What Does MTBF


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Mean Time Between Failure - MTBF

Mean Time Between Failure or MTBF? What does this mean in terms that a computer owner would understand?

When a product is developed the manufacture will test it to see how long it takes for the product to fail. This testing is done in the Research and Development phase of the products life span.

As the product is tested the manufacture will get a baseline of how long the product will last.

Different products have the life time measured in different ways such as:

  • A car will be measured in miles or kilometers that the car has been driven.
  • An aircraft will be measured in hours that the aircraft has flown.

Other products are also measured in hours such as:

  • Small and large engine driven generators or compressors.

Also electronic devices such as:

  • Hard drives
  • Optical drives
  • Tape drives.

On the other hand devices such as these are measured in years:

  • Motherboards
  • Power supplies
  • Processors
  • Memory

You have to scratch your head and ask why some devices have an hourly or mileage measurement and others are years?

One big reason: The hourly/mileage measurement is because they have mechanical components. Mechanical components have wear when they are in operation. The heavier the wear the shorter the life time or Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) rate.

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When a device is developed the manufacture will test the device to failure, if the device doesn't meet the manufactures base line MTBF then they re-evaluate the part that failed and redesign or re-engineer that part to see if the time it lasts can be extended.

A lot of great products didn't make it to your local show room floor because the MTBF was too low in comparison to the cost of producing the product and replacing parts on failures under the warranty time.

Another statistic the manufacture will use is the quantity of the product has been returned for repair under the warranty period versus the total number of the product produced and sold to the public.

If the product out lasts the warranty period and the number of returns for repair or replacement are low then the MTBF will increase.

I will use a mechanical device used in a computer, the hard drive, for an example.

When Western Digital (WD) designed the first small hard drive for the Personal Computer it was code named the Winchester to throw off any other manufacture that was also designing a small hard drive for Personal Computers such as Seagate. (For those that have the Self Computer Repair Unleashed 2nd Edition see page 278 for a comparison of the original Winchester hard drive to a 2.5 inch laptop drive.)

The first version of the hard drive was for the Research and Development departments of Western Digital and IBM.

The first known hard drive in a PC was with the IBM PC XT, the original IBM PC had two floppy drives and the floppy drive at that time had a MTBF of less than 1000 hours.

The WD Winchester hard drive after two years of use in the IBM PC XT had a MTBF of a little over 50,000 hours. To reach this statistic WD took the total number of hard drives produced, divided that by the number returned under warranty for a given period. The time period was from the sell of the first hard drive to the end of the production of the hard drive, about two years.

In actuality the original Winchester hard drive lasted almost 100,000 hours. But because the MTBF is based on the quantity vs. returns against the total manufactured the base line will be lower.

With the newer storage device called a SSD (Solid State Drive) the MTBF has gone to over 1.5 Million hours between failure. The reason that the SSD has such a long life time is because it does not have any mechanical parts, it is all electronic.

One of the factors that will cause the MTBF to fall will be the design of the device, some new ideas are coming into vogue lately that are causing more failures.

There have been ways to conserver energy in electronics for decades, first introduced in the mid 1980's a concept called "Energy Star" that PC manufactures and PC peripheral manufactures applied to their products.

The Energy Star intuitive was driven by manufactures that wanted to help the consumer conserve energy and lower the cost of ownership and operation of a PC or peripheral. It was not politically driven, it was a way to sell more products. "Our PC uses less electricity because _____." Fill in the blank.

Some newer hard drives have the politically driven "green" seal of approval. These drives have a MTBF of less than a 1000 hours.

All of the great work done by hard drive manufactures over the last three decades to increase the MTBF has been decimated by a politically driven hoax.

When you go to purchase your next great product for your computer or personal use maybe some research of the product will help, is it a product designed and produced to help you or is it junk to satisfy some activist motivated hoax?

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Mean Time Between Failure - MTBF, knowing this could save you some money and time.

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