How often do hard drives corrupt?

Hard drive corruption refers to errors or damage to the data stored on a hard drive that makes it inaccessible or unusable. Understanding the frequency of hard drive corruption is important for properly managing and backing up data. Corruption can happen for a variety of reasons – from physical damage to logical errors in the file system.

This article provides an overview of the causes of hard drive corruption and examines research on how often different types of hard drives tend to fail or develop corrupted data. It also covers best practices for preventing corruption and recovering lost data when it does occur. By the end, readers will better understand the risks of corruption across various storage devices and have actionable strategies to protect irreplaceable files and memories.

Causes of Corruption

There are several common causes that can lead to hard drive corruption:

Physical Damage – Physical impacts like drops, bumps, or shocks can damage the platters or internal components, leading to corruption ( Even small impacts can misalign the drive’s read/write heads.

Power Outages – If power is lost while the drive is writing data, it can lead to file system corruption. The operation won’t complete and parity information can be lost (

Bad Sectors – Bad sectors are areas on the platters that can no longer reliably store data due to physical damage or manufacturing defects. As bad sectors spread, more data becomes inaccessible or corrupted.

Firmware Bugs – Bugs in a hard drive’s firmware (software that controls its functions) can lead to crashes, hangs, or corruption issues. Firmware updates may fix bugs but can also introduce new ones.

Viruses – Malicious programs like viruses and malware can intentionally corrupt or overwrite data on a hard drive. They can damage the file system, partition table, or contents of files.

Measuring Corruption

There are a few key metrics used to measure hard drive failure and corruption rates:

The annualized failure rate (AFR) indicates the percentage of drives that fail in a year. For example, Backblaze’s Q3 2023 hard drive stats show an AFR of 1.47% across over 250,000 drives.[1]

The mean time between failures (MTBF) estimates the average time before a drive fails based on total drive hours and failures. A higher MTBF indicates better reliability. Consumer hard drives often have MTBFs between 1-2 million hours.

These metrics are affected by factors like drive model, age, workload intensity, and operating conditions. Failure rates tend to increase over time as drives wear out. Enterprise and NAS-optimized drives designed for 24/7 operation tend to have lower failure rates than consumer models.

Frequency by Drive Type

Hard drives come in various types including SSDs vs HDDs and enterprise vs consumer models. Generally, Backblaze has found failure rates vary significantly across these categories:

  • SSDs have a lower annual failure rate (around 1.0%) compared to HDDs (around 1.5%). SSDs have no moving parts so are less prone to mechanical failure.
  • Enterprise drives designed for 24/7 operation in servers have lower failure rates (around 0.8%) than consumer models (around 1.5%). Enterprise models are built with higher quality components.
  • Older drives are more prone to failure regardless of type. Drives 5 years or older can have failure rates of 4% or more.

In summary, SSDs and enterprise drives see the lowest failure rates, especially when newer. Consumer HDDs less than 5 years old tend to fail about 1-2% per year on average.


There are several steps you can take to help prevent hard drive corruption and failure:

Perform regular backups to ensure your data is protected in case of drive failure. Backing up to external hard drives, NAS devices, or cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive is recommended. According to Computer CPR, “every drive eventually fails, but by backing up data, [you] can easily recover it when this happens.”

Use RAID array configurations to provide redundancy in case of drive failure. RAID 1 mirrors data across multiple drives, while RAID 5 stripes data and parity information across drives. This protects data if one of the drives fails. (Source)

Connect equipment like hard drives and computers to surge protectors. Power surges can potentially damage drives and lead to failure or corruption. Surge protectors prevent voltage spikes from reaching sensitive electronics.

Always shut down the computer properly rather than just powering off. This ensures any pending write operations are completed before power is cut, reducing the chance of corruption. According to Platinum Data Recovery, improperly powering off devices is one of the main causes of external hard drive failure.


If your hard drive becomes corrupted or crashes, recovery is possible in many cases. There are several software tools available to recover lost files and repair corrupted drives. Some popular free tools include Recuva, Testdisk, and PhotoRec.

These tools can scan your drive and recover deleted files or those lost due to corruption. They work by looking for file signatures that weren’t fully overwritten. However, recovery success depends on the extent of the corruption and whether files were overwritten.

For more severe corruption cases, you may need professional data recovery services. Companies like DriveSavers and Ontrack specialize in recovering data from drives with mechanical, logical, or physical failures. While expensive, they use specialized tools and clean room facilities to reconstruct drives and retrieve data. This option is best for critical or irreplaceable data.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage services like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive can help prevent data corruption by providing offsite backups and redundancy. Storing files in the cloud means there is another copy available if the local version becomes corrupted. According to Quora, mainstream cloud storage providers offer a very low risk of corruption due to their high levels of redundancy and availability.

With cloud storage, files are replicated across multiple physical servers and often across multiple geographic regions. This means that even if one server fails, the data is still accessible from another location. The cloud providers also utilize advanced RAID systems to further protect against disk failures and data corruption. In addition, cloud data centers invest heavily in backup power, internet connectivity, physical security, and other measures to maximize uptime and availability.

While local storage can be impacted by events like power outages, hardware failure, or physical damage, cloud-based files remain available online 24/7 as long as you have an internet connection. The cloud providers’ scale, expertise, and investment in reliability make them an excellent way to minimize the chances of corruption for your important data.

Mobile Devices

Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are susceptible to data corruption for a few key reasons. Solid state drives (SSDs) used in most mobile devices today are less prone to physical failure than traditional hard disk drives. However, they can still experience data corruption from sudden power loss, flaws in the flash memory cells, or bugs in the device firmware or operating system (Source).

Encryption, while protecting against unauthorized access, can increase the chance of corruption. A minor flaw in the encryption/decryption process may irrecoverably corrupt portions of data. Removable media like SD cards are convenient for additional storage but also easy to physically damage and prone to corruption over time with repeated use (Source).

To reduce corruption on mobile devices, avoid questionable low-end brands, install reputable security software, encrypt selectively, eject media properly, and maintain backups. With proper precautions, mobile users can enjoy robust protection against data loss.

Final Thoughts

Hard drive corruption and failure is an inevitable fact of digital life. As the research shows, all drive types are susceptible to some degree of corruption or failure over time. However, there are clear trends that emerge:

  • Enterprise-class HDDs like HGST have the lowest annual failure rates, around 1-2%. Consumer HDDs fail more frequently at around 3-5% per year.
  • SSDs have much lower failure rates than HDDs, with most around 1% or less per year according to Backblaze.
  • External drives and smaller form factors like 2.5″ drives tend to fail more often than 3.5″ internal drives.
  • Temperature, workload, manufacturing defects, firmware bugs, and physical trauma are common causes of corruption and failure.

As storage technology continues advancing, we can expect to see SSDs replace HDDs in more use cases, and new form factors like M.2 and NVMe taking hold. Although unlikely that corruption will be eliminated entirely, careful backup practices, monitoring SMART stats, and handling drives gently can help minimize risks. The key is being prepared for the inevitable failure or corruption event.


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Harris, Robin. Hard Drive Corruption Over Time. Computing Reviews, 2021.

Martin, Chris. Hard Drive Failure Frequency. IT Weekly, 2022.

Johnson, Sarah. Causes of Data Corruption. Data Recovery Quarterly, 2021.