Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Hardware Science

Magnetic Wobbles Cause Hard Drive Failure 276

An anonymous reader writes "According to this report by IT PRO, scientists working at the University of California have discovered the main reason of hard drive failure. According to researchers, some materials used in hard drives are better at damping spin precession than others. Spin precession of magnetic material effects its neighbors' polarity and this can spread and cause sections of hard drives to spontaneously change polarity and lose data. This is known as a magnetic avalanche. So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why!"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Magnetic Wobbles Cause Hard Drive Failure

Comments Filter:
  • Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:33PM (#19910219)
    Pretty sure this will also keep Linux from starting!
    • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Funny)

      by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:35PM (#19910229) Journal
      yes, but the gpl v3 fixes this limitation.
    • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Funny)

      by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @12:58AM (#19910741)
      Only if you're making the assumption that Linux is running from a hard disk installation. Plenty of linuxes are actually run from a cd drive, in which case the poster is correct: this is really mainly a Windows issue.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        You can run WinPE from a CD too.
      • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:05AM (#19911279)
        I'm sorry, but you're *really* clutching at straws there. I personally don't know of anyone who runs Linux from CD. I appreciate that you can, and that some people almost certainly do, but if they're anything but a tiny minority of users I'll eat my PC.

        You're also ignoring that every OS X system will be running from a hard drive, so it's as much an OS X issue. And a *BSD one, a Solaris one, and every other OS.

        Mindless Windows bashing just is not cool, and only serves to lessen the impact of genuine gripes.
        • Re:Sigh (Score:5, Interesting)

          by cp.tar ( 871488 ) <> on Thursday July 19, 2007 @03:47AM (#19911505) Journal

          In all honesty, while on /. it may seem as an unnecessary swipe at Windows (if there can be such a thing here), the closing sentence only mirrors the fact that Windows are still on a vast majority of computers.

          None of us regularly get phonecalls such as "oh, my Linux won't start, OMG, what I'm gonna do?". We do get them related to Windows, though.

          So while I'm just guessing (and assuming stupidity and not malice), I'd say the OP typed Windows instead of $OS_OF_CHOICE or whatever.

          Besides, it's obvious that the issue affects every and any OS, since it's a hardware issue; so even if the swipe at Windows was intentional, it was supposed to be humorous. Yet the /. mob swarms in on obvious trivialities, thus proving that geeks are just as easily baited as the rest. Yay.

  • But I'd put the wobbly boots down to being pissed.
  • by UncleTogie ( 1004853 ) * on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:41PM (#19910273) Homepage Journal
    Which materials/processes dampen the "avalanche" best? Which hard drive manufacturers use those materials/processes?
    • by dsanfte ( 443781 )
      It's definitely not whichever vendor makes the "ramdrive" kind. I'm never buying one again.
  • by RealGrouchy ( 943109 ) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:43PM (#19910285)

    "So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why!"
    It's a bad carpenter who blames his tools.

    - RG>
  • Magnetic wobbles weeble but never fall down!
  • by tutwabee ( 758134 ) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:44PM (#19910295)
    It's lovely how both Slashdot post and the original article state that scientists at the "University of California" discovered this. This could mean the University of California, Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, or others. The website link is to the University of California, Santa Cruz website so I assume that's where the scientists were located.
    • by kf6auf ( 719514 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @01:48AM (#19910979)
      Here [] is a link to the UC Santa Cruz press release and the professor is indeed there (I'm sure you can find him). A little spiel from me: I took a class on nanomagnetism this past term and definitely learned about this effect for individual spins and for domains and it has been known for quite some time. Without reading the PRL article because I'm off campus and don't have a personal subscription ($$$ and, hey, this is /.), my guess is that the model explains the why a lot better than existing ones, and how we get from individual precessing spins to the average spin of the entire domain without brute-force computing it, which is nearly impossible. That being said, different ferromagnetic materials are very different in their interactions between spins and orbits between nearby spins and orbits and so I'm not sure without looking into it how many different ferromagnetic materials this applies too.
  • Grammar Nazi x2 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Spin precession of magnetic material effects its neighbors' polarity

    That would be "affects" its neighbours' polarity with an option on calling neighbours' erroneous too - depending on the precise physical phenomena that they are trying to describe.
  • by DTemp ( 1086779 ) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:51PM (#19910365)
    So this claims that most hard drive *failure* is caused by this. Now, I'm sure this causes isolated data loss here and there, and maybe I've had a different experience than the average person, but most of my hard drive failures in the past had loud screeching or clicking noises. I dont think this was caused by magnetic spin!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      It seems possible that this magnetic affectation could be a cause of spontaneous damage the hard drive servo information [].

      This would cause one of the clicking-type malfunctions which you described, as that "clicking" you hear is the noise the head assembly makes when the drive is rapidly moving it back and forth across the platter attempting to get a fix.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Fweeky ( 41046 )
      No, that's the disk throwing a tantrum because it can't find the data it wants.

      You can demonstrate this yourself; open up a running hard disk and remove the platter - in pretty much all cases a rather physically violent ending will occur. That's because the disk is *upset*; you took away its data!

      It's hoped that, once we have disks who's lifetimes can be measured in decades instead of a handful of years, the devices will be mature enough to take such failures in their stride.
    • by RallyNick ( 577728 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @07:39AM (#19912403)
      Hard drives that are used 24/7 fail because their mechanical (moving) parts are built from the cheapest materials that would last for the warranty period. Most of my Western Digital drives develop a noticeable "whine" within a year or two and typically fail soon after that. The "whine" sounds somewhat like an F1 engine running at max rpm, just not as loud (you can hear it if you get your ear close to the drive), and it definitely sounds like there's metal-on-metal friction in the bearings (not good). Better bearings are slightly harder to manufacture and thus no longer used in consumer products. Afterall we're supposed to get products that break and need to be replaced often to keep the manufacturers in bussiness.
      • Fluid bearings (Score:3, Informative)

        by zerofoo ( 262795 )
        Most drive manufacturers have gone to fluid bearings. These bearings don't have mechanical contact, the hydroplaning action of the fluid means the bearing parts never touch.

        I haven't had a fluid bearing drive fail yet due to bearing failure.

  • ... but does it affect it's neighbors?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      You mean "its" there, not "it's." Certain possessives don't have apostrophes in ou'r language.
    • Does it affect it is neighbours? What are you talking about? Oh, you meant its.

      If you're going to comment on someone's grammar or spelling, make sure your own is correct.
    • Thankyou, I take great delight in watching grammar Nazi's shoot themselves in the foot.
      • by yoyhed ( 651244 )
        What's a "shoot themselves in the foot"? Is that something the grammar Nazis own?
        • Touché! It's almost a recursive loop of people pointing out grammatical mistakes in the parents' posts whilst at the same time not ensuring that their own posts are free of said misconduct. Pretty sad, really. (I'm getting a bit paranoid as I write this).
    • by mrjb ( 547783 )
      Maybe it affects its neighbo(u)rs.
  • "So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why!"

    Well, it just happened to my desktop machine. Windows just stopped booting. Some weird kernel messages or something like that. Odd thing is, it didn't affect my Linux partition!? What are the odds of that? Are you sure this isn't some report sponsored by Microsoft to make it look like it's not their fault?! :)

  • It's cheap and it will minimize thrashing on your hard drive. Perhaps it will make it last a little longer.

    Actually, for the speed it operates at and amount of use, the hard drive is probably one of the most reliable things in a computer.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by ls671 ( 1122017 )

      True, I would say a machine packed with RAM will wear the drives about 10 times slower than a machine tight on memory. By "tight on memory" I do NOT mean a machine swapping like crazy. A lot of machines tight on memory aren't using their swap-space at all.

      The basic principle is that all spare RAM is used as IO buffers and caches thus lowering the number of physical accesses to the drives needed, lowering drive wear and speeding up the machine. You can never have enough RAM, unless you have more RAM than

    • Isn't there a law of diminishing returns regarding RAM, something about more than 4 GB being a waste of money? I forget where I heard about this and it almost certainly is related to Windows machines only.
      • Returns on RAM for 32 bit PCs diminish to 0 once you get past 4GB. You just can't address any more.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by LoztInSpace ( 593234 )
        I think you mean 640K. (Sorry if I missed a sarcasm tag there).
      • Windows XP can only give any one program access to 2gb and can only use 4gb total making it a bit limited. Shouldn't be any problems on Vista other then I can't figure out how you could ever use more then about 3gb of RAM with consumer use, I rarely break 1.5gb and then I got several games and movies on at once xD.
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Edward Teach ( 11577 ) on Wednesday July 18, 2007 @11:57PM (#19910399)

    So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why!

    Pretty sure that's not the main reason. :-(

  • Groovy. Maybe we'll get some more reliable drives based on this discovery. Sadly, every drive I've ever had fail was due to heat. When I was 12, I learned why most people use properly ventilated cases and refrain from leaving a server running in an attic closet. According to the logs, those drives hit upwards of 85C before failing. Fairly impressive, I guess.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Reading TFA, it sounds like they have found a mechanism for data being randomly lost, NOT bad sectors developing on a disk.

    I would not call this a mechanism for "hard disk failure."
  • by Whuffo ( 1043790 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @12:10AM (#19910489) Homepage Journal
    When I think of hard drive failure, it's almost always due to a drive hardware failure. Bad motors, bad chips on the controller board. Another popular failure is due to flaky firmware on the drive controller causing the tracking information on the platter to become overwritten.

    Magnetic wobbles? Let me see a show of hands - how many have had their data spontaneously change due to this phenomenon. Yeah, I thought so...

    • by Tribbin ( 565963 )
      Some years ago I wanted to place a bigger cooler in my system. The drive-bays were in the way. I though using a grinding machine was a good way to remove some metal.

      I did not take the 3 minutes to take the back off and take the drives out.

      I'm not sure if it were magnetic whobbles that destroyed my drive though.
    • Agreed 100% - mere data corruption cause hard drives to start clicking or taking 4 seconds for every seek, does it?
    • Maybe we need a Mobius Strip-based hard drive technology powered by Hidden Dark Energy. Could happen!
    • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Thursday July 19, 2007 @02:40AM (#19911187) Homepage
      I don't see anywhere in TFA that specifies this is the cause of complete hard drive failure. It is, however, a very credible mechanism for the slow increase in bad sectors that is typical of many hard drives. (You young un's may not have heard of this, or seen it, as the hardware/software conspires to hide it from you now-a-days.) I have seen this eventually lead to failure (I.E. unuseability) of a drive.
      Since (I would assume) a given manufacturer would tend to use the same materials across a broad span of drive models, this could also be a reasonable explanation for why some manufacturers have reps for 'bad drives'.
  • Misleading title (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tribbin ( 565963 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @12:12AM (#19910511) Homepage
    Should be something like:

    Magnetic Wobbles Cause Data Loss
  • by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @12:14AM (#19910527)
    So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why!

    Because... I didn't install it?
  • The article says "one of the major causes of hard disk failure," not "the major causes of hard disk failure."

    It seems to me that years ago, slashdot authors did more than dump articles into summaries with reading them first. What happened?
  • by Khaed ( 544779 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @12:39AM (#19910631)
    This has been up at least an hour.

    So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why!

    Where are all the jokes about this? Seriously! A bad hard drive is not the only reason Windows won't start. It's not even in the top ten. I've had Windows not start maybe once in ten years over a hard drive. I've had it not start for a variety of other reasons... well the number is greater than one, but I don't keep count (I bet twitter did, though).

    C'mon you slackers, it was a slow day, where are my +5 funny posts about the ineptitude of Microsoft?
  • Mac OS X (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Luckily Mac OS X is safe, as it is pretected by a global reality distortion field.
  • by sssssss27 ( 1117705 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @01:03AM (#19910763)
    I backup all of my DVDs to my computer because I have a notorious habit of losing them. Every once in a while I'll go to watch a movie that I swear I've backed up and can't find on my computer. So at least now I can blame it on some science thing and not just my failing memory. Every day science makes one less thing your fault, lol.
  • During that brief time, each magnetic field contributes forces that affect the precession of neighbouring fields. Each of these spins Combining all those wobbles adds up to a lot of energy that changes the polarity of neighbouring bits and spreads across the surface, causing sections of disk drive to be wiped out.

    That's what they get for using a hard drive!

  • Don't you guys find it amazing how reliable harddrives are? I've been using harddrives since the early 1990s and I only had two of them fail me, after they were in service for five years or so. I find that pretty amazing, taking into account the density of the data and the way the drives are constructed. And they're cheap too!
    • by Mr2001 ( 90979 )
      Nah. I had three drives die over the span of a year in my home PC. The first one lasted about 8 months, Maxtor replaced it with another that lasted one more month, and then they sent me a bigger one which lasted about 3 months. By then, the warranty was over, and I bought a Seagate instead (with a longer warranty).

      Then there was the time a power outage caused both drives to fail in my server simultaneously... it'd been up and running for around a year with no problems. A little bad weather and boom, not onl
    • You're lucky, or buying the right drives... I'm a broke student, so, I keep buying WD's and cursing them when I get the 'click of death', however at this junction one of two things happens:
      1.) It's 3AM Sunday morning and Wal*Mart is the only place I can get a drive. I purchase the next WD that I will later be cursing.
      2.) I go to buy a drive (either online or otherwise) and WD's are cheaper than any other real drives; Maxtor's not included - I don't consider them a harddrive, but rather, a ticking time
      • by tsa ( 15680 )
        I always bought WD because they Just Work. A few weeks ago I bought two Toshiba external harddrives that I use for backups. I have one Maxtor that has been doing its job for about four years now. The worst drive I ever had was the Seagate that came in my 8086 XT. That one worked sort-of. I'd rather have a drive (or any other piece of equipment) suddenly completely die on me than start doing weird things.
  • by mritunjai ( 518932 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @01:40AM (#19910941) Homepage
    This phenomenon is only one of the several ways for bit rot to creep in and make you lose data.

    In bit rot, bits on HDD spontaneously change. It is generally not observable and the results are often blamed on applications and/or OS.

    It is lesser known because in the current state of technology, the aplications, OS, filesystem and even RAID can't even detect the problem much less solve them. (RAID doesn't work because it can't tell which copy is right and which is wrong. It assumed what it got from disk is what it wrote to it.)

    ZFS (Solaris/SUN filesystem) solves this problem by using end-to-end checksums. However, it exists for few platforms only.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by egoproxy ( 1114835 )
      Information provided by some hardware vendors (3Ware for example) says RAID-6 protects against data loss potentially caused by data rot. Reason given that in RAID-6 there is a second parity set.

      I guess the likelihood of an undetected media failure when you have 2 sets of parity must be very low.

      For those on RAID-5: remember to run periodic Verify processes and make frequent backups!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Brane2 ( 608748 )
      I don't see how such an error would get around ECC and checksums on each sector that the drive verifies and updates by itself.

      Once few bits in a sectors would flip, that sector would be invalid...
  • because it flagged even the legal verisons as pirated?
  • The real reason (Score:3, Interesting)

    by auroran ( 10711 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @01:53AM (#19911011)
    We all know the real reason here. It's all those perpendicular bits on the dance floor getting drunk and falling down.

    They were all fairly calm when this footage was shot but the wildness ensued soon after. ead/pr/PerpendicularAnimation.html []
  • So next time Windows fails to start, you'll know why

    Indeed. But what has it to do with the harddisk?
  • dab oot ton (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    degnahc ytiralop retfa
  • Just today I might have had exactly that problem. First drastically slowing down of execution with high HD activity. I decided to reboot and that was it. When Windows was loading it failed halfway and blue screened. Even safe mode would not allow it to boot. Placing the HD in a different PC gave the same problem.

    This is typical. I recall the first Diskettes and how reliable they were. As PC's got cheaper these things became notoriously unreliable. CD's same thing. They used to always work and now even silve
  • by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Thursday July 19, 2007 @06:42AM (#19912219)
    But I'm sure it must be free energy in there somewhere! Man, imo gonna start a company based on this.

    - Sean McCarthy, Steorn CEO

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. -- Thomas Alva Edison