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Leaving External Hard Drives On Always--Is this risky?

Dec 12, 2005 7:46AM PST

I often read that people turn their external hard drives on and off for only when they need them.

Are external hard drives (in general) constructed only to work like this, or is it okay to leave them on all the time (as well as they are well-ventilated and have an internal fan)?

Sometimes I leave my external hard drive (Maxtor and/or WD) on for a few days at a time so I can upload a torrent of a DVD of the kiddos to the grandparents. Am I putting myself at risk?

Discussion is locked

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On or Off
Dec 12, 2005 3:05PM PST

I leave my PC on 24/7 (protected by a good UPS) but my external HDDs ...I power them on and off as needed. They are certainly more susceptible to damage if they're dropped or fall over while running. From the info I see posted in this forum...the enclosures do not seem to be very durable.


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Dec 13, 2005 2:54AM PST

Today's drives are built to withstand 24/7 usage. Some do and some don't. New school says do.

and life goes on...


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External HDD...leave 'um or off
Dec 17, 2005 9:57AM PST

Perhaps today's drives are more durable. Based on posts here and elsewhere about external hard drive failures appears the enclosures themselves are more commonly identified as the culprit.


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leaving an external hd on or off
Dec 13, 2005 6:58AM PST

I use my external hd for backup storage (music files, picture files) plus a backup image of my system file (Acronis True Image) to use to restore the system in the event of a catastrophe. A lightening strike, or sudden power surge, could be a catastrophe taking the main hd and the external hd disc down at the same time. If my external hd is off, I have that margin of safety. Turning the external hd disc on and off for occasional use is not a biggie. Just be sure to sure to use the ''safe to remove external device'' icon on the task bar to make sure all files are closed when you disconnect the external hard drive and shut its power down.

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Safely Remove Hardware
Dec 16, 2005 10:23PM PST

Everytime I click on ''safe to remove external device'' I get an error message that it is busy and to try again latter.

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Thats the same Screen i get. !
Dec 17, 2005 12:39AM PST

I have tryed to Safely Remove the External Hard Drive...But like you I also get the same screen ever time...and "HELP" I want to safely Shut my External Hard Drive down.
Hard Drives Disc's all SPIN Around on Ball Bearings and in the same Lube...some bearings might last for years....some not! depends on the bearings and the oil....and each can or will Break Down in Due Time.....i want mine to last a long long time.
Thanks all
Crash in Kansas.

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Removing hardware
Dec 17, 2005 7:38AM PST

You may have left files open on the drive. Example, if you "zip" files and winzip (or whatever) is still open, it won't let you shut down. Likewise if you are in any application such as WORD, and you have saved your file to the drive, but have not closed WORD, or at least closed the file itself, you won't be able to shut down the drive.

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Select a different directory, then remove
Dec 18, 2005 12:56AM PST

I always got the same message too. It's very misleading. In Windows Explorer, simply select a different folder, so that Windows Explorer isn't showing you the list of files on your drive. Then you won't get a warning when you try to shut down the drive.

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Select a different directory, then remove
Dec 18, 2005 4:35AM PST

I've had the sa,e problem . . mainly with JUMP drives, THUMB drives, etc.

I've saved the file(s) and closed the applicable programs and selected other drives or partitions but nonetheless, I sometimes get ....'cannot close blah blah blah' ... or whatever the message. After trying this several times . . I just unplug which generates the Windows Unsafe Removal Message. I have this happen at home as well as work and rarely have I had any problem with the file or files on the USB drive.

Be nice to get this resolved but I don't have much hope of that happening any time soon.


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Just unplug it! NOT!
Dec 18, 2005 5:54AM PST

From my experience, files I put on a jump drive are usually highly critical. Don't just unplug it. If I had to choose between powering down or just pulling it, I'd definitely power down.

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Error message
Dec 18, 2005 11:42AM PST

I have tried closing all programs, switching directories, ect. I power down seemingly without any problems. It is in my bedroom and the fan makes alot of noise if I forgot to shut down. Apparently from reading these other posts some drives don't have a power switch.

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How to safely remove hardware -a possable solution ??
Jan 10, 2006 6:25AM PST

I think the reason some of you get an error message is because you have selected write caching on the disk which i believe is the reason you have that message as there is an option for quick removal which should stop that ,but don't quote me on

click on
"my computer"
right click the ext drive and then click on properties
click on the "hardware tab" then click on the properties of that popup then click the policies tab,the rest is self explanatory

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External HD on or off
Jan 10, 2006 10:03AM PST

I fully agree with Glennlee and would like to congratulate him for the right answer which should satisfy all. I am also using external harddisk for the last 3-4 years following the same procedure.
Dr Davare

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Risky to d/l DVD torrents, I guess, but otherwise
Dec 15, 2005 9:21PM PST

I'm certain that for the drives themselves it's better to leave them running all the time. Heads crash when started, or the electronics are murdered by the sudden power surge. Of course, if you do have power outages, spikes or surges (I don't, didn't have one single power outage or any electrical problem in the 15 years I live in the same place), you could end up with a bunch of fried chips. This summer I didn't switch off my computers during the six weeks I spent abroad (forgot to).
I had a few drive crashes, but only with brand - new drives (easy to replace), and with lots of old drives - but only during the powering-on cycle. OK, it drives the electricity bill up and /or drains the batteries, but the first thing I do when I get to a laptop is to disable the power saving features for the HD.
Now if any consumer product would still be allowing for a very nice gradual spin - up, as old SCSI drives did, or had surge protection built in, I would be a happy person. Having to trash the occassional DVD player or VCR just because these things don't even have a power switch and love to go poof as soon as you move them to the next room drives me mad. Yes, a DVD player is a dirt cheap thing, often cheaper than the (retail, non torrented) DVDisc, but still - why can't the Chinese raise the price by 50 cent and build in a switch?

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External Hard Drive Storage
Dec 15, 2005 9:46PM PST

The best thing I have found about my external drive is that I can unplug it and put it in my fireproof safe. My life is on that thing. Let my computer burn, but save my files!!!!!!!!!!

I always leave it on when it is hooked up. And put it in safe when we are traveling.

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fireproof storage for disk drives
Mar 6, 2006 1:38AM PST

A good idea, but you need to be careful. Normal "home safes" let temperatures rise to 350 degrees F on the inside during a fire. You need to be sure to use what is called a "media rated" safe. This ensures internal temps don't rise over 125 degrees, which a HDD can live with, not to mention CDs tapes, etc.

The safest solution is to buy a DataFORTRESS. These are hardened HDDs inside of a fire, flood, magnetic, etc. enclosure. Have a look at If you are really cautious about your data, there's RAID models available.

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Your Best Bet
Dec 15, 2005 11:26PM PST

is to leave the backup on for 24/7 for a few days... during which, upload and download as many files as possible.

If you experience no problem then it's probably a very good drive; after which, you can use it only when you need it.

I had a NEW drive for about 30 days after which it failed. Had I used it as a backup, everything would have been lost.

When backing up, I tend to move only the things I want to the backup. After which I clean and arrange the main drive... so it's always good to test your backup. NEW means nothing!

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New drives scare me most!
Dec 16, 2005 6:52AM PST

It's the new hard drives that scare me since my theory of electronics is that if it's defective and going to break, it will usually do it in the first 90 days. The first time I got an external hard drive (attached to a UPS) I gave it a workout the first month or so. I didn't put any risky stuff on it that I didn't have backed up elsewhere, but I left it on for a week and let it download via torrents, etc. On the other hand, I went through periods of just powering up and powering down just sitting there watching TV during the evening. Don't know how reliable my theory is, but one homemade external with a WD HDD did die on me, I got my replacement from the company without any problem, and didn't lose any important data. All the other times, no problems at all. (My favorite external is a WD Dual Option Multimedia Center with card reader and USB hub.) Happy

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re: d/l DVD torrents is a risky thing
Dec 16, 2005 6:43AM PST

>> d/l DVD torrents is a risky thing <<

This is just between me and my family. I know the source (me) and I create my own private torrent so it's not out there on some other service.

(Sorry, had to respond to that one. There are such a thing as legal P2P shares, so I always get frustrated with this issue.)

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Leaving it on is better
Dec 16, 2005 12:23AM PST

It's better to leave it in the same state. If it's on, leave it on, if it's off, leave it off. Changing the state puts a "shock" on the system so the more you do it, the more likely it will break.

And put all your equiment on a UPS!

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I agree ...
Jan 12, 2006 10:51AM PST

Leave them on and connect them to a UPS. One of my two external drives is a Maxtor One Touch II. It does 3 backups during the week. It is also very quiet.

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My external HD does not even have a power switch!
Dec 16, 2005 2:55AM PST

My external HD does not even have a power switch! So the only option for me to turn it off would be to unplug it, or use a power strip. The manufacturer obviously does not see anything wrong with the HD being on all the time, so I do not worry about it. My server in my house is also on 24/7 and has been for years now... never had a problem.

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No pwr switch on mfrd ext HD but enclosure came with one
Dec 16, 2005 7:20AM PST

Yeah, I found that a problem, too. Last spring I bought a 2nd* Maxtor 120gig external and there is no pwr switch on it so I had to connect it to a surge protect. [I bought another Maxtor [300gig internal] last week and also purchased an enclosure to make it an external hd and that had a power switch.Wink

*I leave my externals running 24/7 and never power down because the only problem I've had with external drives crashing was when I powered up my first external hd. I used to just unplug the drive each night to shut it down until one morning it never came back up. I only had that drive for 6 months. Leave it running.

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Leaving external hard drives on
Dec 16, 2005 4:57AM PST

I have two desktops, both with 2 hard drives, three external hard drives, and three DVRs running 24/7 for years with no problems. Everything are on a UPS.

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I may be "old school" but...
Dec 16, 2005 5:08AM PST

I prefer to turn mine on only as needed. I go by the rule that "it's the miles, not the years" that make for wear and tear. HDDs are designed for specified hours of operation (often in the hundreds of thousands, but you never know for sure) and by minimizing those hours I hope to prolong the life of the drive. It is by that same token that I do not leave my PCs on 24/7; and since I do not have app's running all of the time or serve clients it would also waste electricity.

Ultimately the choice is one of gut feelings and personal experience as much as any expert opinions you might find. If the drive is rated for 300,000 hours, that's over 34 years of continuous operation. And the odds are that it will live up to that rating if you keep it cool, keep it stationary and keep its surroundings clean. And keep a backup.

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Dec 16, 2005 12:10PM PST

I learned this the hard way (no pun intended). The problem with external hard drives is heat. Hard drives often become unstable and fail when exposed to high temps for long periods of time. External hard drives lack fans or cooling devices to help them maintain low temps, and that can lead to premature crashes and failures. I know because my external crashed last year and took 125gb of data with it (just a backup thank God). This doesn't mean your drive will crash, it just makes it much more likely.

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On or Off???
Dec 17, 2005 12:29AM PST

I've always found it to be best to keep things as stable as possible with electronics. I've read some on here mention over heating, but for the most part heat in a hard drive is only caused when it is reading and writing. There are also a few externals with cooling systems.

As long as you have protection in your power system from spikes, etc... it is in my opinion best to keep the system one because the shock of powering up and down on power supplies can cause more wear and tear. When possible I would do as much as you can to keep things cool, but for the most part that is in your PC not external devices. Just make sure where they are place allows for the device has space around it that it isn't too closely surrounded by things blocking air flow to cool it.

Once again that problem is normally on the PC end and I have found it best for the PC to have as few things installed internally and as many of the devices as possible to be installed externally so the PC has more open space inside of it for air flow.

All of this also depends on how often you use our PC. If you use it frequently, multiple times of the day, everyday leaving it on is the better way no matter what. If you use it maybe three or four times a week for an hour here and hour there and it isn't going to be turned on and off then it may be better to turn it off but for most people I think it is safer on the drive and power supply to be on 24/7.

Select a drive that is from a company that is more business based also. I prefer Seagate drives over others but that is my choice. I have had problems with Western Digital have short life and Maxtor also being rather short lived and having a lot of read errors. The PC I'm on right now has a Samsung, seems to be holding up but I do plan on replacing it soon for a 10,000 RPM drive which sadly do to lack of money and the fact this machine is mostly a toy, will probably be a WD.

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Another Consideration
Dec 18, 2005 5:33AM PST

While there are a lot of different ideas about the on/off discussion in regard to an external HDD's longevity, it's really the DATA stored on them that is most important. Of course, if a drive fails, the data generally goes with it, but data can disappear without actual failure of the drive.

I had this happen to me some time ago with an external USB drive on which I had a large number of music files. I was either ripping or transferring files and while I waited for the operation to complete, I moved the external drive case a bit to position it a little better. Instantly the file transfer stopped and when I checked the contents of the drive, I found that everything had become scrambled - lots of weird symbols connecting to essentially nothing. Using a file recovery program resulted in the apparent recovery of most of my files, but when I played them, they were composed of a series of unrelated small bits of music from other songs.

As near as I can figure, my moving the drive caused a momentary break in the USB connection and, since a lot of data were being transferred at that moment, my filing system got really mucked up.

This relates to the current discussion in that the USB connection is vulnerable to disconnections and the more the drive is running, the more opportunity exists for such a situation to occur.

I currently have an external firewire cabinet with four 160 GB drives in it, used primarily for music, graphics and system backups, and it gets turned on only while I'm actually using one of the drives.

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external firewire cabinet?
Dec 18, 2005 5:51AM PST

What is an "external firewire cabinet"?

In another post, I asked if there was a multiple hard drive enclosure (since I use a PC laptop) to combine my hard drives into one unit.

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Multiple External HDD Enclosure
Dec 18, 2005 4:20PM PST sells many different configurations of external enclosures, either USB or the several flavors of firewire, with some having connections for both. They aren't cheap, but they are really nice units. I have one that has a bay for a CD/DVD drive, plus four removeable trays for standard ATA drives. It has a built-in power supply and each tray has two 40mm fans for ventilation.