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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Performance, Quality and Reliability | Hard Disk Quality and Reliability | Hard Disk Quality and Reliability Features ]
Since heat has become much more of a concern for newer drives, particularly high-end ones, some manufacturers have added a very good reliability feature to their drives: thermal monitoring. IBM calls this feature the Drive Temperature Indicator Processor or Drive-TIP. It has also been implemented by at least one other manufacturer (Western Digital).
The idea behind this feature is very simple: a temperature sensor is mounted on the drive, usually on the logic board, and it records the temperature of the drive periodically over time. One or more trip points are set within the drive's control logic, and status notifications are sent by the drive back to the system if they are exceeded. Normally, thermal monitoring is integrated with the drive's SMART feature for reporting. A typical setup is two trip points, one at 60°C and another at 65°C; the first trip point can be changed by the user of the drive while the second often cannot. The controller may also keep track of the highest temperature ever recorded by the drive, and may also take action on its own accord if the trip point(s) are exceeded, such as slowing down the drive's activity or even shutting it down completely. The exact implementation depends on the manufacturer.
Due to mechanical failure--for example, a case cooling fan that malfunctions--overheating is possible even in a system properly designed to avoid such problems under normal circumstances. This makes temperature monitoring a very useful and important feature for systems were reliability is essential. It is more often found on high-end SCSI units than consumer-grade drives, but it seems likely to me that in the future it will become standard on most drives.