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Storage 101: How to keep your USB drives and external hard drives safe for years to come

We all need more storage nowadays, but buying an external hard drive or USB drive isn’t as simple as just “plug and play.” You have to keep your data secure by maintaining the hardware itself. Far too few people safeguard their hardware, leading to data loss and corruption.

This guide will teach you how to store your hard drives and USB drives safely, keep your data secure and have these devices for years to come. Here’s what you need to know.

Keep humidity at bay

Depending on where you live, humidity can be part of everyday life. USB drives and external hard drives were not designed to withstand moisture. Even when exposed for a short time, it can do severe damage.

With USB drives, you can leave them plugged into a laptop or PC that’s currently on. Your PC has fans to keep it cool and help with humidity, so the USB slots should be safe.

Otherwise, remove your USB drives and place them in a container like the one we’ve listed below. Keep the container out of direct sunlight, away from high shelves (because humidity and heat rise) and consider adding one or two silica gel packets.

We’ve linked to some below designed to work on a military-grade level and can be used for safes, so they should keep out excess moisture with no issue.

Apply this same practice to your external hard drives. Remove the cable connecting to your PC and store those in the same container. While wires are less susceptible to damage from humidity, you might as well maintain them simultaneously.

Use a surge protector any time your USB drive or external hard drive is plugged in

It’s a good idea to protect your electronics with surge protectors, especially when dealing with data and media storage. Surge protectors need to be rated for your PC or laptop’s power.

Your PC’s power supply unit (PSU) has a maximum range that it can handle. Ensure your surge protector can defend against more significant surges than your PC can handle. We recommend this inexpensive charging station and surge protector from Lovin because it’s flame resistant and rated for surges of 3000W.

Keep all available openings clear of dust

Use a can of compressed air and spray the slots of your USB drives from time to time. This is a simple task that takes a few seconds at most. However, external hard drives require more maintenance.

USB drives use flash storage similarly to SD cards. External hard drives (HDD) use hardware that physically writes data to a magnetic spinning drive. This requires a bit of ventilation and has plenty of moving parts that can build up dust.

You don’t have to pry the case off your external hard drive, but you should dust the external access ports more frequently to prevent dust buildup. Wipe down the outside of the casing with a microfiber cloth from time to time.

Ensure your external devices are kept cool

If you have an external hard drive, it’s detached from the PC or laptop and extends to the end of its connection wire. That means it doesn’t get the same cooling as your PC, but it still heats up. You need to make sure it doesn’t flip into thermal throttling.

That’s when the heat rises too much and damages your hard drive. This blanket term can apply to any component in any PC. If it thermal throttles, it isn’t good.

You can find inexpensive fans to help cool down the HDD case. That should be more than enough, even in hotter environments. USB drives don’t heat up to the point that thermal throttling is a concern.

Don’t overload your external hard drives

Because external HHDs work differently than USB drives or SSDs, you want to be careful with how much you use them. When you put new data onto it, the drive physically writes data. When you view data, your PC reads it, which strains your HDD over time.

Don’t use your external hard drive to its absolute limit. Any hard drive can become fragmented over time, causing it to run slower.

External hard drive and USB drive care FAQs

Have questions about how long you can expect your external hard drive to live? What about your USB drive sitting on a shelf and losing data over time? There’s a lot to talk about before you head out.

Do USB drives lose data over time?

USB drives are not designed to hold onto data on a long-term basis. Because this data is on flash storage, interior components can eventually lose the charge they carry. If you leave a USB drive on a shelf for a decade or longer, there’s a chance that all your data will be gone, and it won’t work anymore.

How many times can I use a USB drive?

To prolong the life of a USB drive, use it sparingly. They’re inexpensive because they’re not good for long-term use. Every USB drive (and other flash storage methods) only has a small number of read and write cycles available. You can run out of cycles just like you would run out of gas in a car. Then it stops working.

What is the lifespan of an external hard drive?

On average, external hard drives can stay on and be used for up to five years. This depends on the components’ quality because a hard drive will eventually fail. If your external hard drive lasts for five years, replace it and transfer your data.

A more secure backup solution

If you’re worried about security and want a safer way to back up important files, use a cloud backup service that you can trust. We recommend our sponsor, IDrive.

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Read More

Lanyards for your USB drives – Stop losing your flash drives

External hard drives are being wiped remotely – How to protect yours

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