Hard drives are designed to work in a wide range of environments, and a sudden heat wave probably won’t cause your drive to crash. However, there’s certainly a difference between a potential and an optimal operating environment. Over time, extreme heat may limit your hard drive’s lifespan.
Most manufacturers specify an operating temperature between 32°F and 140°F ( 0 °C to 60°C). Note that the operating temperature may be different from the ambient room temperature — if your computer is in an area with poor air circulation, it’s certainly possible for the system’s temperature to rise to an unsafe level.
The Relationship Between Temperature and Hard Drive Failure
So, do drives with “hot” operating temperatures fail more often than drives in cold environments? Probably — depending on which data source you trust.
- A white paper from National Instruments found that “the condition that has the biggest impact on the life of a hard drive is temperature,” noting that a 9°F (5°C) increase could reduce a hard drive’s lifespan by two years.
- A 2013 study from the University of Virginia found that in data centers, hard drive failure rates double for every 12°C increase in temperature past 40°C (104°F).
- A 2007 study by Google came to the opposite conclusion: Hard drives in colder operating environments had a worse failure rate than hard drives in hot environments. Like the University of Virginia study, Google’s research focused on hard drives in data centers.
Ultimately, extreme temperatures in either direction aren’t ideal. As hard drives heat up, the distance between the actuator heads and platters can decrease, potentially increasing the chance of a head crash.
Contrary to a popular myth, lowering the temperature of a hard drive by freezing it (or moving it to a colder environment) won’t fix a physical failure.
What’s the right room temperature for a hard drive?
Extreme heat is bad for computer components for a number of reasons (especially when heat is accompanied by high relative humidity). To keep your system running smoothly, follow these tips:
- Ideally, the ambient room temperature should be around 60-70°F (15-21°C). However, the operating temperature of your hard drive is much more important — slight variances in room temperature probably won’t have an enormous effect on hard drive lifespan.
- Make sure your computer has room to breathe. Don’t obstruct the fans.
- Regularly inspect your computer’s fans (or other cooling components) and make sure they’re working correctly. Clear out dust and other contaminants when the computer is off by using pressurized air.
- Humidity can wreak havoc on electronic components. If your room has a relative humidity of 50% or over, install a dehumidifier (or run your air conditioner).
Finally — and most importantly — back up your data regularly. Every hard drive will eventually fail, regardless of its operating conditions, and regular backup is the only way to prevent data loss.
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