I open my wife's desktop PC twice a year to clan out the dust. I noticed a few years ago that got louder with summer's higher temperatures and humidity. Cleaning brought the noise level down and increased air flow.
My office laptop (the one I'm using now) had a fan failure a few weeks ago. I turned the computer on its side, gave it a tap, and used a vacuum cleaner to suck out some dust through the vents. It came back to life.
I always wear a static-dissipative wrist strap when working on the desktop PC.
I agree with other readers: harddisks die, so do USB sticks and floppies. Even CD's die - mostly from scratches - especially the cheaper brands. I use two programs for backup. Carbonite is a paid program, which does the back-up in the background. That works very well. The other one is Dropbox, which is free. You have to make sure you put your files in the Dropbox folder though, which I tend to forget. Bottom-line: you get what you pay for.
Andy wrote: Maybe I am the exception. I have yet to have my hard drive crash. But I have lost two motherboards to unexplained premature failure ... I did have a drive that started returning errors and timeouts until it warmed up, but that's a separate issue.
My experience echoes Andy's (knock on wood not coupled to computer). It might be interesting to correlate which part dies first with whether you shut down your computers when not in use (as I do) or leave them running all the time. In the former case, it's probably thermal mismatch that causes BGA and other SMT solder connections to fail. In the latter case it's probabaly wear on bearings, accumulation of dust, capacitor electrolyte boiling away, and increased exposure to malware attacks. To quote Indiana Jones: "It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage."
Speaking of mileage, I wonder how this correlates to using MS Windows versus GNU/Linux. Windows machines seem to consume a lot of disk drive mileage scanning for malware.
I once broke a USB flash drive by stepping on it. Fortunately, it was functional long enough to copy the data to another flash drive. My wife keeps all of her business docs on a flask drive. I bak it up weekly to an external hard drive and to another flash drive.
Just look at the review section on Newegg; I've had several memory sticks fail.
At least one plus for rotating rust: often, there's often a warning that the drive is starting to fail (e.g. increasing number of bad sectors) and you can often get something off it. With flash, it seems to be much more all or nothing.
Andy_I you are certainly an exception. The last desktop I bought had its hard drive (Western Digital) die after 15 months. The boot sector failed. I reformatted the drive and reinstalled Windows and it failed again a week later. I replaced it with a Seagate and that's been running for 8 years. No data was lost as we ere able to get animage fo the drive and copy it to the new drive.
Maybe I am the exception. I have yet to have my hard drive crash. But I have lost two motherboards to unexplained premature failure (one deskside, one laptop), and another motherboard that was easily repairable. All the disk drives were fine. I have more working disks than computers to put them into.
I did have a drive that started returning errors and timeouts until it warmed up, but that's a separate issue. It never crashed or failed. That was from the stone age of PC disk drives and not the most mature technology, and I think maybe the separate controller card (back when they had those) was actually at fault.
I've been told that you can harvest incredibly powerful permanent magnets from dead hard drives ... as in, if you stick the magnet on your fridge, you might not get it off again. I've got to try that ... if I ever get a dead drive to take apart.
I had a hard drive fail in a smokey way. The +5V red wire (well, it used to be red before the insulation melted off) indicated it was the HD that shorted; the resulting lack of power supply regulation caused the +12V to rise and took out the CD drive as well.