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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 Issues ]

System and Drive Cooling

In order to ensure long life and proper reliable operation, all hard disks are designed to function only in specific temperature ranges. The user of the hard disk must keep the drive within the specifications to be sure that the drive will continue to work well, and to maintain the drive's warranty status. You can find out the temperature allowances for a particular drive model by consulting the drive's product manual or data sheet, normally available for free download at the drive manufacturer's web site.

There are in fact several different temperature limits that are specified for hard disks:

  • Non-Operating Temperature Range: This is the range of acceptable temperatures for the drive when it is either in storage, or in a PC that is in transit or otherwise not operating. This range is normally very wide, much wider than the operating temperature limits, since the unit is much less sensitive to extremes of temperature when it is not functioning. A typical range would be -40C (-40F) to 70C (158F). Clearly few users will have a problem with these numbers.

Warning: If a drive is allowed to go below freezing, or if it is quickly exposed to a large temperature change, it must be acclimated before use. See here for more details.

  • Minimum Operating Temperature: The lowest acceptable temperature for the drive when in operation. A single number is normally provided for this value, with 5C (41F) being typical. Again, due to the heat generated by the hard disk and the fact that almost all PCs are used indoors, this is rarely much of a concern.
  • Maximum Operating Temperatures: The highest temperature allowed for the drive when in operation. Since the mechanical and electrical components within the hard disk--especially the spindle motor--produce heat, the biggest problem with keeping drives within operating parameters is not exceeding maximum allowable temperatures. A number of different temperature values are usually provided, depending on the drive manufacturer and model:
    • Case Temperature: The highest acceptable temperature allowed, measured at a specific point on the metal of the case.
    • Component Temperatures: Some manufacturers provide a number of different maximum temperature values, measured on the surface of various components on the drive (especially, the hard disk's logic board). This method is more precise and takes into account the fact that some components run hotter than others. In practice, due to the amount of work involved, these different temperature measurements are rarely used except in special applications.
    • "Absolute" and "Reliability" Temperatures: Some companies provide two sets of case and component temperature limits. The first set is the absolute maximum temperature(s) allowed for the drive. The second set is the maximum allowed for the drive in order to meet its reliability and MTBF specifications. Of course, the reliability temperatures are lower than the maximum temperature. Since reliability is so important for hard disks, the "reliability" temperatures are the ones to aim for.

The temperature at which the drive operates is dependent on the temperature of the system--you can have a drive run too hot in a system that is otherwise quite cool, but if the rest of the system case is hot, the drive doesn't have a chance. See this discussion of system cooling for more on this subject. Staying within temperature tolerances is usually only a problem with newer, faster drives with high spindle speeds, and in fact, heat is one of the prices that those who need the best performance must sometimes pay. In some cases active drive cooling is required.

See this full discussion of drive cooling options for more on this important subject.

Next: Noise and Vibration

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