Many of our clients ask whether or not they should keep their computers powered on at night. Your power habits can certainly play a role in your hard drive's operating lifespan, but there is a question as to the extent of this role.
Some IT experts occasionally claim that the best way to preserve a drive is to allow it to operate normally through the night. They theorize that regularly running a hard drive through start-up procedures gradually wears out mechanical components.
When your computer boots up, the hard drive goes through a boot process in which it accesses firmware information and consults lists of bad sectors to determine how to operate. The platters spin up from a standstill to 4800-7200 RPM, creating a cushion of air for the actuator heads. The actuator arm moves the heads across the platters to read a tremendous amount of information in order to boot your operating system. Every mechanical part of the hard drive moves during startup, and this stress can certainly take its toll on the hard drive if you boot up the drive repeatedly.
However, hard drives are built to handle this mechanical stress, and daily shutdowns do not appear to decrease operating lifespan drastically. Google monitored the power cycles of thousands of hard drives from various major manufacturers and found that a large number of power cycles can increase failure rates by up to 2 percent. This is by no means definitive; Google notes that the correlation “could be the effect, not the cause, of troubled machines that require many repair iterations and thus many power cycles to be fixed.”
It is also important to note that shutting your computer down protects your computer in a number of other ways. If you turn off the computer at its power strip, you protect it from electrical issues, which can quickly damage hard drives and other electronic components. The system is also protected from overheating, blackouts, brownouts and other environmental dangers, and you save money on your electrical bill while your system is powered off.
Most importantly, shutting down your computer occasionally allows your operating system to carry out essential update procedures. Regular restarts allow your computer to operate efficiently and securely. While this is not directly related to hard drive health, your computer is certainly more functional as a result.
The Bottom Line: Shutting Down Safely
Moderation is key, and regular power cycles should not play a significant role in your hard drive's operating life. We recommend shutting down your hard drive if you will not access data for six hours or more. There is no reliable evidence to support the idea that daily shutdowns will dramatically affect your hard drive's operating life, and the benefits significantly outweigh the potential risks.
Try not to turn off your hard drive more than once or twice per day, however, and do not repeatedly cycle the power on and off. Use your computer's sleep function and turn off your monitor to reduce power consumption during short-term breaks.
As always, regular backup is the only way to protect yourself from data loss. Keep a few copies of your PC’s most important files, including an offsite copy. All hard drives eventually fail, but you can avoid permanent file loss with an appropriate backup plan.