After a lot of searching and reading a lot of conjecture, I finally I found so much good information from people with hands-on experience, in this one thread. I’ve copied out the good posts.
The answer is “no”.
In the early ’90s Sun workstations were slightly infamous for having trouble coming back to life after being powered off for a few months. Turns out the problem was a production run of hard drives with badly formatted bearing grease. When the drives sat for too long, the grease coagulated, creating too much friction for the drive motor to overcome. I wouldn’t rule out stiction as a risk entirely, but if you are talking about a small handful of drives then I wouldn’t worry about it.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:46 AM on August 21, 2011
I run a small IT shop and occasionally have to swap out old IDE HDDs from a stash I have for a couple of legacy machines that control ancient lab instruments. We’re talking upwards of 10-11 years old HDDs. Each of the few times I’ve had to pull one (they actually are used to make backups of this one PC –don’t ask, I don’t have ownership of that project) the file structure on the spare was still intact and readable. They were all kept in a climate controlled storeroom inside a cupboard, so YMMV. But, make backups anyway.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:00 PM on August 21, 2011
I’ve booted up recently on several drives that were around 15 years old, I’m talking between 200 to 1000MB. So from the perspective of mechanical workings, they work…as for if the original data would be there after that long…I don’t know, I wouldn’t bet on it either way. I agree with the above post that suggests to move the data every few years.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 3:58 PM on August 21, 2011
And don’t rely on optical media for long term storage;
I’ve come back to burned CD/DVD discs after only a few years to find that the majority of them are completely unreadable. They are _NOT_ archive material. Tape is supposed to be archival, but in my experience, tapes also fail at a remarkable rate.
posted by Caviar at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2011