SSD Drives: Good For the Long Haul?

Category: Hard-Drives

Solid State Drive (SSD) technology has been taking over the mass storage market rapidly. But there's always been uncertainty about the useful lifespan of a solid state drive, as compared to a traditional magnetic drive. Will your SSD conk out suddenly, or will it last for years? Read on...

SSD Drives Keep Going and Going

SSD capacities keep rising, prices keep falling, and SSDs show up in everything from phones to desktop gaming PCs, high-end workstations, servers, and any place where magnetic hard drives have dominated for decades. It’s easy to understand the enthusiasm for SSDs.

An SSD drive is much faster than a magnetic drive; that means faster boot times and more responsiveness in applications, particularly when dealing with large data files. With no moving parts, SSDs are silent and less subject to mechanical failures.

But rumors persist that SSDs won’t last as long as mag drives. Manufacturers provide warranties ranging between 3 and 5 years, but that doesn’t satisfy the skeptical. A warranty won’t replace your irreplaceable photos, videos, music collection, and so on. Everyone wants to know, “How long will an SSD last?”
SSD Lifespan

The uber-geeks at Tech Report decided to answer that question once and for all by writing 100 MB blocks of data to six consumer-grade SSDs until all of the drives die. The torture test started in August, 2013; as of June, 2014, only half of the drives have given up the ghost. It’s obvious at this point that if your purchase a SSD today, it will probably outlive you.

The six drives tested are nothing special, just off-the-shelf consumer SSDs that you can pick up at Best Buy, Tiger Direct, or even Walmart. The line-up includes : the Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB, Intel 335 Series 240GB, Samsung 840 Series 250GB, Samsung 840 Pro 256GB, and two Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB.

Megabyte, Gigabyte, Terabyte, Petabyte...

Each of the drives is warranted to last for at least 200 terabytes of data writes. That’s a lot more than the typical home or small business user will write in 3 to 5 years. Usually, manufacturers tend to over-promise on such things, but these SSD drives are surprising everyone.

In addition to standard magnetic drives and solid state drives, there's another option: The Solid State HYBRID Drive, which combines the best features of both styles. See my related article: What is a Solid-State Hybrid Hard Drive?

The first fatality, a Kingston HyperX 3K, wrote 728 terabytes before giving up the ghost. The second SSD to die was the Intel 335, at 750 TB. The Samsung 840 Series gasped its last at 900 TB.

Three SSDs have made it past the 1 Petabyte milestone. A petabyte is 1,000 Terabytes, a nearly incomprehensible number normally found only in NSA or NASA IT projects. The first three seasons of the HBO hit, “Game of Thrones,” in 1080p MP4 format, occupies 9,285,418,071 bytes (9.3 GB). One petabyte equals about 107,695 copies of that data set.

It’s noteworthy that NONE of the SSDs failed until they were 3.5 times past the manufacturers’ data-writing warranty, which is about 9-15 years’ worth of normal home use.

So if anyone suggests that SSDs don’t last as long as magnetic drives, point them to this article. If you really want to bury them in excruciating details about the Tech Report testing methodology, SSD data storage techniques, and other geekiness, point them to the still-running thread, SSD Endurance Test.

Bottom line, any of the latest crop of consumer SSD drives seems likely to outlive your computer, and will probably last as long or longer than a magnetic drive. But don't use that as an excuse to avoid doing regular backups. See my Backup Articles to learn more about that.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "SSD Drives: Good For the Long Haul?"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Jon Etkins
24 Jun 2014

To me, the bigger question is *how* do they fail. Do they suffer the equivalent of bad sectors, meaning you gradually start to lose data integrity but can still retrieve the majority of your data, or do they suddenly die entirely? And are there any SMART metrics that give an indication of impending doom?

Posted by:

Darcetha Manning
24 Jun 2014

Thanks Bob for clearing up the confusion. I need to consider buying an external one for my laptop.

Posted by:

Joe M
24 Jun 2014

I've seen more SSD drives fail in the year my company bought them than all the magnetic drives in the 20+ years I've been working with computers (back to the Seagate ST251 40MB drives)... While the price of the SSD's are falling rapidly, and the speed is very attractive, I just don't trust them. Funny, considering they're "solid state" yet less reliable than the drives with moving parts. I'll wait for the reliability and longevity to improve.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2014

Bob, I've had two SSDs fail on me within their first year of use. Let me explain.

Neither actually failed: their onboard diagnostics warned me of imminent failure and I was able to have the first one replaced under warranty, on the spot (the company was local to me) and with no data lost. The replacement drive later displayed similar behavior, and was again replaced without incident, also under warranty. And the replacement for the replacement has been good ever since.

I wasn't crazy about the drive failures, but the warnings made the transitions nearly seamless.

Posted by:

Brian S.
24 Jun 2014

It would seem to me that SSD's would be highly more susceptible to electrostatic damage such as power surges or lightning strikes than standard magnetic HD's that would occur in real-user situations than in controlled bench testing. It's quite possible that the problems that Joe M was having could be attributed to these types of issues.
The thing that I see different in the endurance tests is the fact that the SSD's that are being tested are not tested in real-time or in real-user situations where nature or human beings are a factor. For instance, the more time that is involved would allow for more lightning storms to roll through the area where the drive is or clumsy users dumping a Big Gulp on their laptop.

Posted by:

Stewart Dean
24 Jun 2014

What were the failure criteria? I had a C: SSD loose its boot record in two years...which I considered failure. Once a drive fails in any way, I don't trust them any more. This one was replaced under warranty...with a "refurbished" drive....which I also don't trust and gave away.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2014

Interesting report. But I'm one who has never had a conventional HDD fail.(Probably should not brag) What is missing in the test is a control group of equal number of conventional magnetic drives. Until the study is carried out in a truly scientific fashion....I'm still a doubter. I've heard too many stories of early failures of SSD's.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2014

Guess, I am simply "old school." Even though the prices are falling, the SSDs are still too expensive, for my budget. I do like the idea, of the Hybrid Drive. It seems to be the "best" of both worlds, yet, still priced so much lower than the SSDs.

As I have said in past comments, I still have a couple of Hard Drives, that were manufactured in 2000 and 2001, that are working fine, with NO bad sectors. However, if, I am not mistaken ... The Hybrid Drives are mostly made by Seagate, not one of my favorite Hard Drive companies. But that, was a history way back in the late 90's, when I lost 3 Hard Drives, by Seagate/Maxtor. I do have an External Hard Drive by Seagate and so far, it's doing great, but then, an External HD doesn't constantly write and re-write data, all day long. It just "backs up" when I schedule it, to do so. Must admit, that puppy is mighty quiet, as is my Western Digital 1TB Hard Drive, in my Dell refurbished computer.

To think ... I started, back in Sept. 1996, with my very first computer, that was the "state of the art", with 1.3GB HD, 8MB memory module, the IBM MWave Sound Card/14.4 Modem (that was the worst Legacy PCI Card, ever on the planet!!!) and Windows 95B. One of the first things, I ever did to upgrade, was spend $64 for a 16MB Module Memory.

We talk about prices for computers today ... In all honesty, they don't even compare to what they were, when Personal Computers really started coming on board, for the rest of the world, not just the Business World. :)

Posted by:

24 Jun 2014

Bob, How do the SSD data writes of 700 to 900 TB compare to average failure times on HHD's?

Posted by:

24 Jun 2014

Very helpful. I actually followed the link and scanned the test. They're really pushing a lot of data, then deleting, then re-writing. Seems like an impressive test to a novice such as myself. From their article: "We're using 10GB of static data, including a copy of the Windows 7 installation folder, a handful of application files, and a few movies."

Posted by:

Don McEachern
24 Jun 2014

I have had 3 SSD failures on the same machine in the past 16 months! Fortunately, all were covered by warranty. So far, so good with the current drive, but I'm nervous.

Posted by:

Doug Alder
24 Jun 2014

2 SSDs from a company that makes CPUs have had boot issues after about 6mo and another 14mo. Tried several passes at Win7 repair and other similar fixes from the interweb and nothing worked. BUT the machine could boot if I went into BIOS and told it to boot of the SSD (i.e. select the SSD even though the SSD was already selected). Strange that the PC couldn't self start from the SSD but interactive BIOS intervention could.

Posted by:

24 Jun 2014

Hmmm...interesting article Bob though I'm somewhat nonplussed by the reported results.

Sheesh! when our top scientists declare they have only learned about 4% of what the physical universe is composed off and probably less of what we humans are made off add to which the strong feeling I have the older I get the more unsolved mysteries I encounter to me it's unsafe to conclude absolutes by a single test or series of tests.

That is not to say we shouldn't keep trying though but be cognisant that whatever choices we make it is more than likely to be belief based rather than empirically based.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2014

So when these drives finally failed, was the data on them lost? Or was it still readable, and the drive just stopped accepting new writes? I've read where these drives will eventually just stop letting you write/save or change data, but the existing data on the drives stays readable/accessible. I'm curious if there is any truth to this.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2014

For those who have trepidations about going the SSD route but still want faster performance, please note that VelociRaptor HDDs running at 10k RPM are as speedy as you will get! Unfortunately, these WesternDigital HDDs are costly (@$179/1TB) but do come with 5 year warranties!Of course, you may further wish to review Bob Rankin's recent article on hybrid drives...

Posted by:

25 Jun 2014

Howdy Bob!

All I can say is that it seems there is a *lot* more of the story to tell about the SSD, especially after reading just the few the questions asked.

Posted by:

Frank V
25 Jun 2014

At my age of 96 years is any MTBF of 3 years is OK. But like Brian I want to know if all failures are catastrophic, (immediate and total failure.) Or is the data salvageable? I also want to know if a second HDD can be used as a backup to SSD..

Posted by:

25 Jun 2014

Great news! Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

25 Jun 2014

Bob, normally I agree with you on your topics, and have even piped in with examples of my own, but this time we are not in step.
"The torture test started in August, 2013; as of June, 2014, only half of the drives have given up the ghost."
To me that DOESN'T seem real good that in less than a year on half are dead, but it does jibe with what seems to be happening at work. We've been using them for 2 years now and they are failing at about that rate.
Now you may say that the test is ongoing 24/7, but I'm telling you the failure rate is about 50% after 2 years in the real world.
Not trying to be argumentative, but if they are going and going, then they are going into the trash.

Posted by:

05 Jul 2014

So we have a lot of commenters whose experiences with SSDs belie the test results reported here. I can think of at least two explanations:

1. Commenters' experiences are older, when SSDs were less durable.

2. Manufacturers' gave Tech Crunch cherry-picked SSDs that were pre-tested for quality defects. Poor quality control and manufacturing standardization would yield SSDs that vary widely in their durability, even within the same model family.

The test is not authoritative because of its small sample size. Do the same thing to 100 units of each drive and the dependability of the results will be much greater.

There's more reader feedback... See all 22 comments for this article.

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