Can iPad 2 And Smart Cover Magnets Harm MacBook Hard Drives? [Myths]

Can iPad 2 And Smart Cover Magnets Harm MacBook Hard Drives? [Myths]

A friend and I were talking today about the iPad 2, the Smart Cover, and the 31 magnets they contain today. We were pondering what would happen when we tossed the iPad 2 with an attached Smart Cover into our laptop bags right next to a MacBook with a standard hard drive inside. A co-worker of my friend had brought this up earlier leading us to the question, “Can the iPad 2 and Smart Cover magnets damage (or erase) our MacBook Hard Drive? ”

The clear answer is — No! The myth about magnets erasing data from hard disks or computers is mostly false and a hard one to shake since many of us were trained to keep the two apart. Let me explain why the myth isn’t exactly true.

Floppy Disks

Floppy disks, which practically no one is using any more, would probably be harmed by exposure to the iPad 2 and Smart Cover.

I recall experimenting with inexpensive magnets and 3.5’ floppy disks. If the magnet was stuck to the disk for even seconds the result was usually a ruined floppy disk.

Unfortunately I don’t have any floppy disks or even a drive to test this theory on (if you do test it out and leave the results in a comment), but I think that floppy disks that encounter the iPad 2 and Smart Cover are doomed.

I’m going to blame floppy disks for the myth some of us grew up with. Magnets can actually harm them, but that’s not true with modern storage devices like flash memory or modern hard disk drives.

Flash Memory

Now we have storage devices that consist of flash memory in the form of memory cards, USB thumb drives, solid state drives (like the one in my MacBook Air), etc. These forms of storage are immune to magnetic fields.

Flash memory doesn’t contain anything magnetic inside and therefore it would be immune to the magnetic influences of the iPad 2 and Smart Cover combination. In any event I’m not sure a magnet strong enough exists that can influence flash memory.

Solid state drives exist in the iPod touch, Nano, and Shuffle, iPhone, iPad, and late-model MacBook Airs. None of these should be harmed by the magnets in the iPad 2 or Smart Cover.

2.5’ and 3.5’ Hard Disk Drives

I know you’re asking yourself, “What about hard drives David?” After all those are the ones we care about most and we are more likely to encounter them. They are the standard  default option in all MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

As it turns out inexpensive magnets won’t hurt these either and neither will the ones in the iPad or Smart Cover. In fact, the only magnet that I’m aware of that might harm your hard disk drives in your Macbook, MacBook Pro, or other computer with a standard 2.5’ or 3.5’ hard disk drive would be the ones found in laboratory degaussers or the ones used by secret government agencies to knock the bits off of media that they encounter.

I should also mention something you may not know –some hard drives actually contain a magnet that assists in moving the drive head. It doesn’t hurt your data and neither will the iPad 2 and Smart Cover.

Hard disk drives exist as default options in all Mac Mini’s, iMacs, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and Mac Pros. None of these would be harmed by the magnets in the iPad 2 or Smart Cover.

Conclusion

So the truth is that magnets in the iPad 2 and Smart Cover will probably be harmful to any floppy disks you might have lying around. However, the myth about magnets, like the ones you have around the house or within Apple products, causing damage to flash memory or the hard disk drives in your MacBook is false.

Therefore keeping your MacBook with a hard disk drive with your iPad 2 and Smart Cover in the same laptop bag is okay. I don’t think you’ll have anything to worry about.

What do you think? Are there any physicists out there that can confirm these findings? If that describes you please leave a comment.

Related
  • Stinky LG DACOM

    MacBooks contain magnets. They’re what secure the lid when it’s closed against the body. The speakers also contain magnets.

  • Pedro

    This has to be one of the worst advices ever! Most hard drive have magnetic parts (and I dont mean the platters). Being a mechanical device (moving parts) the use of a strong magnet next to it could be harmful, since it can move those magnetic parts out of alignment. I would strongly advise against the use of a magnet next to a powered hard drive, since its motors are also electromagnetic… spinning at those speeds it would quite probably destroy the platters. The same about the cooling fans when powered.
    The question is how strong are the magnets in the iPad, and how far apart from the hard drive they should be!

  • Moritz Schmale

    I managed to break a Harddrive with a magnet on a TV-Antenna (that ones that come with TV-USB-Sticks). Now don’t say that breaking Harddrives with magnets is impossible.

  • Rsantana

    Once I disassembled a dead 3.5″ hard drive, and in the motor inside I found the most powerful magnet I’ve ever seen..!

    I use it now to keep my fridge door closed…

  • yahoo-IDB37HJROWS4TKH2WU6OT5QOAE

    I was looking through a dead lawn mower about 10 years ago, and found a really powerful magnet in it. I use it to help me find lost screws now when dissembling something. XD

  • TS

    Is there any danger to those of us with Paxemakers?

  • Rafa964

    Hard drives use magnets!! I dissembled a harddrive and took a magnet out for a project and the magnet was pretty damn strong.

  • TheMacNut

    You should test the viability of your charge cards after lying on or near those iPad cover magnets.

  • Scott Jordan

    Really bad advice and commentary. The strong actuator magnets used in drives are configured in a balanced array with two complementary sets of magnets opposing each other across a small gap. The actuator coil moves in this gap between the two halves of the array; outside the array the field of each half cancels the other. So, the magnetically-encoded bits on the platters are safe from it.

    The susceptibility of the data on a drive to erasure or modification by an external magnet depends on the strength, direction and location of the magnet. Clearly the magnets used in various Mac laptop lids are situated safely away from the drive and weak enough not to be a risk. It may well be that the iPad 2′s and its Smart Cover’s magnets are weak enough to not cause trouble even if placed in close proximity to a laptop’s drive. But until someone tests or determines it in a manner generic enough to apply to the vast assortment of laptops in the field, or until Apple comments authoritatively, it’s wise to keep the iPad 2 away from your laptop’s hard disk.

    Your refrigerator door won’t care, though.

  • Danielwardrope

    Hahaha pacemaker problems! Thats a pretty funny comment David – what you think?

  • James T

    When I was a kid my baby brother put a toy magnet on my commodore 64 monitor.
    There was a large pink spot in that area of the screen forever. Ever since then I have had a fear
    of magnets around all electronics. Am I nuts for still having this magneto-phobia?

  • curtjester

    Allison of the Nosillacast had a problem with her Mac BookPro a couple of years ago when she placed a Blueant Supertooth Light speaker on it. The magnets for the speakers used to attach it in the car wiped out the harddrive and had to be replaced.

    So while the magnets in the Smart Cover are probably not strong enough – there certainly are magnets out there in consumer products that are strong enough to cause damage.

  • Ryan McKee

    Everyone is discussing drives and storage, but what about the display screens!? I know personally, first hand, that magnets can damage computer monitors, TV Screens, and I suspect other display devices. I’ve even seen the magnets in powerful speakers slowly degrade a monitor which they were setting close to. And remember the old days when USB thumb drives first came out and they used to get erased just walking through airport security or past metal detectors; I think I recal this being an issue with credit cards too, due to their magnetic strip. I would care to know the legitamit scientific and technical principles involved in these situations, and not some layman’s speculative guesses. Even the principles of Electro Magnetic Interferance and Frequencies regulated by the FCC is enough to be concerned.

    Trivia: Lobsters have iron fillings in their brain that are used to help their equilibrium function, use a powerful enough magnet around their head and they will react in a drunken maner and may go upside down.

  • James

    Remember the iMac that had a magnetic remote. Witnessed a developer lay one on the palm rest of a MacBook pro and it locked the read write head of the hard drive in position making a horrid noise. Drive had to be replaced. The hard disk was directly below the right hand palm rest on that model of laptop.

    In order for the iPad 2 cover to align and stay in place with such small magnets, I would bet they are rare earth magnets and extremely powerful. placing the cover next to a laptops hard disk may be a problem. Of course an SSD drive won’t have the problem.

  • Pujitos2

    Pssst… it’s called SMART for a reason people.

  • Void

    Used to work at the Genius Bar and had a girl coming in with borked HDs in her Macbook all the time. We’d replace it and then like clockwork a few weeks later she’d return. We kept scratching our heads, wondering what kept frying her drives because her usage wasn’t the sort that would lead to fried drives (she didn’t take her laptop with her everywhere, she was a gentile user, and kept a large portion of the drive free). Eventually I observed her typing one day and she rested her wrists on the blank space on each side of the trackpad, and on her right hand was a bracelet which as it turns out – was made of powerful magnets.

    It’s not a myth that strong magnets can bork your drive, but you’re probably not going to screw it up with the small magnets in your iPad 2/Smart Cover.

  • carl

    magnets are dangerous for traditional platter-based hard drives – end of discussion. my niece happened to place a tiny, but very strong, fridge magnet on her white plastic macbooks left palmrest – we spent the rest of the xmas weekend trying to save what could be saved from the damaged hd… (the hd was damaged by the magnet and had to be replaced)

  • catbusrider

    Yes! Those are strong frickin magnets.

  • A B

    It’s not just strength or distance of the magnet but how rapidly the magnetic field changes. Moving a magnet quickly over an object will be more harmful.

  • A B

    It’s not just strength or distance of the magnet but how rapidly the magnetic field changes. Moving a magnet quickly over an object will be more harmful.

  • Nfamily

    Yes there is risk with high power magets if you have a pace maker but I would dout that the ones in the iPad cover would be of harm. I use them for often

  • Miyabi

    Note.. how there is SO MUCH hesitation in the conclusion…?
    This was an article written based on a whim, and a simple thought.
    But there was nothing involved to back up the thought. Just simple everyday relations and comparisons.

    What would’ve made this journalistically sound was if you didn’t “think” that there’ll be anything to worry about. If you didn’t say that the idea of putting your iPad 2 + Smart Cover on top of a MacBook (Pro) was an “okay” idea. Nor did you have to ask if there was a physicist out there to be able to confirm your findings.. because there weren’t any findings… (only thoughts)

    To get actual findings, consult your idea with a physicist before you write the actual article, or instead of consulting the world wide web that is your brain, actually explore scientific articles relating to the topic that you are brainstorming about before just going on bouts that leave readers confused on what your stance is. It definitely left me confused as it seemed that you were looking for reconfirmation on what you had JUST preached as safe.

    The quality of posts on here I feel are doing downhill.. at quite the rapid rate. I’ve just been here since December, when I got my first MacBook Pro and was looking for a good resource for both tips/advice and rumors.

    I love that this website has the top 100 tips for Mac users, some other 10 tips for those coming off a PC and top 50 apps you should have on a Mac. The frequency of these posts have gone down since the beginning of this year though…
    It’s just everything else that seems to be relevant but not, with sources for this web editorial both trustworthy and not.

    You represent CultOfMac.com right now with this article. You should consider that with every single article that you have and will make in the future. MacLife.com is another big website too. I don’t know if you would’ve decided to have posted something like this on there too, would you? Even if you have lesser articles that you don’t think are that great, all of your work should be thought through and done well. This, was far from that.

    I don’t mean to insult with this post of mine, nor burn the website or the author of this article.
    I just stand here to make a point that is shared within the comments of this article as well, and that seems to already be present within the rest of the web editorial.

    I hope the integrity of it goes back up to where it was earlier this year, or at least, when I had first come to experience this website.
    It was a place chock full of knowledge and HELPFUL articles + resources.
    Bantering and thoughts, unless those thoughts about technology genuinely intellectual, should be left in a forum.

    Thank you for reading the entirety of my post, and I hope for greater successes on your web editorial.

  • Bill S.

    Magnetic fields affect CRT monitors only, not LCD. Magnets have never erased thumb drives, X-Rays might. Hard drives are not affected by external magnets because those magnets are simply too far away from the disk surface. The read/write heads fly just a few millionths of an inch away from the surface and the magnetic field induced by the head there is much stronger than anything a powerful magnet can do from even a quarter inch away. This explains why the very powerful head arm drive magnets can sit right next to the platters and not cause problems.

    Magnetic field intensity decreases as the cube of the distance between the objects. Increasing the distance between a small, powerful magnet and a disk drive by a factor of ten (from 1/10 inch to one inch) decreases the field strength by one thousand times.

  • Flannel

    Same here. Did it with the antenna that came with a Migilia MiniTV system.

  • randall

    http://www.apple.com/support/m
    Says to keep your iPod/iPhone & credit cards away from the magnetic power adapter on our MBP’s though.
    I normally keep my iPhone 4 right next to my MBP, and have never had any data loss or anything of the sort, so I’d say it’s myth busted!

  • Joshua Trimm

    I just touched the smartcover to the right side of my macbook and it freaked out!

  • u r a queef

    you would think that you would know its a fixed stated drive before you let out this crappy rant.

  • Niraj D

    forget science. why don’t you give it a try? my smartcover shut off my macbook pro (assuming it affected the performance of the drive. lucky me, apple knows when this happens and shuts off the system to prevent any data loss.)

  • Bob

    hey dummy. They’re flash drives… not hard drives.

  • Bob

    how many magnets have you seen….

  • Trevor Brown

    I just came across this story after searching on the web for magnets and macbook pros.  I was helping a client today and we were looking at photos on my macbook pro.  When he set his iPad2 on the desk, just to the right of my machine, the whole thing went black.  Both the display on the macbook pro and the cinema display plugged into it.  The machine was completely unresponsive.  I did a hard restart and everything seems fine, but it definitely did something crazy.

  • Brooke Huber

    I also had a similar experience just now and found this article searching MacBook Air and smart cover magnets. 

    I was working on my MacBook Air while sitting on the couch and I had my iPad with the smart cover on set out on my coffee table. I needed to stand up, so I set the Air on top of the iPad, not even thinking about it, and immediately the screen went black. I went, “What the…??” and then realized the cover is magnetic, picked the Air up and within 2 seconds the screen was back on and everything seems to be fine. But yeah, it DEFINITELY did something. I will be more careful from now on and would recommend that others do the same!

  • Emre Yucel

    I used a magnet that was less than a quarter inch thick, about the size of a nickel. I held this magnet on the bottom of my laptop roughly where I predicted the hard drive was. Within a few seconds the computer became unusable, the hard drive became ruined. Note: Don’t do this with a hard drive you don’t mind throwing out because when the disk is wiped like this it will not even spin up fully. It’s trashed and needs to be sent back to factory for recycling or refurbishing.

    The magnets that are already inside the hard drive are used for controlling the reading head assembly, and they are shielded in a way that bends the magnetic fields inward to make it stronger inside, and almost non-existent outside of the reading head controller assembly. The fields from those magnets are far from the discs. In fact, you can place a metal paperclip just half an inch away from these magnets, and it won’t even budge. If you disassemble the reading head assembly and unleash the magnetic fields, they will pull metal objects from several inches away. That’s how well confined the fields are. (It’s like magic!)

    I am certain that the iPad2 magnets can destroy floppy discs, there’s no doubt about that as I’ve used weaker magnets to do that. I predict that the magnets on the iPad2 are strong enough to ruin a hard drive if you rub the iPad2 against the bottom of a laptop. If I find an old hard drive I’m willing to ruin, I will give it a try. 

    In the mean while, I would avoid putting a laptop on top of an iPad2, unless the laptop uses an SSD.

    Also, you are wrong about degaussers, they do not have magnets inside them. A degausser is an electromagnet that creates a dampened magnetic oscillation. You can’t do that with a permanent magnet, a permanent magnet can only induce a magnetic field, not remove it.

    To the other poster: magnets only hurt CRTs which use magnetic fields to deflect a beam of electrons to different parts of the screen. Having a strong magnetic field placed near the monitor causes the picture tube to pick up weak residual magnetic field which is just strong enough to deflect the electron beam about 0.2mm off to one side – which is enough to make the beam intended for the RED pixel to land on the GREEN pixel instead causing the picture to be all messed up. OLED and LCD’s don’t have that issue at all.

About the author

David W. MartinDavid W. Martin has more than 20 years of experience in the industry as a programmer, systems and business analyst, author, and consultant. David has written for CNET's iPhoneatlas.com, MacLife.com, CultofMac.com, BYTE.com and recently for aNewDoman.net. He comes to Cult of Mac's website with deep knowledge and passion for the all things Apple. Follow David on Twitter @david_w_martin or see what he's up to now at davidwmartin.com.

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