Should you leave a hard drive running when it's not in use?

Mike Bell asked if he should shut down his hard drive when he doesn't need it. "Will that constant powering up [and down] add wear and tear…?"

From what I can tell, regularly turning a hard drive on and off can wear it down. But so can running it around the clock. For that matter, you can kill a drive by leaving it off and untouched for too long (I've actually done that).

In other words, these things are fragile, and there's little agreement on how best to treat them. I checked with two experts on hard drive technology, and got two very different answers to the leave on/turn off controversy.

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Fred Langa has been writing about technology for decades. In a 2005 article, he wrote that "Most of the normal wear is on the drive bearings: They’re always in use whenever the motor’s spinning, even if the rest of the drive is idle. That’s why letting the drive 'spin down' (stop rotation) during periods of idleness can extend the drive’s life."

I asked Langa if he still agreed with what he'd written nearly eight years ago. He did. (Full disclosure: Fred and I both write for Windows Secrets.)

But I got a very different answer from Steve Gibson, author of SpinRite, a venerable and highly-regarded hard drive maintenance program. "Cycling the drive [turning it off and on] is definitely worse for it…Almost everyone's experience [with hard drive crashes is] that they turn on a computer that was working perfectly the last time it was in use [and it doesn't work anymore]."

So what's my view?

If there's that much controversy between experts (and I've read plenty of others on both sides), the differences can't be that great. Your chances of crashing that drive before you replace it with something better will be about equal either way.

And with that consideration, I vote for shutting the drive down when it's not in use. You use less electricity, and that's better for your monthly bills and for the planet.

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