Formatting a drive will extend its lifespan

Can you increase the reliability of a hard drive by using less of its total capacity?

Your computer has a massive hard drive that you are underutilizing. Would reducing the size of the primary partition actually extend the life of the drive?

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The question

SuperUser reader Chazjn is curious whether insufficient use of his hard drive space will extend the life of the drive:

I have a used 3 TB SATA hard drive in circulation that I want to use as a replacement for a Win 7 box.

I don't need all of that capacity so I figured if I format it to 1TB it would increase the reliability. My thinking behind it is based on the following thoughts:

  • There would be more physical "breathing space" between each sector / lane.
  • If bad sectors are found, a larger pool of unallocated sectors can be used.

Are my assumptions true?

If my assumptions are incorrect, what happens to all that unused space? Will the hard drive still be formatted with the same dimensions? That way my 1TB drive would still be pushing sectors onto the platter as if it were formatted to 3TB.

Many thanks!

What's the story? Does his theory of using less of the hard drive hold up?

The answer

SuperUser employee Mokubai intervenes and summarizes the theory:

Your assumptions are wrong.

The drive has a Firmly physical format, which consists of physical sectors, in your case a total of 3 TB. Formatting the drive will effectively erase the data in these sectors, but you will not be able to rearrange them or change their physical size or layout in any way. When you format at a smaller capacity, you are simply wasting the extra space that is there but is simply not used fornothing at all.

Formatting does not change the size of the physical sector or the spacing between tracks.

As for unallocated sectors, I believe this is the drive to have a preset number of reserved sectors for reallocation and the drive cannot tell if sectors are in use by the operating system. SSDs have a feature called "trim" that tells the drive that the sectors need to be erased. However, this is different. Similar functions are lacking on rotating platters. Unformatted sectors would not be used for bad sector redistribution.

When you format a 3TB drive as 1TB, you are simply avoiding taking up 2TB of space and wasting 2/3 of your spend on the drive. Your 1 TB partition is in front of 2 TB of free space.

During formatting / partitioning, you can still use partitioning to your advantage by creating one partition for your operating system / applications and another for your data. In the event of problems with the operating system or a complete reinstallation of the operating system, your data is safely stored in a separate area of ​​the drive.


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