What are my chances of getting burned on a used hard drive on eBay?
November 11, 2005 10:08 PM   Subscribe

What are my chances of getting burned on a used hard drive on eBay?

I'm wondering if it's worth the cut in price to get a used hard drive on eBay. Upside is that I'll get more MB for my dollar. Downside is that the drive could possibly be, but most likely will be, sans warranty. Has anyone gotten really burned? Is it a llikely occurence?
posted by bryanzera to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
I really have to say, fairly out of AxMe guidelines, that HDs are so cheap right now that if you seriously need the money you'd save by buying a sketch-ass used HD on ebay, you should probably just do without and start a savings account. Unless your data isn't worth anything (it may not be in all actuality and seriousness).
posted by kcm at 10:11 PM on November 11, 2005

I've never bought a used hard drive, I just find them in trashed computers.

I don't think I'd pay more than a few bucks for a used, as-is drive without knowing who I was buying it from, or the ability to run some surface media scans and read write tests on it.

Depends on how much your money is worth to you. And the rep and history of the eBay seller. Look for positively resolved conflicts in their transaction history.
posted by loquacious at 10:15 PM on November 11, 2005

Look on the bright side. If it does in fact work, it could contain all sorts of interesting financial records. You could be on your way to identity theft millions. You might ask the seller for the serial number. At least with that you could confirm whether or not it's still under warranty. (Western Digital will confirm online for instance).
posted by roue at 10:41 PM on November 11, 2005

You can also get someone's old child pron that way, and so under current US law, you are a sex offender. (Current US law is stopid).

I've bought a few drives from ebay, but they were for modding projects, nothing I would store critical data on. I haven't had problems, but my advice is to get a HDD on special from a place like Frys - it's often cheaper than ebay and it's new.

I usually check out what's on the used drives that I buy, they're never wiped, it's a bit like reading someone's diary. Depending on your disposition, that might be an advantage ebay offers that the big stores can't match :-)
Just be sure to delete the kiddie pron.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:15 PM on November 11, 2005

Well, it's not a hard drive, but I bought a DVD drive for my IBM Thinkpad 600 (it has a drive bay) a few years ago. The seller was one of those 'eBay as storefront' types that sells an enormous amount of computer stuff and has a very strong feedback history. Nonetheless, it quickly became apparent that the drive was not capable of reading the second layer of dual-layer DVDs. Thus, it can play only a handful of movie DVDs, though most data DVDs (and all CDs) are fine. Not a total loss, but it's the sort of thing that lets 'not DOA but as-is' bite you some times. All that said, I got the drive on the cheap, so I'm not too bothered by it.

So, just remember caveat emptor and that, generally, the reason someone is selling something is that they don't want it anymore. You would do well to question just why that might be.

Also note that, as someone who had a bad experience (unlike harlequin, above), I have a strong self-selection bias towards ranting about my bad experience. Bear that in mind, as well.
posted by jedicus at 11:20 PM on November 11, 2005

The issue is buying second-hand; whether it's from eBay or not doesn't really matter. I've bought a few SCSI drives off high-scoring eBay people and not had any issue with them but these are probably more robust than the average IDE drive.

Note that you can often buy new drives off ebay very cheaply; as long as they haven't been dropped there's no reason not to. And I wouldn't trust a computer-store monkey any more than I would an ebay seller.

Before buying one, I'd ask to see the SMART tables so that you know at least that the drive doesn't think it's failing. In particular, make sure it has used none of its remapping space; not just that it has some left, it should have used NONE. You should make sure the SMART error log (if supported) is empty and that all the "worst" values are well over their respective thresholds.

Example drive in good condition (WORST >> THRESH for all properties), if a bit old (13k hours - it runs 24/7 in my fileserver):
  1 Raw_Read_Error_Rate     0x000b   253   252   000    Pre-fail  Always       -       283947
  3 Spin_Up_Time            0x0027   252   252   063    Pre-fail  Always       -       16
  4 Start_Stop_Count        0x0032   253   253   000    Old_age   Always       -       16
  5 Reallocated_Sector_Ct   0x0033   253   253   063    Pre-fail  Always       -       0
  6 Read_Channel_Margin     0x0001   253   253   100    Pre-fail  Offline      -       0
  7 Seek_Error_Rate         0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       76145
  8 Seek_Time_Performance   0x0027   252   247   187    Pre-fail  Always       -       199076029373859
  9 Power_On_Minutes        0x0032   216   216   000    Old_age   Always       -       12877h+35m
 10 Spin_Retry_Count        0x002b   252   252   223    Pre-fail  Always       -       16
 11 Calibration_Retry_Count 0x002b   253   252   223    Pre-fail  Always       -       32
 12 Power_Cycle_Count       0x0032   253   253   000    Old_age   Always       -       16
199 UDMA_CRC_Error_Count    0x0008   199   199   000    Old_age   Offline      -       4960
200 Multi_Zone_Error_Rate   0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       384265
201 Soft_Read_Error_Rate    0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       12885185835
202 TA_Increase_Count       0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       283947
203 Run_Out_Cancel          0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       283947
204 Shock_Count_Write_Opern 0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       283947
205 Shock_Rate_Write_Opern  0x000a   253   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       283947
206 Flying_Height           0x0026   239   239   000    Old_age   Always       -       8014408974368
207 Spin_High_Current       0x002a   252   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       16
208 Spin_Buzz               0x002a   252   252   000    Old_age   Always       -       16
209 Offline_Seek_Performnce 0x0024   253   253   000    Old_age   Offline      -       0
vs this dying drive (run out of remap space):
  1 Raw_Read_Error_Rate     0x000b   200   186   051    Pre-fail  Always       -       0
  3 Spin_Up_Time            0x0007   131   124   021    Pre-fail  Always       -       4241
  4 Start_Stop_Count        0x0032   100   100   040    Old_age   Always       -       336
  5 Reallocated_Sector_Ct   0x0032   088   088   112    Old_age   Always   FAILING_NOW 448
  7 Seek_Error_Rate         0x000b   200   200   051    Pre-fail  Always       -       0
  9 Power_On_Hours          0x0032   053   053   000    Old_age   Always       -       34667
 10 Spin_Retry_Count        0x0013   100   100   051    Pre-fail  Always       -       0
 11 Calibration_Retry_Count 0x0013   100   100   051    Pre-fail  Always       -       0
 12 Power_Cycle_Count       0x0032   100   100   000    Old_age   Always       -       138
196 Reallocated_Event_Count 0x0032   028   028   000    Old_age   Always       -       172
197 Current_Pending_Sector  0x0012   199   199   000    Old_age   Always       -       18
198 Offline_Uncorrectable   0x0012   200   200   000    Old_age   Always       -       2
199 UDMA_CRC_Error_Count    0x000a   200   253   000    Old_age   Always       -       0
200 Multi_Zone_Error_Rate   0x0009   200   198   051    Pre-fail  Offline      -       0
As long as you keep "hard drive = unreliable" in mind, you'll be fine. That means having a proper backup scheme for important data and/or use of RAID. There's nothing to say that a brand new drive won't die a month or two after you get it; google for "IBM deathstar" for some horror stories.

Hard drives are delicate things and how long they last for you will depend on how you handle them, how often they are started and how the previous owner treated them. There's no reason an always-on drive can't last a decade or more. Drop it lightly once or twice and it may last only a few months.
posted by polyglot at 1:39 AM on November 12, 2005

PS: ask for the whole SMART output, it often includes temperature in a separate section. Tell them to get it after the drive has been on for at least half an hour and preferably in use. If it's more than 15C above ambient (obviously you'll have to trust the seller on that), it's almost certainly been cooked on a warm day unless it's from a datacentre with A/C.
posted by polyglot at 1:51 AM on November 12, 2005

The question should really be, how much is your data worth to you? And how much are you really saving? Let's say you save $50 on a HD, which ends up failing after 6 months. Is your time really not worth more than that $50 you saved?

These days $100 buys you a heck of a lot of new HD. With prices so low I don't think I'd ever consider buying used.

The only way I see this making sense is if you can make -massive- savings (for example, a quarter or less of what you'd pay new) and you plan to have full monthly/weekly backups, or some other form of redundancy. Anything less just seems like false economy when you factor in the value of your data and/or time.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:33 AM on November 12, 2005

Hard drive warranties may officially be non-transferable, I don't know. In practice, if a drive fails within the warranty period you can get a replacement with no hassles from most manufacturers.

If your data is valuable you should be using redundant storage anyway. If the savings from buying used is enough that you can afford to implement a redundant array where you couldn't otherwise, your data is actually going to be more secure.
posted by Chuckles at 2:50 AM on November 12, 2005

Theres one rule about computers: Moving parts fail first. Fans, hard drives. I wouldn't buy a used SATA or IDE hard drive, no way. New ones have a good warranty (well, fair. 2 years to me is a rip off) and are a good buy. Also, buy from the bulk lines such as Frys because odds are an entire pallet of hard drives was treated with more care than a ground package single drive.

Every drive shipped single has had problems in my experience. My 160GB WD shipped new from western digital is getting seek error rates.
posted by Dean Keaton at 6:18 AM on November 12, 2005

If you surf Digg.com regularly or search back a week you'll see that regularly someone posts links to amazing HD deals.

For example by searching "hard drive" I found $20 GB portable HD for $99 and 300 GB SATA for $128. That 2nd deal is still in effect, doesn't require a mail in rebate and includes 2nd day shipping.
posted by furtive at 7:41 AM on November 12, 2005

Well, for $18 I bought a used Seagate 20 GB IDE drive off eBay and it's worked great so far over the past few weeks. I had to resort to eBay as hardly anyone sells small drives anymore, and this Compaq iPaq (c. 2001) doesn't recognize the big ones. I probably need to find a program to automatically back up my important files to another network drive, just to be safe.

Too bad there's no "odometer" like there is on my HP LaserJet.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:29 AM on November 12, 2005

A couple months ago I got two Western Digital 160 GB drives for $30 each at CompUSA. Well, actually I got one and my dad got the because it was only one rebate per person.

Right now their best deal is this Hitachi 80 GB for $30. But the total will come to $70 with shipping before a $35 rebate. Are the ebay deals significantly better than this? Do you want more than 80 GB? Do you need that $35 right now?
posted by 6550 at 10:30 AM on November 12, 2005

I'll add to the buy-a-new-drive chorus by saying I've had great luck looking for rebates at fryes/staples/ofiice [depot/max] as long is I've been good abput sending in my rebate form immediately.
posted by Good Brain at 3:00 PM on November 12, 2005

"Every drive shipped single has had problems in my experience. My 160GB WD shipped new from western digital is getting seek error rates."

Heh. Seagate count ECC correction and seek error events too, they always look scary if you're not used to them:
  1 Raw_Read_Error_Rate     0x000f   050   048   006    Pre-fail  Always       -       102100841
  7 Seek_Error_Rate         0x000f   081   060   030    Pre-fail  Always       -       126029294
195 Hardware_ECC_Recovered  0x001a   050   048   000    Old_age   Always       -       102100841
50 out of 100, wow, this drive must be about to burst into flames, right? Well, no; this is perfectly normal for Seagate, and indeed all disks that expose this sort of information - if you graph the raw value you'll see they make nice curvy lines as the disks perform constant media scans, with something like a few thousand corrections/sec.. which sounds high until you realise they're streaming tens of millions of bytes per second.
posted by Freaky at 3:39 PM on November 12, 2005

With the average cost of 50 to 80 cents per GB, you might as well buy a TB.
posted by plokent at 6:30 PM on November 12, 2005

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