When it comes to data storage, reliability is key. No one wants to lose their important files due to a hard drive failure. So how reliable are Western Digital (WD) drives? Here we’ll examine the failure rates of WD drives and look at the factors that affect longevity.
What is the failure rate of WD drives?
Overall, WD drives have moderately low failure rates compared to other hard drive brands. Backblaze, an online backup company, routinely publishes hard drive failure statistics based on the tens of thousands of drives in their data centers. Their 2021 report showed average annual failure rates of:
- 1.07% for WD drives
- 0.61% for Hitachi drives
- 1.21% for Seagate drives
- 1.23% for Toshiba drives
So WD came in second place, with failure rates slightly higher than the most reliable Hitachi drives but noticeably better than Seagate and Toshiba.
Failure rate by WD model
Looking at specific WD models, failure rates can vary:
|Annual Failure Rate
|WD40EFRX (Red 4TB)
|WD40EFAX (Red 4TB)
|WD20EFAX (Red 2TB)
|WD100EFAX (Red 10TB)
|WD141KFGX (Gold 14TB)
Here we see some variation between 0.6% on the low end up to 1.2% annual failure rate. Overall these are still good numbers.
How do these failure rates compare to a laptop hard drive?
Laptop hard drives see considerably higher failure rates than desktop drives. One study found annual failure rates around 3.5% for laptop drives from leading vendors. So you can expect a WD desktop drive to be 3-5 times more reliable than a laptop drive.
What causes WD drives to fail?
There are a few main factors than can cause a WD drive failure:
- Manufacturing defects – There can occasionally be flaws in manufacturing that cause early failures. These are often caught during quality control testing before shipping.
- Wear and tear – Disk platters and moving parts wear over time, especially with heavy use. After 3-5 years, the accumulation of damage can cause drives to fail.
- Overheating – Drives work best at cool temperatures. Too much heat causes components to expand and warp, increasing the potential for failure over time.
- Power surges – A spike in voltage or current can damage drive electronics and motors.
- Physical shock – Severe impacts like being dropped while operating can damage internal components and stop disks from spinning properly.
Do certain WD models fail more than others?
In general, failure rates don’t vary too dramatically between different WD drive families when used under normal desktop operating conditions:
- WD Blue – WD’s basic drives aimed at everyday desktop use have average failure rates around 1%.
- WD Black – The higher performance drives optimized for gaming have comparable failure rates to the WD Blue.
- WD Red – These NAS drives designed for continuous operation in RAID arrays have failure rates ranging 0.6% to 1.2%.
- WD Purple – Built for video surveillance systems, these have slightly higher but still reasonable failure rates around 1-2%.
The more specialized enterprise-grade WD Gold and Ultrastar models offer the best reliability ratings, but consumer models are all fairly close in terms of failure rate.
How long do WD drives last?
Most WD drives can be expected to last between 3 and 5 years on average under normal use before mechanical failures become more likely. However, there are many accounts of drives lasting 7-10 years or longer if maintained properly.
Here are some typical lifespans:
- 1-3 years – Heavy usage with poor ventilation leads to shorter lifespans.
- 3-5 years – Average lifespan for typical desktop usage.
- 5-7 years – Well maintained drives used for storage and backups may last this long.
- 7-10+ years – Drives with light usage that remain properly cooled can potentially operate reliably for over a decade.
Do SMR drives fail faster?
Shingled magnetic recording (SMR) is a newer hard drive technology that overlaps tracks to achieve higher storage density. Some have speculated that this could negatively impact longevity. However, research does not show significantly higher failure rates for SMR compared to conventional drives when used in desktop environments. Both typically last 3-5 years on average.
How long do SSDs last vs hard drives?
Solid state drives (SSDs) with no moving parts tend to last longer than mechanical hard drives. SSDs can reliably operate for 5-10 years in typical consumer usage. However, worn out cells can impair data retention after 5+ years. Still, SSDs avoid the mechanical wear issues that eventually claim hard drive motors and platters.
What affects the lifespan of a WD drive?
There are several factors that play a role in how long a WD drive will remain operational:
- Usage – Light usage extends longevity. Drives constantly reading/writing fail faster.
- Temperature – Cooler is better. Proper ventilation prevents overheating failures.
- Physical environment – Dust, humidity, vibrations also reduce lifespan.
- Power events – Improper shutdowns and power loss cause more wear.
- Drive model – Enterprise models made for 24/7 operation last longer.
- Luck – There’s always a bit of random chance involved too.
Following the drive manufacturer’s recommended usage guidelines gives a WD drive the best chance of lasting.
Do upgraded WD models last longer?
Newer generations of WD drives do feature technological improvements that enhance longevity. For example:
- Advanced caching improves performance and reduces wear from constant rewriting.
- Refined head and platter designs better withstand vibration.
- Helium-filled drives reduce friction and last longer.
- Dual actuator arms improve data density without sacrificing reliability.
While not revolutionary leaps, these incremental updates add up to measurable improvements in lifespan over older generations.
How to make WD drives last longer
You can help maximize the lifespan of your WD drive by following best practices:
1. Maintain good ventilation
Ensure your drive case or enclosure has adequate airflow. High temperatures can accelerate failure over time. Mounting drives vertically also improves convection cooling.
2. Control vibrations
Excessive physical vibrations from fans or other sources can disturb drive operation. Use rubber grommets when mounting 3.5″ drives to absorb vibrations.
3. Avoid dirt and moisture
Dust buildup can clog drive heads over time. High humidity can lead to corrosion. Keep drives in clean, dry environments.
4. Allow drives to spin down
Don’t keep drives constantly active when not needed. Letting them enter low power mode during idle periods reduces wear.
5. Use a UPS for power conditioning
A UPS (uninterruptible power supply) protects against power surges and gracefully shuts down drives if power is lost. This avoids potential damage from sudden power interruptions.
6. Handle carefully
Avoid physical shocks from drops or bumps during operation. Park drive heads before transporting drives.
7. Perform regular backups
All drives eventually fail. Maintaining good backups helps prevent data loss when your WD drive stops working.
WD drives offer reliable performance for most home and office use cases. With proper maintenance and handling, WD drives can achieve typical lifespans of 3-5 years, with many operating much longer. Controller technology advancements and design optimizations in new models continue to improve longevity. But following best practices for ventilation, vibration control, power delivery, and physical protection is still important to maximize the service life of any hard drive.