The Ubuntu operating system has been charged with crimes against hard drives. A number of users have complained this week about the OS (7.04/7.10) forcing drives to spin up and down at an unnatural rate due to some very aggressive power management features. According to Ubuntu wizards, however, this is a firmware/BIOS issue and not the OS's fault.
A couple of user forums have started fill up with people commenting about their systems going through an unusual number of load cycles while under battery power. This excessive throttling of the hard drive could lead to quicker than expected hardware failures.
One user complains, "When switching to battery power, /etc/acpi/power.sh issues the command hdparm -B 1 to all block devices. This leads to extremely frequent load cycles. For example, my new thinkpad has already done well over 7000 load cycles -- in only 100 hours.
"That's at least one unloading per minute. Googling for "load unload cycles notebook OR laptop" shows that most laptop drives handle up to 600,000 such cycles."
This best explanation we've found of the hard drive mechanics at play comes from Linux-Hero.
The drive reported has a life span of 600,000 load/unload cycles before the precisely machined tolerances in the drive begin to deteriorate. Somewhere along the line, the drives are being asked to spin down very frequently. These are factors controlled by a power management utility within the drive called Advanced Power Management, or apm, and are dictated by Ubuntu after boot-up. The problem is simply that the drives are spinning up and down too often, and the sliders are being forced to roll on and off the ramp where they’re stored when in off use, causing wear and tear on the slider assembly (not to mention the motor spinning the drive).
But the Ubuntu nation contends that it's the laptop makers who are after aggressive power management that are causing the problems.
One blogger writes that the issues are OS independent. "These aggressive power management settings are set by your BIOS or harddrive firmware. Windows and/or Mac OS X might be overriding these settings which might make Ubuntu look bad if Ubuntu doesn’t override these settings."
Meanwhile, an Ubuntu developer explains that the OS creators have tried to avoid messing with the BIOS and firmware setting provided by hardware makers. So, this hands off approach can lead to major hard drive wear and tear, but that's what the laptop vendors intended.
According to Linux-Hero, you can fix the problem by running hdparm -B 255 /dev/sda. This will shut down the advanced power management features of your hard drive. A number of users have confirmed that this workaround has helped them as well. (Of course, your hard drive my eventually catch on fire, which would also lessen its lifespan.)
It looks like Hitachi, IBM/Lenovo and Dell units are all mentioned as potential culprits. And, if you hear you hard drive clicking, you're almost certainly suffering from this condition.
Good luck. ®