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, 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.
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.
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.