Retraction/Correction: Operating Angle Does Not Affect Hard Drives

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Date: Wednesday, October 2nd, 2002, 17:57
Category: Archive


In Monday’s review of the Lapvantage Dome, I mistakenly claimed that Apple portables should be operated level, within 10 degrees of horizontal, or drive components’ longevity could be adversely affected. In fact, drives will function at any operating angle, or “any axis” in the words of the technical specifications of the IBM TravelStar 2.5″ hard drive line. I had based my incorrect statement on unsolicited advice given to me by a senior technician with Apple Care who described it as an official, documented position. Unfortunately, I did not properly research this claim. Apple has made no such claim officially. (Other Apple technicians I spoke with today were surprised anyone had told me angle was a significant operating variable for drives.)

Eliza Chan, of IBM’s Storage Technologies Division, says that IBM’s engineers confirm that operating angle is not a factor in the longevity or performance of hard drives in either laptops or desktops. IBM builds the TravelStar 2.5″ hard drives often used in Apple’s portable products, including the PowerBook G4. “They designed the drive to operate at different angles,” says Chan, pointing out that a typical configuration is in servers, where drives are generally mounted vertically. Chan’s advice for prolonging hard drive length: use common sense. “Don’t drop your laptop, don’t immerse it in water, don’t leave it in the trunk of your car on a hot summer day,” says Chan.

Duke Decter, head technician with MCE, deals daily with PowerBook and iBook hard drives that have failed, and he confirmed what IBM said — my Archive Apple source was incorrect. “I don’t believe it,” says Decter: hard drives are designed specifically to operate at any angle and he’s never seen one fail because a user was using it at the “wrong angle”. Decter does caution that hard drive failure is not uncommon from any manufacturer in the first few years, and offers more common-sense advice: prevent data loss and improve performance by regularly defragmenting disks, and always, always backup data. But users don’t need to be concerned about the angle of their computer. “You know astronauts frequently take their laptops on space missions,” says IBM’s Chan. “If hard disk drives can survive in orbit, they can certainly continue their peak performance at slightly tilted plane fields.”

This also means, contrary to what I originally claimed in my review of the Lapvantage Dome, you can choose whatever PowerBook or iBook stand you want without being concerned about the angle at which it places your computer. I still stand by my favorable review of the Lapvantage Dome on its many other merits, but readers are welcome to choose whatever stand best suits their needs — one reader even suggested placing the RoadTools CoolPad and PodiumPad products on top of the Lapvantage Dome, for example, and we can now confidently say that’s perfectly fine if you want to do that; it won’t impact the performance of your Apple portable and could have a positive effect on your ergonomics. The RoadTools stands, which came up in feedback discussion of my article Monday, are designed to place the laptop base at an angle to allow for better heat dissipation, tilt the keyboard, and provide a better viewing angle, are fine for use — they’re used by Apple support house Tekserve and even by Apple. We’ve covered a number of other stands on the PowerPage that also involve placing the machine at an angle; these are also fine based on the evidence from IBM.

The PowerPage prides itself on accuracy, so I apologize for the confusion I created by making a statement that was inaccurate. If I receive more detailed information, I will immediately pass it on. If you have any further comments, please e-mail me at peter@powerpage.org.

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