Today’s Question: What is the reasonable life of a hard drive? In other words, how often should I replace them?
Tim’s Quick Answer: In theory a typical hard drive should operate normally for hundreds of thousands of hours of use. A solid-state drive (SSD) can generally operate for thousands of write cycles, which would generally translate into multiple years (and potentially decades) of reliable use. That said, I do think replacing hard drives every few years is a good idea.
More Detail: There are a wide variety of factors that impact the lifespan of a hard drive or SSD. For traditional hard drives one of the biggest risk factors in my experience tends to be heat, for example. Physical damage, manufacturing defects, and other factors can also play a significant role.
Even if a given hard drive model could be expected to operate normally for one million hours of use, it is also possible that the drive could fail after a single hour of use. This is why a frequent and consistent backup is critically important for protecting your data.
While today’s storage devices tend to be very reliable overall, I do think it can be a good idea to replace your storage about every three to five years. Of course, for many photographers this approach is something that happens somewhat “automatically”, by virtue of filling up a hard drive and needing to replace that drive with a higher capacity drive.
Predicting the failure of a storage device is quite difficult. This is why a good backup strategy is so critical, in conjunction with making sure to keep your storage devices physically safe and protected from extreme conditions.