Today’s Question: Is it okay to store external hard drives in plastic boxes for safekeeping once used and replaced? If not, what do you recommend for long term storage?
Tim’s Quick Answer: My general recommendation for storing any type of hard drive is to avoid extreme conditions. In the case of “traditional” hard drives (rather than solid state drives), I also recommend using the drive about every six months or so to help avoid having the drive components seize up.
More Detail: Computer storage devices are reasonable durable, especially in the context of general storage. As long as you keep the device safe from relatively extreme temperature and humidity, there shouldn’t be any problems with the device.
For traditional hard drives with moving components, there is the additional risk of the internal components seizing up if the drive is not powered up periodically. I don’t consider this an especially high likelihood, but it is enough of a concern that I recommend testing the drive every six months or so.
This approach of testing the drive can also help ensure you are aware of any impending failures. For example, if you test copying files to or from the drive, if there is a problem with the drive there’s a good chance there will be an error with this operation. If there are any such problems, I recommend replacing the drive with a new backup.
For solid state drives (SSD’s) this periodic testing is less of an issue, at least in terms of there not being any moving parts that might seize up. I still recommend checking the drive periodically, so you’ll know if the device has failed.
Because there is always the potential for a storage device to fail unexpectedly, even if a drive is intended for long-term archival storage, I recommend maintaining one or two backups, and ideally an offsite backup (such as an online backup) as well.