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What have people found to be the most reliable brands of hard drives and hard drive enclosures, specifically for A/V work? (Note: Specifically looking at reliability of inexpensive 7200rpm drives, preferably FireWire.)


I woke up to a dead mirrored RAID disk today... but, that's what mirroring is for. My literal life's work of photography and audio from the remaining RAID disk is being backed up to a second RAID as I type. I'm paranoiacally redundant like that.

Despite the fact that my data seems OK, this plunges me into needing to replace at least one hard disk, possibly the whole RAID. I've been buying LaCie d2 drives because they're inexpensive and individually rack-mountable without needing to buy a big, spendy (and overly deep) dedicated rack mount enclosure. I buy in identical pairs and then stripe them as RAIDs.

In a house with eight of these things lying around, the failures are starting to mount (I'd say 50/50 split between power supplies dying and disks themselves dying) and I'm looking to hear about folks' experience with other brands of drives.

Lacie d2
(source: lacie.com)

  • Thanks to all for TOTALLY getting the gist of this post and not arguing about specific drives themselves (WD vs Seagate vs Hitachi, etc. etc.). Tons of great info below. – NoiseJockey Apr 15 '10 at 20:16

16 Answers 16

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The variation in personal experiences makes people's opinion on what is the most reliable drive wildly different. One person can say "I have had 3 samsung disks fail on me in the last year, so I'll only buy Western Digital now" while the next has experienced the exact opposite. Individual accounts don't say anything.

When deciding how you continue your storage strategy, keep the following in mind:

  • Mirrored raid is not backup: both drives are doing the exact same thing – writing, spinning and therefore wearing at the same speed. Both are working every time data is requested. Yes, the chances of two drives failing at the same time are smaller than those of one drive failing, but because the raid disks have so much in common, they can't be seen as independent so the risk of data loss is not halved by using two disks.

  • Putting identical drives in raid increases the risk of them simultaneously failing even more. They share the design, come from the same manufacturing batch and are shipped and handled together. Getting same-capacity, but different brand disks might impact performance a bit, but it reduces the risk of double drive failure.

  • Consider getting a 'real' backup solution: a separate external disk that is physically located somewhere else (in the house, office, whatever), is only used for writing backups rather than daily access of data, preferably spins down or is turned off altogether when not in use and does automated (daily) backups over ethernet or firewire. This can be a raid system, just make sure you don't use it as daily storage.

As a side note, storagereview.com runs a hard drive reliability survey (registration required) which might give a slightly better overview of failure rates than individual stories.

  • Hadn't considered the idea of using HD's of the same size but from different manufacturers in a RAID 1 or similar. That's a good idea. I do know that RAID's aren't themselves a backup strategy...I'm just looking for a maybe-more-reliable RAID system, and you have some good suggestions (considering 2 hot-swappable RAID 1's, so that transport of the backup RAID set offsite is easier). – NoiseJockey Apr 15 '10 at 20:11
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All hard drives will fail, eventually. I like Seagate and Western Digital, but that is entirely beside the point. I wouldn't trust a single drive from any manufacturer, since I just assume that they are going to fail on me. Working as a programmer (and therefore a de facto system administrator), I have personally had to deal with dozens of drive failures over the years. It didn't matter which brand they were.

A RAID-0 is worse for data protection than even a single disk. If any of the disks in the array fail, the whole ship goes down irrecoverably. They sure are fast though!

A single disk will fail on you eventually too. Have a serious backup plan. What will you do when that drive goes south? If you're like me, you'll just restore your backups onto a new drive and keep going.

A RAID-1 is the next step up. This will protect you against a good number of drive failures, but you can still have power spikes, file system corruption (mirrored identically to both drives), etc. What happens if you accidentally delete a file from your RAID-1? The same file gets deleted on both drives at once. It's not coming back.

The only way to truly keep your data safe is to have multiple copies of it, in multiple locations, and not all plugged in at the same time.

If you are using a Mac, use Time Machine, and then also do weekly backups to two separate removable drives, where only one of them is plugged in at the same time. Ideally keep the two drives in separate locations. This way Time Machine can save you when your main drive dies, but if there's a lightning storm or flood or something, you will also have two other copies of your data in two separate locations to restore from.

  • I'm indeed glad that I am using duplicate RAID 1 arrays - it's the only way I could have saved my data, as explained above. Glad to hear this is an accepted practice. Worked well for me in this instance. – NoiseJockey Apr 15 '10 at 20:09
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I've had a drive fail in a Glyph Raid box, and was advised by their tech department about a suitable replacement, and when that didn't work I found their service pretty rubbish.

One guy didn't know what he was talking about and put me on a wild goose chase, saying "it should just work" until saying "I honestly don't have a lot of experience with the hardware you're working with so I'm referring to him."

The other guy never got back to me... that was 5 weeks ago. so YMMV.

I use seagate and WD drives. Do backups everyday to 2.5" portables that live in my man-bag, and weekly backups to 3.5's that live off site.

I also have drives that just have an OS backup on them so if the OS goes down I just pull the drive and replace it with the backup and away I go again.

Use time machine and CCC.

Wow drives are cheap now!!!

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They say the difference between RAID 1 and RAID 0 is the number of files you'll be able to recover when a drive fails.

I edit directly off of my computer hard drives. When I am finished with a session, I do a manual backup to two identical WD 1tb MyBook USB drives. Write time is slow, but I just walk away and it's done by the time I'm back to editing. I've had good success with those, and terrible success with Seagate drives. I know people that hate WD and swear by Seagate. I don't trust any hard drive any more and prefer to manually archive everything. It could have the same sort risk as RAID setups, for the reasons EMV said, but the drives are only used briefly for backup and power down. WD MyBooks have a nice little processor that actively manages the drives, so you can have them plugged in at all times and know they're not spinning.

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Glyph drives are great. Very quiet, solid and fast! They have different options... Take a look: http://www.glyphtech.com/

  • They've got the rep, for sure, as well as the price point that comes with that rep. Also been around forever...but I've never used 'em. Good suggestion, Miguel. – NoiseJockey Apr 15 '10 at 20:14
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None. I've owned Seagate, Western Digital, and Hitachi, and had probably half of each brand fail prematurely. They're all crap, and even the good ones will always fail eventually. Focus on having multiple copies of your data, not on a particular brand.

Warranty time is one way to choose. I think Seagate's is longer. I've sent in both Seagate and WD drives for replacement after they failed young. It's a hassle, but it's better than buying a new drive.

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Plan for failure. Certainly keep your important data at two or more locations. Some people even go for off-site backup. RAID 1 is sort of a solution. RAID 0 is basically more than double risk (since you can be 100% certain you won't recover anything).

All hard drives fail. Some fail more often than others. WD had an engineering design flaw just before their green series came out. Hitachi acquired IBM, makers of the "Deathstar" model. Before them Quantum failed, so did Maxtor. The one brand I haven't yet had fail is Seagate, but that's just me.

Curiously an entire class of hard drives I have yet to see break is 2.5" drives for laptops. Had Toshiba, Seagate, Fujitsu, all running for ages at high loads.

With the cost of flash memory always going down, that may be a backup option too.

A specific note about LaCie drives. I've had to service a few of their products for friends on the verge of losing their data. Spare yourself the trouble, and don't buy that brand.

A backup drive has a different usage pattern. If you spin it once a week and sync files to it, it won't work as often as your main storage system. Mean time between failures really comes into play there..

In a way the rate at which we generate data has gone beyond the point of being manageable without good habits - garbage collection of sorts. We might as well start talking about data ecology given the issue of drive reliability..

  • Yeah, my LaCie days are officially over. I've had a 2.5" laptop drive get corrupted, but not outright fail - interesting observation I'd not thought of. I, too, have found increased MTBF's using backup drives that are only spun up when needed for, say, weekly backups. I use CarbonCopyCloner for such backups and have had great success. – NoiseJockey Apr 15 '10 at 20:13
  • Ditto on LaCie. – Jay Jennings Apr 16 '10 at 7:56
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Glyph Tech is the way to go. At the moment I'm using only Seagate Barracuda 7200.11's, and I use 500Gb ones. I'm not in RAID yet so that way if I lose a drive I only use half of my data, that's why it's a big no no for me to sizes over 500Gb. I'm living dangerously, I know, but to be fair I haven't got much professional content yet.

Anyway, Glyph Tech gets brilliant reviews and it feels solid when you grab it, not like LaCie... I unfortunately find LaCie particularly bad after lots of people around me saw theirs die in less than 12 months!

  • Good to see consistent anti-LaCie and pro-Glyph responses. – NoiseJockey Apr 15 '10 at 20:15
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I also hear good things about Glyph drives.

What about Amazon S3? I've been thinking about using this as a super safe backup solution for my very important data. By this I mean purely backup rather than accessing and transferring data back and forth. To store 500GB/month costs $75/month, it's expensive but the data will be totally safe. Just something I've been thinking about. Anyone got experience with this?

  • Andrew, good reminder about S...I had discounted it as being too expensive, but now I'm looking into two similar services: Mozy and Carbonite, Mozy being far more popular. It's tough when a single click of a "Render" or Export button can generate gigs' worth of data, so online services can be slow and/or pricey. The search continues! – NoiseJockey Apr 20 '10 at 14:05
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Have you ever tried a Drobo?

I have one under my desk and use 1 TB Seagates inside it. We have two Drobos here and haven't had anything die ever since we got them, which is well over a year ago.

The beauty of the system is that unlike a RAID you can mix your hard drives within the Drobo. You can use any brand and any size. You start with two drives and then build up to four, or there is a pro version with eight bays. There is built in redundancy, one drive can die without losing any data, all you do is replace the faulty drive and it will "heal" itself.

Hard drive manufacturers really don't expect hard drives to last much longer than the guarantee. If you treat them as disposable you won't be disappointed.

Long term we all need to move to flash drives, which also die, but what normally happens is that the ability to write to cells dies but the ability to read from the damaged cells does not.

I personally have complete hourly hard drive backups at home and work as well as daily flash and cloud backups, and weekly optical backups.

I expect everything to break, and am regularly surprised when things don't.

Check out this podcast from the AudioNowcast where they talk about data storage at NASA, it also has some really interesting content about audio.

Drobo
(source: drobo.com)

  • We were just looking at that solution for a portable server we're trying to build. Glad to hear it's working for you - – Jay Jennings Apr 16 '10 at 7:59
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I'm very happy with my G-Drive.

http://www.g-technology.com/

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I hear amazon has a good offsite backup solution - pay by usage with no minimums.

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+1 for Glyphs - you can find good deals every now and then. Tekserve was recently selling 1TB drives for $200.

I used to love the G-Technology drives, but then had a string of them end up in total failure - something in their production must have shifted when they became popular.

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I've also seen the G_technology failures. If you go into Tekserve in new york, they won't even recommend them anymore. I've have a few OWC enclosures that I put Seagates in, and I am now moving to system where I'll be using do working drives in enclosures and all of my backups, library material will be on bare drives. I've recently discovered http://www.hudzee.com/ and I'll be backing up with a drive dock. Say goodbye to 8 different power supplies on the floor.

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Going more into brands.....It looks like Glyph products actually have Seagate drives internally. I think then, that glyph drives are like seagates but made for constant use, like if you were going to use it as a main 2nd drive, for example, for holding all your audio files and session files, or maybe to hold your videos... but if you are only planning to backup once a week or so, I would go for a seagate :).

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Slightly off topic but perhaps of interest... did you know Thecus make a pocket RAID for two 2.5" disks.

http://www.thecus.com/product.php?PROD_ID=21

I've had my eye on it for a while, but does anyone here use one of these?

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