SSD Drives: How Long Will They Last?

Category: Hard-Drives

Solid-State Drive (SSD) technology has been taking over the hard drive market rapidly, as economy of scale results in lower prices. 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

SSDs (also called solid-state drives) are an alternative to the standard magnetic, spinning disk hard drives we've all been using for decades. You can think of them as USB flash drives on steroids. With no moving parts, an SSD offers more speed, greater reliability and decreased power consumption than magnetic drives.

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.

SSDs are still expensive compared to magnetic hard drives. But here's something to consider… right now, a 1 terabyte (1000 gigabytes) magnetic hard drive costs about the same as a 256 GB SSD drive -- roughly US$50. But if you've only got 100 GB of data, the SSD is obviously a better buy, even though it has less capacity.

SSD lifespan - SSD endurance test

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 magnetic 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?”

The uber-geeks at Tech Report decided to answer that question once and for all by continually writing 100 MB blocks of data to six consumer-grade SSDs until all of the drives die. The SSD torture test started in August 2013 and ended in March 2015.

The six drives tested were nothing special, just off-the-shelf consumer SSDs that you can pick up at Best Buy, Tiger Direct, or even Walmart. The line-up included: 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...

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Each of the drives was 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 surprised everyone.

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. Note that all of those drives lasted at least 3-4x longer than warranted.

Three SSDs 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, would occupy 9,285,418,071 bytes (9.3 GB). One petabyte equals about 107,695 copies of that data set.

The last two survivors (the Kingston HyperX 3K and Samsung 840 Pro) met their doom on the road to 2.5 petabytes. 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 info. 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 results of this SSD Endurance Test.

Some Notes on SSD Reliability

A research paper published at the Usenix 2016 conference argued that SSD age, not usage, affects reliability. And high-end drives based on SLC technology are no more reliable than less expensive MLC drives. So outside of a "torture test" environment, you should not have to worry about your SSD failing in the first 3 to 5 years.

However, the study also found that the uncorrectable error rate for SSDs is higher than for magnetic drives, which means SSDs are more likely to lose data. So ironically, backing up SSDs is even more important than it is with magnetic disks. So if you are currently backing up *TO* an SSD, you should consider having a backup or your backup, preferably on a traditional magnetic spinning disk.

Here are some signs that your SSD might be starting to fail:

  • A error message indicating that a file cannot be read or written, or that the file system needs to be repaired.
  • Programs freeze up and crash.
  • Errors that occur while booting up, which go away after retrying.
  • Slow performance while accessing large files.
  • If you notice any such symptoms, check out Crystal Disk Mark for Windows, or Smart Reporter for Mac OS X systems. Both apps can help you diagnose disk problems.

The SSD endurance test I discussed above concluded in 2015, but I'll still wager that any of the latest crop of consumer SSD drives is 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. Are you prepared for a data disaster?

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

 
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Most recent comments on "SSD Drives: How Long Will They Last?"

Posted by:

Bob K
11 Apr 2019

Two things that I've read (that confuse me somewhat):

I've read that usually when a SSD fails, it will fail in the write mode, and you will still be able to read the data on it. True?

I see where the MTBF figures for SSD are well over a million hours. What does that mean in real life? I realize at one end of the scale a drive may be dead out of the box, but how many hours should I reasonably expect a drive to last?


Posted by:

horqua
11 Apr 2019

This is very useful info. Thanks for sharing.


Posted by:

Sarge
11 Apr 2019

I just discarded four 3.5" SATA HDDs (Hitachi, WD, and Seagate) that were all a minimum of 12 years old, and all just fine, just too small - 250 GBs.

In my last 25 years as a computer consultant, tech, and teacher of tech, I've found contemporary 3.5" SATA HDDs to be good for over ten years, so that's what I use for backup.

That was also my consistent experience in multiple organizations and institutions, each with over 10,000 computers. The only readily discernible failure factor was with 2.5" SATAs. They didn't last as long, often less than five years; but 2.5" are more delicate, far more vulnerable to shock and vibration, and so aren't as reliable as 3.5" drives. Of course, most of these were in mobile computers, which tend to be inferior operating environments, and whose intended and common usage make them MUCH harder on SATA drives.


Posted by:

Sarge
11 Apr 2019

i should also say that I've been using three SanDisk SSD PLUS 240 GB SSDs for about 2.5 years ($34.93 at Amazon) and they've been just fine in every way.

They're used as the primary drive (OS and programs ONLY) in three business/institutional model mini towers, each with two SATAs for other storage, including internal backups, along with an external 3.5" SATA HDD as well.

In OptiPlexes and ThinkCentre M's, heat is not an issue, so, so far, a perfect approach for me.

A simple, easy upgrade, along with better graphics cards and more RAM and that, tuning, and maintenance give me more than I need, plus more reliability than any of the other configurations I've tried.


Posted by:

Chuck
11 Apr 2019

I replaced the hard drive on my lap top, when Bob brought up this subject the last time, with a SSD. It was like a new computer.


Posted by:

Bernard Elko
11 Apr 2019

I have been putting off replacing my desktop Hard Drive with an SSD drive because of the number of user reviews complaining about those drives failing. These failures I see consistently occurring with all brands although some more so than others. So what the percentage of SSD failures to those that don't fail cannot be determined by reviews alone as more dissatisfied people are inclined to reply than those who are satisfied.
Still I have some concern as to the quality control and cost of SSD drives which makes me hesitate about getting one.


Posted by:

John
11 Apr 2019

Only SSDs for PCs was discussed. What about a SD card that is in a camera constantly recording data 24/7, continually over writing itself? I did have a 32GB card fail that was in my dash cam after 6 months of use. I put in a 64GB card (largest the camera accepts) for now. Newer cameras accept larger drives.


Posted by:

Curtis Golightly
11 Apr 2019

I have been using SSD since they first came out. They were only 32GB then. As a computer repair person for over 12 years I have personally had two catastrophic failures, where they just suddenly quit working and were not recognizable by any computer, Windows or Linux. They were not the same brand or size. In my opinion, yes they are fast and I still recommend them, but I tell all clients, you have to back up regular. Unlike spinning drives where there is a good chance of recovery, even if it won't boot, with an SSD, you stand a high probability, it will fail completely.


Posted by:

Chris
12 Apr 2019

I'll be in the market soon for a new Windows computer, and my local computer shop tech advises an SSD for the OS and programs. But I've read the same concerns about SSD failures, especially that an SSD failure will likely be catastrophic. I've also read that because of the way an SSD reads/writes/stores data, an accidental deletion becomes more difficult (maybe impossible?) to recover than with a deletion from an HD. I've read a little bit about SSHD hybrids (near-SSD speed with HD reliability) and am wondering where those fit in here. Anyone willing to share any experience with using SSHD hybrids?


Posted by:

Roger
12 Apr 2019

I recently purchased a Dell XPS 8930 unit with a NVMe PCIe M.2 2280 256GB SSD as a Windows 10 boot drive, and a 1 TB Seagate SATA drive for document and file storage. Because the NVMe PCIe M.2 is not a typical SSD, some applications which help you determine the health of your SSD will not recognize this "drive". I found that my system was writing 160 GB/day to the SSD. Much of that seems to be related to the fact that I had multiple Windows 10 user accounts on the same machine. It seems that switching back and forth between the multiple accounts caused a lot of the extra writes. At that rate of writing, the SSD would reach its theoretical limit of about 150 TBW in less than 2.5 years. I have since restricted all use on this device to 1 user account; made sure that there is no automatic defragging of the SSD (which means checking the "helpful" software provided by Norton which was doing automatic optimization “defrags” even though Windows 10 scheduled defrags were turned off. Also check the optimization tools that may have been provided by whoever built your unit); turned off indexing of the drive, and limited the page file size. Writes are now between 20-30 GB/day. I want to backup the SSD, but this might now be more complicated since I can't back it up to another drive with the same form factor. Instead, I will have to back it up to a standard SATA drive, and then perhaps use redeploy in my Macrium software if I ever need to replace or restore the NCMe SSD.


Posted by:

Bernard Elko
13 Apr 2019

Chris, because you plan on getting a new computer and are not sure about getting it with an SSD drive, many new computers are now utilizing Optane Memory which speeds up a hard drive. This Optane memory is not the same as your RAM memory. It serves as a cache for the hard drive to load files faster making it similar to that of a Hybrid Hard Drive. I currently am using a Seagate Hybrid hard drive and find that it does help a little bit but still doesn't run nearly as fast as an SSD drive. It is my understanding that the best way to go is if you are able to install two drives make the boot drive an SSD drive and the second drive a hard drive for programs and files.


Posted by:

David J. Ruedeman
13 Apr 2019

I’ve bad luck with off brand SSDs. They usually fail catastrophically , with no warning. I now only buy vertically oriented SSDs , which make the flash, controller and firmware, like Intel, Micron and Samsung.


Posted by:

arvidasentaja
13 Apr 2019

Roger, buy adapter (PCIe SSD to PCIe Express) card to connect nve drive to PCIe slot.


Posted by:

Robert
14 Apr 2019

I note the added Crystal DISK Mark link which is presumably a disk checking tool which could be useful, but before installing it the question is : Is this another program which prompts you to install it and once installed asks you to pay a fee to use it? because it does not say free to use in the page info


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