/ Technology

Can you depend on your hard drive?

Broken hard drive

It’s insignificant in appearance, but a hard drive is the guardian of your precious files. Losing that data would be a personal disaster, and our survey reveals this can happen more often than you might have hoped.

It’s the safe repository that you trust to look after your photos and music collection among other things. And although you want your hard drive to be fast with vast capacity, the most important factor is how dependable it is. Will it develop a fault? And will that fault lead to lost data?

We wanted to find out which external hard drive brands were the most dependable, so we surveyed almost 2,000 Brits to find out.

Apple hard drives have highest fault rate

The results make for shocking reading. Surprisingly, nearly half of the Apple owners in our survey experienced a fault with their hard drive, compared to an average of 22% across all hard drive brands in the sample. This is worryingly high, especially for a premium brand.

Fortunately, those who experienced a fault with their Apple hard drive were less likely to suffer loss of data than with other brands. Instead, people told us that freezing was the most common fault, followed by the computer being unable to recognise the device, and the device making more noise over time.

Apple told us it was aware of a problem with older devices:

‘Some Time Capsules sold between February 2008 and June 2008 may not power on or may shut down unexpectedly. We repaired or replaced these units free of charge.’

What to do if it breaks down and you want to dispose of it?

If you’re one of the unlucky hard drive owners who’s experienced a fault and you want to get rid of it, it’s important to ensure the data’s properly destroyed first. Even a seemingly broken hard drive is fertile ground for digital criminals on the hunt for personal data.

There are a few methods that you can use to obliterate your data. Try Disk Doctors Data Sanitizer, or to ensure the data is well and truly destroyed, you could take a hammer to it. We certainly couldn’t advise you to use Which? Convo commenter William’s method:

‘When I have needed to dispose of old hard discs (usually because they have failed), I “format’ them with a 12-bore shotgun. One shot blow them to bits!’

Nor Tom’s…:

‘Remove hard drive. Cut in half with angle grinder (knife through butter <1 minute). Put pieces in different bins. Peace of mind achieved.’

Big Bad John’s method might be your best bet (although you leave off the cat litter):

‘The last hard drive I had finished with I attacked with a hammer, then left it in a bucket of water overnight. Before putting it in the dustbin I coated it with the contents of my cat’s litter tray, defying anyone to handle it.’

Has your hard drive ever left you high and dry? And have you got any amusing stories of disposing of your data?

Gerard Phelan says:
17 August 2013

My PCs hard disc like the PC itself is 10 years old. My first line of backup is regular runs of the error checking utility to update the ‘bad block’ list. All important files, such as photos. are stored on a network drive. That in turn is regularly backed up to two separate drives, one of which is portable and stored in a different physical location.

The strict answer to the question is that I AM depending on my hard disc, because if that fails than my PC is out of action and whilst I have a laptop as backup and can access all my data, it does not have licensed copies of all my software! That however is not easily soluble, with software licences being tied to machines not users.

Harry B says:
19 August 2013

Apple don’t make hard drives. They sell hard drives made by people like Seagate and Toshiba.


As you say, Apple don’t make hard drives. Their external hard drives and computers contain ones made by other companies. Perhaps Toshiba computers contain Toshiba hard drives, but most computer manufacturers don’t make their own hard drives.

It is up to the manufacturer to provide equipment that is reasonably durable, whichever company supplies the components. As a long-standing user of Apple computers, I have seen various recall programmes, often covering products that can be identified as at risk of failure from their serial number.

In the mid 90s the university department I worked in bought about 15 desktop Macs with Sony hard drives. There was a problem. Nearly all the drives failed in the first couple of years, and were replaced without charge when they failed. Apple and other companies had problems with Sony laptop batteries in the last ten years. Apple ran a replacement programme for these batteries and I expect that other companies did the same, because of cases of overheating. At least on Dell laptop caught fire.

Nokia did an enormous recall of phone batteries a few years ago and provided me and millions of others with a free replacement.