Storage

The one terabyte disk: Is it reliable?

About a year ago, when major manufacturers made their first terabyte disk drives available to the public, a storage capacity barrier had been broken, albeit a mental one more so than a technological one. I've wondered about reliability, so it's time to explore their popularity and levels of success.

About a year ago, when major manufacturers made their first terabyte disk drives available to the public, a storage capacity barrier had been broken, albeit a mental one more so than a technological one. I've wondered about reliability, so it's time to explore their popularity and levels of success.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In January 2007, Hitachi was the first manufacturer to release a terabyte drive for general public consumption. Six months later, Seagate followed suit. Western Digital soon followed. At the time, the price was in the $400 range. Today, a year or so later, with the cost at about half that amount (or maybe even less), it's probably the drive of choice for a lot of people. Although I've not yet purchased one myself, it will surely be on my radar screen when I update the storage capacity of my servers, probably sometime later this year. It seems that our users create more and more data every year, using up more and more drive space, always being faced with the insatiable need for even more.

I recently received an e-mail from another TechRepublic member in response to my blog piece Build a Computer for a Vista 5.9 Performance Rating, asking if I had any experience with the terabyte drives.

An excerpt from that e-mail:

"..... I just had a Seagate 1TB drive fail on a level that would require professional data recovery and I'm about to start a new build project, so I'm kind of wary now. I'm currently looking at using five Western Digital 1TB drives in RAID 5. Any info/advice would be great."

Of course, I told him that I have not used a terabyte drive, but it did compel me to do a bit of research. I was actually quite surprised that I found very little in the way of reported problems. In fact, the drive he used, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, was often reviewed as the best. Seagate even offers a five-year warranty on the drive, so at the very least, he should get a free replacement. Of course, the real downside of losing a hard drive is not the cost of the drive but the cost of losing -- or retrieving -- the data. Nonetheless, he's still left wondering about the reliability of the terabyte drive. I'm not sure if the lack of reported problems is a testament to the reliability of the drives or if they just haven't made their way into the mainstream of computing. Perhaps some TechRepublic members who've purchased one of the drives can offer some insight in that regard.

How much disk space is enough? Well, many of us remember the day of the massive 20MB drive, and we wondered if we would ever need more space. Today, many single files would take up that whole drive. Moore's Law seems to apply not only to circuit boards and processing speed but also to hard drive space (as well as many electronic devices, such as digital cameras, memory capacity, etc.).

In my case, when I buy some terabyte drives for my servers, I'll also have to buy them for my many levels of backups. In fact, since I never delete any file from my back-up drives, they actually require more space.

Terabyte tidbits

Seagate believes it will have a 300-terabyte drive by 2010, only two years into the future. They think they can eventually cram upward of 50TB of data per square inch on a 3.5" drive.

What measure of quantity comes after terabyte? A petabyte is next -- 1,000 terabytes, followed by exabyte, zettabyte, and yottabyte.

There are about 17 million books and documents in the Library of Congress, and, if digitized, they would take up 136 terabytes of information.

A terabyte drive can hold about 330,000 3MB photos or 250,000 MP3 files. (At 4 minutes per song, that's a million minutes of music, or 16,666 hours, or 694 days, or almost two whole years of uninterrupted listening pleasure.)

A terabyte drive can hold about 1,000 hours of standard video, or about 250 hours of high-definition video.

Approximately 400,000 terabytes of e-mail are sent every year -- and that's a number from 2003!

Some 50,000 trees would be necessary to produce enough paper to hold the equivalent of 1 terabyte of information.

The first hard drive was created a little over 50 years ago; it weighed in at almost a ton, and it could hold 5MB of data. A terabyte of data would have required 200,000 of those drives, total weight being 400,000,000 pounds!

Thoughts on terabytes?

Here we have some terabyte facts and fun. If you can, feel free to share your experience with them. Are they reliable? Or should we wait a while for the bugs to be ironed out? Either way, in no time at all, a terabyte of information will seem small -- just like that 20MB drive.

36 comments
thezar
thezar

Is the name list accurate as it stands, or should the 1,000 actually be 1024?

Da Saint
Da Saint

Nowadays, even on the homefront, it's not whether 1TB is reliable or not, it's if whatever drive you buy regardless of size is reliable. If you go out and pickup say a 320GB drive, you better get 2 of them. Reason being, you still need a backup. If you put a lot of stuff on the 320GB drive because now you have all this room and then it fails, you've got a "Holy Crap" moment. Big drives are great but you need another big drive to have a backup. RAID 5 is a good option unless your controller fails. And oh by the way, your controller was a 3rd party unknown which corrupted your drives. Drive reliable? Good question. Backup reliable? Better question.

jhilgeman2
jhilgeman2

The article title asks if they're reliable, but the article is just a mish-mash of nostalgia and awe about how much space a terabyte is. It doesn't have any information on whether or not they're reliable... It SOUNDED like an interesting article, but now I'm just kind of disappointed. :( Where are the statistics, manufacturer comparisons, etc?

dangracie
dangracie

The irony of this posting. I have a custom HP machine that HAD a seagate barracuda 7200.11 1 tb that failed this week after only having the machine for 3 weeks. the replacement from HP came today and it's a toshiba, I've already noticed it's running much quieter and hopefully will last longer.

donengene
donengene

We had a RAID of these go out, and the SATA controller wasn't even good enough to pickup the replacement drive Seagate sent us, we lost a lot of Ghost Images. Good thing we had a tape backup. When you have important stuff don't leave it to chance. I change drives every 3 years on my personal machine. I don't wait for them to fail. Definatly having them in a RAID increases their useful life, but don't see the life expectancy being wht seagate reports. I see them as having 10,000 hour life, seagate claims 30,000. In my opinion they changed their stated life expectancy without providing for new methods of testing them, they just though at a percentage they didn't have as many failures as they might have expected so they raised the bar. I wouldn't trust it. Also you need to make sure to keep the drive cool. We have had a lot of drives die lately due to heat. Newer machines tend to be really hot inside and kill hard drives when the temperature rises in summer.

dale_wellman
dale_wellman

Can you confirm the labels from "kibibyte" thru "yobibyte?" If I interpret other sources correctly, these are just alternate names for our "kilobyte" thru "yottabyte" measures. The former are regarded as the 'binary' labels (based on a 1024 factor), while the latter are the 'decimal' labels (based on a 1000 factor). In other words, "kibi" thru "zebi" are NOT actually larger than the yottabyte. I could easily be mistaken, but that's how I read the other online sources. Perhaps our kids will decide on labels beyond the yottabyte!

dogknees
dogknees

It's the one that really chews up the space on the home PC. 250 hours sounds like a lot until you start recording all the episodes of your favourite shows to watch again at your leisure. As for the reliability, I'd expect them to be as reliable as the previous generation. I don't think the manufacturers would be dumb enough to release them if there were serious problems. That said, no HD(or any other piece of hardware) is perfectly reliable. People need to realise and accept this and manage it using RAID/backups/mirrors, ...

chalice
chalice

I absolutely agree. It doesn't matter if there is a one-in-a-million chance that you will be hit by lightning. If you're that one-in-a-million person that was hit, you're still in a world of pain. I suppose I will be able to definitively answer this question eventually. I use a Silverstone DS351 case as data storage for my home server. It used to hold 4 Seagate 500GB Barracudas, in mirror+stripe, which I replaced tonight with 4 Seagate 1TB 7200.11 drives (a fifth one is on the way - I used to use a 1TB MyBook as separate backup, but then realized I'm now trying to backup a 2TB server and needed an extra 1TB). So, I'm hopefully armored against both types of failures now. Hopefully I won't have to post any statistics on drive failures until a few years from now. At least thus far, the Seagate drives have been good to me. *knocks on wood* All in all, though, having also owned a mix of WD's and Maxtors along the way, I've only had one drive crash due to an actual hardware failure (other than the one whose SATA port broke off on installation) - and even that one was well over six years old by that point. Perhaps I've been swapping hardware out too quickly.

Joe_R
Joe_R

[i]Backup reliable? Better question.[/i] We should never forget the importance of backups. Thanks...

Joe_R
Joe_R

As I mentioned in my piece, it was written in reply to an e-mail I received wondering about the reliability of the drives. I offered that TR member a forum to throw the question out to our peers. As I also mentioned, from my own research of the different manufacturers, I didn't come across a lot of complaints or trouble reports, but the drives haven?t been in use for very long. Sorry you were disappointed, but I'm glad to see that others weren't.

tstephenson
tstephenson

I work for a company that has storage product and as such evaluate performance of hard drives as well as reliability. One post indicates his WD drive does not have smooth playback on HD video. But the WD drive has Green features that cause these types of issues. WD slow the seek timing and acceleration to conserve power. And the rotation rate is well below 7200 RPM. Just a bad choice for video playout because streaming video can not have any momentary pause in the delivery. I find the Hitachi 1TB drive to be a very reliable drive in the server environment. The Seagate, not so good in the multi drive high speed fan environment. I found the drive to be more sensitive to vibration than the Hitachi. OTOH, the Seagate drive delivers > 100MB/Sec in the outer cylinders. The Hitachi delivers about 90MB/Sec. The Seagate has 4 platters where the Hitachi has 5 and thus each rotation will have more data because of the higher bit packing density. But that higher bit packing density also creates a more challenging environment to reliably read the data. Just my $0.02

etapiap
etapiap

Maybe is the same question asked when the 300GB appeared. The Terabyte disks must be reliable only when the people using it feel conforatble using it. For the moment could be usefull to see the statistics about its MTBF vs. other configurations. Enrique Tapia RevistaStorage.com

CoyotePuma
CoyotePuma

I live on the Big Island of Hawaii where it is in the mid to high 80's most of the year. This heat helped to destroy a Seagate 1T in two days. (Bless Seagate for their 5-year warranty and their 3-day replacement, shipping time.) Need went to terabyte HD's - two actually, already had one - because I believe them to be more energy efficent and my portable case only has two HD slots. Energywise, it's probably a loss. Because of poor case design, I had to change the airflow to blow directly upon the the two 1T HD's. Also, I have to run a window AC to keep the temperature down. As an eclectic collector of wallpaper and A/V files, I can not have too much disk space. It still amuses me recalling an article I read a few years back that proposed a lifetime's interest could easily be contained within a terabyte of storage. Does that mean I have broader interests than that article's author? Probably. Does that much storage slow down a system? No, but that much data does for sure. And how about reliability? CD/DVD backup? Too slow, forget it. The only practical way to backup 'large' HD's is with other HD's. RAID 5? Two problems: the energy cost of running the extra drive needed and finding an afordable NAS to house it. Finally, gross file fragmentation will beat a 1T to death likely faster than a smaller, less critical drive. It was during the loading of a lot of offline storage onto the 1T, and the heat it generated, that the SMART alert came. Still, I don't regret the upgrade to terabyte HD's.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I'm not sure how those snuck in there, but those are the binary prefixes, so you are correct. I corrected the piece accordingly. Speaking of kids, my son asked me how long it might be before we see a yottabyte disk? I guessed 20 years.

straightlineeng
straightlineeng

If you are a Hardware type of person, it is in multiples of 1000 . If you are software orientated, it is 1024 factors.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I'm glad I don't have many! Thanks for posting.

mcole01
mcole01

I'm running 7 WD "Green" drives in removable carriers as my primary backup system. (5 online, 2 off-site.) Been doing so for about 3 months with nary a problem. I've used almost exclusively WD products for nearly 20 years with very minimal problems.

rdrainer
rdrainer

When my one-year-old Samsung 200Gb died a flaming death, I replaced it with one WD terabyte drive, and watched it carefully for about a month. During that time, the price fell to about half of what it had been, so I got another one just like it and installed it immediately. Both have been in service now for about six months with most satisfying results. Speed seems considerably better than before the Samsung failure, although that is possibly due to the reconstructed drive's contents, but I'm happy and recommend the upgrade/swap.

Dr Dij
Dr Dij

I saw a poster today claiming that today's large drives cram the bits in so densely that they regularly have bit errors and require the ECC (error correcting codes) to retrieve data correctly every day. Claimed saw 3 million bit errors on one disk scan (that were corrected by ECC)

jsaubert
jsaubert

I'd gotten one of the original Seagate ones when they first came out. I was basically a networked storage dump for my home and we killed it in about 10 weeks. Thought I think it was more of a power surge that did it in. Since then I've gotten 3 WD Tera drives, with no issues. One is hooked into my HD media center and the other two are mirrored our regular network as storage. So far they've been slightly more reliable that the 360GB drives they replaced; I haven't had any data loss. I will say that despite my super organized folder system searching them is still a bit of a task and a system killer on any machine more than 2 years old. I don't recommend watching HD movies off of them (even with the best system you'll get lag and stutters) or doing any major graphic work from them (Photoshop and Illustrator have major hesitations with files larger than about 10MB). My HDs transfer files very fast so I don't have any issue copying back and forth.

mamies
mamies

I had 2 terabyte drives located in my machine. One is full and the other is half full. I have noticed that it actually slows down the machine a heap when you search through them. Although i havent had any problems as yet, had them for probably 6 months maybe and they seem to still be fine, Disk management says there healthy YAY

rdrainer
rdrainer

I have 2 WD 1TB drives that I use in a 2.1 GHz Dual core AMD 3800+ w/3GB RAM to record, edit and play back videos. Things are working out pretty well with this setup, possibly due to my running XP Media Edition but certainly not failing to provide smooth video because of the hard drives. Quite often, I record broadcast digital TV through a Pinnacle PCTV USB adapter while I continue to do other work, and the recordings are usually smooth unless reception is otherwise hindered by a weak signal. When I used to record from a cable TV connection (through the same Pinnacle adapter) reception was almost always flawless, as were the recordings I made. Generally speaking, I testify that WD drives are not incompatible with either recording or playback, and with sufficient RAM and processor speed, allow simultaneous work of other kinds.

Ron_007
Ron_007

Actually software binary is a reflection of the limits of the original hardware which had 2 states, on and off. (I've read about breakthroughs in transistor technology that allow for more than just the 2 states.) Current use of decimal for calculating size is limited to the marketing dept of storage manufacturers, because it allows them to inflate the reported size of what they a flogging. The difference between binary and decimal started way back when storage sizes were measured in megabytes (actually, probably before that) and 10's of megabytes AND you had to format the drive yourself (my first $500 HD was 80mb, formatted). Back then they could get away with the claim that the loss was due to "wasted" space during the formatting process. But it is long past time for storage manufacturers to get in line with the rest of the industry. I'm more than a little peeved when I pay for a 1 terabyte formatted-at-the-factory drive that only reports 930 gigabytes the instant I plug it in. 94 "missing" gb is not trivial. I want that capacity. I paid for it! Where is Ralf Nader when you need him?

mamies
mamies

Thats what my first Hard Disk is taken up by. 1024 GB used on Video how lame am I, but it makes for some good movie times with beer and well beer lol

ssrat_
ssrat_

Running an "external" WD (rubber mount=external?) that I got for $200 a couple of months ago and even though it is mainly my storage drive, I do run movies of it and it has been going great. I will pick up another one to use to back it up (Raid5?) though it HURTS thinking about that much storage doing nothing. The fact that I lost a WD500 with all my books & Mp3's makes it a decision I can live with (unsalvageable-ouch!)

Joe_R
Joe_R

Thanks for pointing that out. I fixed the typo.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

What brand of HDD do you have? I have usually found that the Hitachi or Maxtor drives are more reliable than Seagate or WD.

online
online

I have an Acomdata 1TB external drive I use strictly for Time Machine and Superduper backups on my Macbook Pro. It's been working fine so far, about four months down the road.

Data Ninja
Data Ninja

The reason I mentioned those particular brands are due to both personal and business use. I've been running a Maxtor drive on my own computer for 10 years. It's outlasted both my computer and two WD HDD's. I replaced it for a newer, larger one 3 years ago and slaved it so now it's going on 13 years running! My primary business is as a Data Recovery Technician, and I see very few Maxtor drives or the others I mentioned. I see a LOT of Fujitsu, Seagate and Western Digital HDD's. Of course that may be due to their wide usage in many of today's systems.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

My brother-in-law works at a local college that's pretty much become a Dell shop. He would not have a Maxtor drive for a door stop - because he already has several hundred that have failed in new or nearly new Dell PCs. Guess that's why there are Ford people, Chevy people, Dodge people, Honda people, Toyota people, Mercedes Benz people,....

Editor's Picks