computer question

I was told that computer manufacturers insert a program that counts the number of times your PC shuts off and when it reaches the predetermined number it causes your hard drive to fail. This sounds fishy, but I shut mine off all the time, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, and I have had 2 hard drive crashes in the last 3 years. Can anyone give me the straight dope on this?

No, no. After a certain number of shut-downs, the hamster dies.


This has to be one of the most oddball computer myths I’ve heard come down the pipe in a while. Why would a PC manufacturer deliberately time-bomb their retail hardware? That’s just bad business. I’ve taken apart many hard drives and never seen anything that would make them self-destruct. I’m not saying your PC’s motherboard couldn’t send a signal to the hard drive’s logic board after a certain number of POSTs and tell it to start treating every other sector as “bad”, but it just sounds insane.

It sounds like someone is trying to justify the crappy hard drives that come with pre-built computers. Buy yourself Maxtor brand and you’ll be alright.

OK, thinking about it more carefully, there is a relation between the number of shutdowns and time to failure for a hard drive. This is because, when you shut down, the read/write head which, when the drive is powered up, hovers a fraction of a millimeter above the drive platters has to land. Modern drives reserve a landing zone which can become damaged without causing problems, but the tiny amounts of damage to the head can build up.

However, I understand that hard drives should be one of the longer-lived components in a system, despite this, so you should not be getting so many failures. The myth doesn’t really have a basis.

I shut down my computer - both at work and at home - every night and start it every morning. We do this all the time here in India as the power supply is notoriously unreliable.

So, if what you say is true, we would be replacing our hard drives all the time.

I guess this is just another UL :smiley:

The life of a hard-drive is a function of a number of things, the two biggest of which are:

a) startups and shutdowns
b) “on” time

Failures caused by starting up and shutting down are due to the mechanical and electrical stresses involved, not because of any kind of counter or other deliberate failure mode.

If you turn your computer on and off a lot, you increase the thermal stresses placed on all of the components caused by the different materials expanding and contracting at different rates. This is the same sort of thing that will shatter a drinking glass if you take it out of the dishwasher and immediately run it under cold water (kids, don’t try this at home, unless you want a sink full of broken glass). Solder joints and all sorts of things inside the computer tend to work themselves loose, and the most common failure is that the little wires that connnect the silicon chips to the pins inside the integrated circuits tend to lift up off of their pads and your chip fails. Many disk drives are so precise that they monitor the temperature and adjust the head accordingly to make sure that it doesn’t get off track while warming up. You don’t specify if you are getting hardware crashes or software crashes (in other words, is the drive recoverable after a format), so it could be that the head alignment is getting whacked out while it’s heating up and the head isn’t properly over the tracks, which will cause your data to get munged. If it whacks out your file allocation table, then all the data on the drive is toast.

Turning the computer on and off a couple of times a day doesn’t seem very excessive to me, so I’m not very confident that you’ve got thermal cycling problems unless your computer room is fairly cold or your computer tends to run a little too hot.

Another thing that could be happening is that your drive runs too hot, due to the case design and placement of fans. In this case, it would just be plain old ordinary heat which kills the drive, and the drive would actually die an earlier death if you left it on all the time as opposed to turning it off and on.

The third idea I had is I’m wondering if you have any disk thrashing going on. Disk thrashing occurs when your computer runs out of physical memory and starts swapping things in and out of your disk’s swap file. If your hard drive is constantly pounding due to an excessive number of disk accesses, then its long term reliability is going to drop quite a bit.

As for the mysterious “counter” thing, that gave me a good chuckle, but it’s nothing to worry about. Manufacturers do intentionally design computer components to not be as reliable as they could (to save costs) but they don’t intentionally put anything in the system that could kill it.

Thanks everyone for your help. I tried leaving my puter on all day today and when I hit the space bar everything was in slow motion. Whats with that? I run win98 and have the power settings to always on except for the monitor. Even when I do it right I seem to be able to do it wrong.

Now tell us. Where did you hear such claptrap?

Check your computer’s memory usage. You may have a program in the background eating up all of your available memory. Does your computer usually run slower after it’s been on for a while? After all of the available ram is used up, the computer is going to have to page things in and out of the swap file, which is slow.

A lot of swap file paging will also lead to an early hard drive death, as I mentioned earlier. This could be two symptoms of the same problem.

Indeed; this would require the existence of a conspiracy between the manufacturers of the various components.

On a different note be sure if you have proper earthing for the electrical point used by your computer.

Also a friend who had major power fluctuations at his place experienced the same rate of hard disk failures as the OP.Invest in a good UPS if you may require to.

Thanks for the help…upon further questioning the guy I heard this from said it wasn’t a program in the PC but someone has done a test on various hard drives to see how many start/stops it will handle before ruining the disc or crashing. It has always been my hardware crashing.

Many drives have a jumper that when installed will thrash the drive to destruction. The jumper is typically labeled “factory test only” or some such, with a warning not to ever install a jumper there. Other drive manufacturers probably have some undocumented software command that does a similar thing.

You’d know if the factory test mode were ever enabled on your computer. First of all your computer wouldn’t run any more. Secondly, your hard drive would make a rather excessive amount of noise, and would continue to make this noise for a very, very long time. Even under the worst abuse possible, disk drives take quite a while to wear out.

Aside from installing the jumper, there’s no easy way for you as a user to ever enable one of these test modes.

Engineer…while I have your undivided attention…I was in safe mode defragging (don’t ask why) and while there checked my system resorces and it said that “drive X is using an MS-Dos compatical mode file system…Compatical mode paging reduces overall system performance” I think it said one of my drivers was using this…any help?