Soon enough, or not soon enough, all data will be stored in the Cloud. In the meantime, plenty of us have hard drives stored somewhere in a drawer or inside a box –we assume that this data is safe. But is it? There seems to be no certain answer, as to when drives will no longer work or hold data. Still, the right answer is nothing lasts forever. My experience is that this dictum –no matter that the hard drives were kept in anti-static bags, inside sealed containers, undisturbed– holds true.
This is a small sample (unscientific) but here are the results: A Seagate ST33240A, that last spun in 2004. Good in 2016, 12 years later!!! A Fujitsu MPF3102AT, of a then capacious 10GB, also alive. 12 years then, we might be in the clear. But another Seagate of the same model, but last spinning in 2002 –mounts, yes, but no data could be read. Maxtors, models 91010D6 and 90640D4, last used in the year 2000. Bad and bad –likely mechanically bad.
So, informally, 14 years might be too many, 16 years looks like a limit. This is, of course, a figure for for older drives –but these did not have the densities of newer magnetic media drives. New drives, storing bits in smaller physical spaces, might last even less.