week, we're purging the old, cleaning out the trash, and looking ahead to the new and the better.

There are a handful of gadget-related sounds that fill my heart with dread, but few are more fear-inducing than the repeated tick-tick-tick of a dying hard disk drive. I’ve been hurt by that sound more than a few times in my life. So this year I finally tasked myself with a quest to get rid of all my HDDs and really refresh my storage game.

Advertisement

For those who’ve had the displeasure of hearing that fated tick-tick-tick, typically that’s the sound of a hard drive’s read/write head hitting the drive’s magnetic platters and mangling your data into a broken mush of 1s and 0s. It’s something I’ve experienced multiple times throughout my life, with each occurrence ending in heartbreak.

The first was in college, when I absently-mindedly knocked my external hard drive off my desk, instantly wiping out my entire music collection and hundreds if not thousands of movies I had managed to hoover off of the school’s local network. Luckily, the lost data was almost entirely media, and since I, as a college student, had ample amounts of free time, I was able to regather my collection over the next month or so.

The second time happened four years ago when I backed up my data onto a small portable external hard drive before an upcoming move. But after unpacking all my boxes, instead of booting up when I plugged it in, I heard the classic clicking of a dead platter. Thankfully, this failure was on my backup HDD, which meant that while I didn’t lose any data. But I did have to go out and buy a new external drive to replace the now-dead HDD. This probably should have been a wake up call to finally change my storage methods (or at least introduce more backups).

The death of this bad boy is what caused my to swear off HDDs forever.
The death of this bad boy is what caused my to swear off HDDs forever.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

It wasn’t. It was the death of my third HDD—the replacement for the previous external drive noted above—that stung the most. Earlier this year, I was going through the process of upgrading my desktop, adding in a few new components including a new M.2 SSD boot drive and a few extra SATA SSDs for extra storage. I figured that since I was overhauling my desktop’s storage, I might as well start with a completely fresh OS install, while moving all my data to an external HDD in the process. And this is where the fuckup comes in.

That’s because while the install went smoothly and I was quickly relishing in the speed of my new M.2 boot drive, I failed to properly migrate over parts of the data stored on my external drive back onto my computer, a task I end up putting off and procrastinating on for months. Look, I know it’s my fault (we usually only have ourselves to blame), but data management is kind of tedious. So when I finally got around to moving over that data a couple months later, I was dismayed to find out that my external drive has turned into a zombie.

Advertisement

There wasn’t any ticking or clicking, and I could feel the HDD spin up when I plugged it in via USB. But no matter the amount of troubleshooting or updates I tried to install, there was simply no way to get any data off that stupid external drive. And sadly, because I had zero redundancies and a couple hundred gigs of stuff was stored only on that particular drive, some of my data was lost forever.

As I said, this was my own fault.

I violated the cardinal rule of good data management. I did not have redundancies. You’re supposed to make sure you have duplicate copies of files in multiple locations (ideally one on your system, an external backup of some kind, and something stored off-site, either physically or in the cloud). I should have known better, and after past let downs by previous external hard drives, letting unbacked up data sit on what had been an otherwise reliable external was basically a plea to get smacked around by Murphy’s law. So even though this situation could have been avoided, I ended up losing thousands of previous gadget photos, a few drafts of various unfinished stories and articles, and more.

Advertisement

After that, I decided that I was done with HDDs drive forever. I admit this isn’t a completely rational reactional reaction. Network Attached Storage exists for this very situation, but NASs rely on HDDs. In my brain, it was the very nature of the storage that was the problem. Nevermind that HDDs have a few advantages over SSDs. First and foremost: they’re cheaper. Right now, a decent 1TB SSD costs between $80 and $100. Meanwhile, you can get a 2TB HDD for under $50 (or less), which gives HDDs a significant advantage in storage for the price. Furthermore, HDDs are generally available in larger sizes compared to SSDs, which makes them a potentially better choice if you just need a ton of bulk data storage. Finally, HDD generally last longer than SSDs over an extended period of read-write cycles, as SSDs have a lower tolerance when it comes to the number of times a certain data cell can be overwritten. I should also note that the majority of my problems with HDDs were caused by external drives, with internal storage and those found in NASs generally being much more reliable.

But these shortcomings of SSDs are getting better all the time, especially with the price of SSDs having fallen a ton in recent times. Additionally, SSDs offer significantly faster performance, which is why even if you don’t want to switch over entirely like me, it’s always good to have your computer’s boot drive installed on an SSD to help boost loading speeds, read-write times, and general performance. Also, as it pertains to some of my previous troubles, SSDs have no moving parts, which means they are generally more resistant to drops and falls than an HDD. And over the hundreds of laptops I’ve reviewed and the dozens of SSDs I’ve owned, not a single one has failed me yet, which is something I just can’t say about HDDs.

Advertisement

So between their faster performance, better resistance against drops, and in my experience, lower failure rate, I’m willing to pay the relatively small premium for SSDs and finally cut HDDs out of my home computer setup. Now I know there are a lot of people who have made a similar resolution a long time ago, but often, it takes a specific incident to prompt others to take stock of their setup. And after my catastrophe, I’m hoping that more people might take a minute to evaluate their storage and possibly refresh their ecosystem to save themselves from future heartache. Before the end of the year, take a little time to sort out your storage and consider give it a refresh to better protect your data both now and in the future.

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

DISCUSSION

My plex server has $300 worth of drives in, totaling about 32TB. No possible way I can get anywhere close to that price per TB on SSD’s.