Several large data centres have studied hard disk drive failures correlating the failure rate with the operating environment, which suggest that running a disk at too low a temperature may be more produce a higher failure rate. For the vast majority of businesses and home users this will never be an issue, with high operating temperatures being the biggest cause of equipment failure.
The problem with heat is that it is insidious with the damage only apparent once it is too late and a failure has occurred. Failures due to damage caused by high temperatures are unpredictable as the build-up of heat is dependent upon airflow and surrounding components. When a hard disk drive which has suffered from heat damage arrives for data recovery it is usually not obvious until the drive is examined by our hardware data recovery engineers.
Airflow is Critical
Many computer components are a source of heat which means that even in a cold home or office environment the temperature inside the computer case will be significantly higher. Without airflow individual components will increase in temperature, with heat transferred to components which would not normally get hot. For this reason computer cases are usually fitted with at least one fan, but often this may not be enough to avoid hot spots inside the case, especially additional components have been fitted.
This airflow does however draw dust into the cases, with the home a particularly dusty environment, although most offices, especially those with carpets will have a lot of dust circulating in the air. This dust once drawn inside the computer case will tend to settle on different surfaces, accumulating over time, in particular to components such as heat sinks and fans blades. This build-up of dust will over time cause a reduction in cooling efficiency, so it’s important to notice warning signs, such as a fan making strange noises, particularly when the computer is first booted.
Heat Damage is Cumulative
Hard disk drive are designed to operate within a particular temperature range, a typical one being 5 to 55 degrees Celcius. Drives which are operated outside this range will not instantly fail, but the chances of a failure are severely increased. The reverse is also true of a disk operating within the temperature range, is it no guarantee of the drive not failing. Higher operating temperatures within the range are much more likely to result in damage occurring.
Damage caused by heat accumulates, which also increases the chances of the damage becoming worse, even when operating safely within the normal temperature range. A property of electrical components makes them vulnerable to higher temperatures, an extreme example causing the materials to melt. Continuous operation at high temperatures may also cause damage to other vital components, such as the fluid bearing in the spindle motor failing or damage to the read/write head stack.
Erratic behaviour can be caused by a component failure on the controller board which could for instance potentially result in the spindle motor operating incorrectly. Such an issue could lead to the platters vibrating which could result in the read/write heads impacting with the surface of the disk platters. Any hard disk drive which has failed as the result of heat damage will usually need to be rebuilt which should only be done by a professional data recovery hardware engineer.