Hard Drive Failures Caused by High Altitudes

Summary: Information about Hard Drive usage in high altitudes and failures.

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Hard Drive Failures Caused by High Altitudes

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

Most hard drives are not designed to operate at those altitudes, and as a result, those type of failures are not covered under a typical Dell Hardware Service Contract for the system which excludes covering equipment damaged by using it in an unsuitable physical or operating environment.  The Operating Specifications for systems can normally 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:


  • 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% (non-condensing)
  • 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


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.

Another option for hard drives that will be used at high altitude would be to consider using a solid state hard drive (SSD) which has no moving parts.


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

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Affected Product

Desktops & All-in-Ones, Laptops

Last Published Date

03 Jun 2021



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