Is Your Hard Drive the Biggest and Fastest?

Is Your Hard Drive the Biggest and Fastest?

I imagine a scene that could have taken place in some corporate boardroom of a company that manufactures hard disks. Present at the meeting were the CEO of the company, head of the marketing department, and an engineer. The exchange could have gone something like this:


CEO: “Our competitor’s advertising their hard drives are bigger and faster than ours!”

Engineer: “That’s because they’re pushing their drives beyond the point of reliability and hoping their ECC will fix the errors.”

CEO: “Is ECC how hard disks correct errors?”

Engineer: “Right. All hard disks experience errors from vibration, loud noise, and so on. Our competitor is pushing their disks so fast they’ll make errors all the time, and then hope that the ECC can fix those errors.”

Marketing: “We can do that, and then our disks will be faster too!”

Engineer: “Bad idea. That’d make our hard disks much less reliable.”

Marketing: “But people always back up their important stuff to the cloud, don’t they?”

CEO: “Right! So let’s double the speed of our hard drives like our competitors do.”


So a few months pass and eventually there is another meeting in the corporate boardroom:


Engineer: “Good news, bad news. We’ve been getting a lot of hard disk failures since you guys forced us to push the speed of our hard drives faster than we should’ve, but the good news is the engineering department has improved the Error Correction Code to more reliably fix most of those hard disk errors.”

Marketing: “That’s great! So now we can make our disks run even faster.”

Engineer: “Terrible idea! Our hard disks are already running too fast and failing too often.”

Marketing: “But you said your new ECC fixes more errors. We gotta be able to advertise that our drives are bigger and faster than the competition.”

CEO: “Marketing’s right. This is a competitive business, and this company can’t afford to fall behind. People know hard disks fail sooner or later anyway. So it’s sooner. We have to push it to the limit and then some.”

Engineer: “But we’re already way way beyond the safe operational limits, sir.”


The preceding dialog is fictitious but probably close to the mark. In a real conversation I recently had with a client, he asked me why his computer’s hard disk had failed, and why the brand new replacement disk already reported 146,922,315 errors. I pointed out that the same report showed all those 146 million errors had been successfully fixed. Still, millions of errors on a brand new drive is discomforting. This state of affairs exists because today all hard disk manufacturers seek a competitive advantage in the market by advertising that they have the biggest and the fastest hard drives. Unfortunately, this performance is achieved at the cost of reliability.


Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)