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Decipher hard drive warning not to cover drive holes

Ever seen the warning "Do not cover any drive holes" on a hard drive? Here's what it really means.

Most of us have at one time handled a late-model hard drive and seen a warning on the label that reads something...

to the effect of: "Do Not Cover Any Drive Holes." No matter what the wording, the message is clear. The faceplate of the drive has one or more small holes that are not themselves drive mounting holes—the label will often indicate which holes are not to be covered—but the true purpose of which is obscure.

My own curiosity compelled me to find out what these holes are . . .and why they shouldn't be covered.

Contrary to what many people believe about hard drives, they are not sealed in airtight containers. The holes in question—often called "breathing holes"—allow air to circulate through the drive's platter chamber. This provides a consistent cushion of air for the drive's heads to ride on, and also allows the air density within the drive to remain consistent with changes in atmospheric pressure. However, there are hermetic seals on other parts of the drive, which ensure that those holes are the only places where air exchange occurs.

That being said, the holes themselves do have filters on them to prevent dust or other particulate matter from entering the drive chamber. Since air is not forced through the breathing holes, the filters on them don't need to be changed; they should be good for the lifetime of the drive. If dust does accumulate over one of these holes, don't attempt to blow it off with compressed air (as this might only drive the dust deeper into the hole and possibly through the filter). Simply wiping it clean should do the trick.

The admonition not to block the breathing holes applies when mounting the drive inside a PC, and also when setting it up in an external drive chassis. Nothing should be fastened directly to the face of the drive that would block the breathing holes. If you use an external chassis, make sure there's at least some clearance between the face of the drive and the inside of the chassis.

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the  Windows Power Users Newsletter, which is devoted to hints, tips, tricks, news and goodies for Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP users and administrators. He has more than 10 years of Windows experience under his belt, and contributes regularly to and

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This was last published in August 2006

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