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Hard Drive Failures Caused by High Altitudes

Summary: Information about Hard Disk Drive (HDD) usage at high altitudes and failures.

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Article Content


Symptoms

Hard Drive Failures Caused by High Altitudes

If computers with hard drives are used at elevations above 10,000 ft (3,048 meters), they may experience a high rate of hard drive failures.

Most hard drives are not designed to operate at those altitudes. These types of failures are not covered under a typical Dell Hardware Service Contract for the computer which excludes covering equipment that is damaged by using it in an unsuitable physical or operating environment. The Operating Specifications for computers can be found in the Owner's Manual section of Dell Support.

The Operating Specifications may resemble the following example from the OptiPlex 990 Owner's Manual:

Environmental

  • Temperature:
    • Operating: 10°C to 35°C (50°F to 95°F)
    • Storage: -40°C to 65°C (-40°F to 149°F)
    • Relative Humidity: 20% to 80% (noncondensing)
  • Altitude:
    • Operating: -15.2 m to 3048 m (-50 ft to 10,000 ft)
    • Storage: -15.2 m to 10,668 m (-50 ft to 35,000 ft)
    • Airborne Contaminant Level: G2 or lower as defined by ISA S71.04–1985

Cause

The root cause of the issue is that the read/write head of a hard disk drive floats on a thin cushion of air. The air pressure inside the drive is maintained by the hole which communicates with the air pressure outside. At high altitude, the air is too thin to support the head and it might scratch and destroy the disk surface.

Specially manufactured, sealed, and pressurized disks are needed for reliable high altitude operation.

Resolution

Dell's support policy is that hard drive failures that are associated with computer usage at high elevations (outside of hard drive elevation specifications) will not be replaced under the warranty of the computer.

Article Properties


Affected Product

Desktops & All-in-Ones, Laptops

Last Published Date

16 Nov 2021

Version

9

Article Type

Solution