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I've read mixed cases all over the place regarding the life of a typical hard drive, and if reformatting degrades the disk. If so, could you measure the life of the disk in a practical manner or explain how it can be damaged?

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The world may never know. –  joeforker Jun 10 '09 at 3:20

6 Answers 6

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Reformatting any modern hard disk is no different from normal use of the same amount. You cannot actually lay down any track information. Modern hard drives are formatted at the factory using special connectors or special equipment. When you format a modern hard drive, at most you fill the drive with all zeros and maybe map out some sectors that were discovered to be bad.

You will not wear a hard disk out by reformatting any more than normal use will wear it out.

If you are talking about something extreme like continuously formatting a drive, this should be about the same as any continuous read/write access to the drive. You cannot degrade the magnetic medium in any way by doing this, as long as the drive is adequately cooled. A drive that runs at an extreme temperature will definitely have a degraded lifetime.

SSD drives are a different animal where each write gets you closer to eventual failure.

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As I understand SSD drives, though, the theoretical lifespan of the disk is still so high that by the time it's an issue it's time to replace the drive...like after years and years of average disk use...and under conditions that cause mechanical failure in normal drives. That's my understanding, anyway. –  Bart Silverstrim Mar 13 '10 at 1:53
    
Just keep in mind that reformating means mostly writing to the same sectors. If a drive doesn't have a proper remapping blocks policy it may be a problem. –  neutrinus Nov 4 at 7:18

Measuring the life of a hard drive is like measuring the life of a light bulb.
Once you know how long it lives, it doesn't anymore ;-)

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Reformatting a magnetic hard disk should not degrade the disk any more than any other use of the drive. The drive may even notice and relocate bad sectors as the head has an opportunity to revisit rarely used portions of the platter, but if I wouldn't count on reformatting providing any benefit other than an empty filesystem.

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From a drive's perspective there's no difference between writing data to a drive and formatting it. In general, many of the same physical sectors written to during a format will also be written often if you are using the filesystem heavily ("FAT" table, or equivalent, directory structures, etc.) For magnetic disks, I wouldn't worry about formatting as a possible contributory factor to drive failure. I've had experience with dozens of machines that have their main OS drives reformatted several times a day on overage over the course of 2+ years and show no signs of excess drive failure.

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If it is not a SSD drive, on which there is a limit (far higher than it used to be, though), regular (a.k.a quick) formats to the drive usually don't erase data, altering only the sector dedicated to the FAT, causing "uneven" wear, if you like.

Practically, I have yet to encounter a single case of even a mention to this issue.

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A typical "quick" format on a typical filesystem isn't a big deal - it only writes a few blocks.

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protected by Falcon Momot Nov 4 at 10:38

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