How To Avoid Hot Weather Hard Drive Failures

How To Avoid Hot Weather Hard Drive Failures

It’s not just people who suffer in the heat. Data recovery services also report a big uptick in business. What strategies do you need to follow to minimise the risk of hard drive heatstroke?

Burning picture from Shutterstock

Adrian Briscoe, APAC general manager for data recovery specialists Kroll Ontrack, says that January invariably sees an increase in drives sent in for recovery after failing. “We always have a spike at this time of year,” he told Lifehacker. We’ve seen a 12 per cent increase in hard drives coming in for data recovery this year.”

The most common drive failures are in external hard drives. While they’re a great backup option, they aren’t engineered for continuous operation. “What we are seeing with 3TB drives is that there’s a lot of capacity held in one single drive inside an external casing,” Briscoe said. “A lot of people leave their drives running all the time, and they fail faster as a result. Typically a server will have an enterprise-grade hard drive which can run in continuous operation for longer spells, but cheaper external hard drives aren’t designed for that.”

Home users also don’t replicate the continuous cooling found in data centres, even though many residences now have extensive home servers and make use of basic RAID. “A lot of home users are investing in big NAS boxes, but you can have a point of failure where the whole unit overheats and you lose more than one drive,” Briscoe said.

If you do experience a drive failure, self-repair isn’t advised; no matter how knowledgeable you think you are, there’s a good chance you’ll make the problem worse. The ultimate defence, as always, is to have a well-developed backup strategy. If you are backing up to an external drive, make sure you have a duplicate of that device as well.

The other notable trend? People wanting data recovered from iPhones after dropping them in a pool or ocean. That’s feasible, but recovering stuff that has been deleted is much harder because of the iPhone’s unusual file system.


  • I had thought about sending in a ask lifehacker question about this: Are ceiling fans effective at cooling computers & hard drives?

    Lifehacker has covered how ceiling fans cool people and not rooms before, just wondering if they are any good in a room with a computer?

    I check temps at the warmest parts of the day on warm days, and never leave the PC/external drives running if the temp is forecast to be over 30 degrees if the previous days/nights were warm, or over 35 degrees if the previous day was in the 20s and i could cool the house down at night.

    • Ceiling fans don’t cool the room, it’s true. What they do is help even the rooms heat distribution by making air move around. Any localised hotspots, such as a person or computer, will heat their immediately surrounding air. If that air is moving, then the transfer of heat to the air is more effective. If your hard drive is tucked behind a TV or in a cabinet shelf, there’s going to be very little airflow. Otherwise I don’t know if it will cool the hard drive enough to matter, but it surely won’t hurt.

      Note: People have an additional mechanism to cool themselves with sweat, which is also helped by moving air helping evaporate the liquid.

    • It works in the same way the fans in your computer case work, they don’t pump chilled air over the components, just the room temp air, but the movement is generally enough to prevent overheating, unless of course your device is outputting quite a lot of heat, and the air in the room is not much colder than the device temp.

      But, ceiling fans aren’t really good at direction, if you wanted to use a fan to help your gadgets release heat effectively, use a pedestal fan pointed at them. If you can help it, never use an air conditioner, as it can lead to a build up of moisture and short out/rust etc your devices.

      • Thanks for the replies Red Candle and grim-one.

        My 3 external hard drives do show up in CPUID HW Info, and the temps never go above 50 degrees – they usually sit at 45-47 degrees. I would turn everything off (and i can do this remotely) if they got that hot, but I think my current method of turning it all off on hot days (unless i am home) is the way to go. I’m not running a 24/7 data centre from my house, after all.

        I have never kept external drives in a cabinet or “behind” anything – they all have at least a metre of space around them for free flowing air. Maybe thats why their temps are so consistently cool.

        I only use my “box-in-the-wall” type air conditioner sparingly – less than 24 hours per year.

  • Most of the time my HDD is about 2-3 degrees warmer then the ambient system tempreture and never really gets up to a high temperature.

    Anyways isnt that why most cases have the HDD mounted near the front fan so it can let cool air blow on it?

    • Yeah, but it is rare to purchase an external case with fans now, most external drive cases are just plastic enclosures with some breather holes….

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