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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 Warranty and Disaster Recovery Issues ]

Warranty Replacement Policies

If companies vary in their willingness to provide warranty coverage to different types of drives, they vary almost as much in the way they handle warranty claims. Like coverage issues, these often come as a surprise to hard disk users who only find out about them after disaster strikes. The way to protect yourself is to be informed: read the fine print. Before purchasing a hard disk, or selecting a hard disk brand for inclusion in a new system, do your research. Visit the web sites of the hard drive manufacturers that you are interested in and read about their warranty policies. If there's anything you don't understand, call the company or write them an email and ask. They will usually be happy to explain these policies (particularly if they understand that you are making a pre-sale call!)

When it comes to warranty replacement there are two main policies to be considered. The first is the matter of what the company will be replacing the defective drive with. The second is how the company will be doing the replacement.

When you send a hard disk in on a warranty claim, the drive you get back is never the one you sent in. (This is a good thing, because if you got back the same drive, you'd be twiddling your thumbs for weeks waiting for it to be repaired.) In fact, many defective drives are in fact never repaired at all, since it is so expensive to do so. Instead, the company sends you a replacement drive, and this is one of the policy issues that distinguishes companies: some send new drives and others send refurbished drives. Some send both (not to the same person, of course. :^) ) Many people have good luck with refurbished drives, but some others don't. Some people don't feel confident about refurbished drives, which makes it hard for them to use these units even if they are perfectly fine. All in all, it seems pretty obvious which is the more optimal choice here.

Tip: If you have an older drive that fails near the end of its warranty period, resist the temptation to "not bother" getting it replaced because it's "too small and too slow anyway". Two and a half years after your drive is made, the manufacturer sometimes won't have any of the same type of drive to send as a replacement on a warranty claim, and you might get a newer or faster drive as a replacement. This happens more than you might think!

The second issue is how the replacement drive will get to you; most companies offer a choice of two options. The first is standard replacement, where you send the drive back to the manufacturer, and then they send a replacement back to you. This is simple, but time-consuming; you could be without a drive for a week or more. Recognizing that many of their customers could not tolerate being down for such a long period of time, most manufacturers now offer an advanced replacement option. The company will send out the replacement drive--usually by second-day air delivery--before receiving back the defective drive. You have to give them a credit card number as surety that you will in fact send back the defective drive.

If reliability and up-time are important to you at all, I would strongly advise against buying a hard disk from any manufacturer that will not offer advanced replacement. I have read testimonials from people who had to go out and buy a new drive when their current one failed because even though it was under warranty, they would have been waiting too long for a warranty replacement and simply couldn't afford the down time. If your application or business are such that you cannot afford to have your system down even for a day or two, then your needs exceed what hard disk manufacturer warranties can provide. You must look beyond a single-drive solution and consider a fault-tolerant storage subsystem such as a RAID array. If RAID is too expensive, then a cheap but much less optimal solution is to just buy a spare drive to keep around in case the one you are using fails, so you can restore from your backup immediately. If even that is too expensive then, well, avoiding downtime is simply not a top priority. Everything has its costs.

Next: Obtaining Warranty Service

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