How Long Does a Hard Drive Last If It’s Not Used?

Most unused hard drives last anywhere from 3 to 5 years before their components start to fail.

I’ve spent years working with and fixing different computers. My personal hands-on time spent with the devices, alongside outside knowledge of how hard drives operate, gave me the ability to cover the below topics.

This guide looks at the lifespan of both used and unused hard drives. It does so by breaking down how the machines operate, the signs that they may be going bad, as well as what causes them to deteriorate in the first place.

Key Takeaways

  • All hard drives go bad, with most models starting to show noticeable damage anywhere between three and five years.
  • Unused hard drives break down due to factors such as temperature, internal deterioration, and the breakdown of their magnetic field.
  • Strange noises, physical damage, or additional heat are all signs that your hard drive may be on the outs and damaged beyond repair.

The Lifespan of Hard Drives

Every computer needs a hard drive. The device stores the machine’s data and helps it function. That constant use, while important, also puts a lot of strain on the device.

All hard drives lose some of their proficiency over time. High-power computers tend to run their hard drives out quickly, as do extremely intensive machines. 

That’s never ideal, but all hard drives go bad at some point. That’s important to note if you’re someone who has one stored away or if you plan on keeping one for an extended period of time.

Every hard drive comes with its own durability, which largely depends on the make, model, and the way it’s stored. For instance, hard drives that were used and sat dormant are not going to have as long of a shelf life as ones that have never been used at all.

In both cases, they will usually only stick around for between three and five years. Some can last longer, and some won’t even make it that far. Regardless, you can’t have an unused hard drive sit for years and then expect it to work.

Most models start to break down after three years. If you plan on keeping valuable data on an unused model or retired drive, it’s best to transfer any relevant information before that point. 

From there, you want to move less important information you still want to keep after five.

Once that window ends, anything that’s on the drive can easily become lost. Not only that, but technology may also progress to the point where the data format is no longer readable. 

Why Hard Drives Go Bad

It may seem surprising that unused hard drives degrade at such a relatively quick pace, but there are many factors that lead to their breakdown. One of the biggest is their construction. 

Not only can a hard drive’s magnetic field slowly break down over time, their moving parts can lose lubrication to the point where they become almost fully unusable. Older hard drives can also suffer from increased friction, and long-term air exposure can cause them to rust.

It doesn’t matter how well the hard drive is stored or how much you do to cut down on general wear and tear, all of them break down in one way or another. How soon that happens completely depends on each individual product.

Extending and Checking Your Hard Drive’s Lifespan

Though there’s no way to stop a hard drive from eventually going bad, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. There are a few measures you can take to increase your drive’s lifespan and keep it going for as long as possible.

Storing it in a dry, airtight place will help protect it from the elements, while purchasing your model from a respected or well-trusted brand will also add an extra layer of security. Keep a clean environment around the hard drive too.

Either way, always back up your data if it’s important enough to keep. There are tons of ways to make sure your information doesn’t get lost (disk, card, cloud) and they’re all extremely effective.

If you’re worried about your hard drive and think it might be bad, there are a few ways to check its health. First, always see if it’s making any strange noises. Clicks, grinding sounds, or whirs may all indicate mechanical issues.

Beyond that, if your hard drive has any clear signs of physical damage or feels extremely hot, it’s likely gone bad as well. Of course, it can be bad without such issues, but those are the main symptoms you should look out for when checking the device.


These are some of the biggest questions users ask about unused hard drives.

Is a 10 Year Old Hard Drive Still Good?

While it differs depending on both make and model, most unused hard drives only last anywhere between three and five years. A select few can go beyond that (and some might make it to ten) but it’s not a good bet.

Can You Recover Data from a Dead Hard Drive?

Yes. It is possible to get data from a dead hard drive. However, know that the drive must be recognized by the operating system and display the correct size. Even then, the recovery process is spotty and not always fully accurate.

When Should I Replace My Hard Drive?

While it’s different for everyone, most hard drives need to be switched out somewhere in the five to ten-year range. What side of that depends on external factors, like overuse or temperature changes, as well as how well they’ve been taken care of over the years.

Final Words

Hard drives, used or otherwise, have no definite lifespan. Sometimes they stick around for three years before breaking down and sometimes they last five or more. No matter what type you own, the only sure way to keep it healthy is by using it.

Have you ever had an unused hard drive? How long did it stick around for, and what company was it from? Let us know below!

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