SSD

Do SSD Drives Fail?

Today’s industries rely heavily on digital data. Businesses of all types are equipped with computer systems for file sharing, storage, and automatic data processing. With the advent of cloud computing, digital data has catapulted to a new height. In fact, according to analysts, worldwide data is expected to grow to 61% by 2025.[1] With it comes the need for storage media with not only larger capacities but also higher speed.

HDDs have dominated the storage market for decades; however, they’ve become less favorable due to their vulnerability to failure. In addition, HDD’s speed, even of the modern ones, will not suffice to today’s demand for faster data processing. In the late 2000s, a new storage type has finally emerged, providing solutions to HDD’s limitations.

Solid State Drive (SSD)

SSD is a storage device based on flash memories instead of spinning disks. Unlike HDDs, SSDs don’t have mechanical parts making them less likely to fail. They’re generally more compact, much faster, more stable, less noisy, and more power-efficient than HDDs. SSDs contain multiple flash memories that store data. It also has an embedded controller that manages data access, storage, and organization. The absence of mechanical parts makes SSDs less susceptible to failure, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever fail. Just like any other device, SSDs are expected to fail over time.

Causes of SSD Failure

SSDs are one of the best alternatives to HDDs, but they’re still imperfect and not eternal. The expected lifespan of SSDs is 5-10 years, depending on the technology used. SSD errors are also inevitable, mainly after it’s been used for quite some time. Many factors can lead SSDs to failure, and the most common ones are discussed in the following section.

Power Interruption

SSDs are dependent on power supplies. Although they do not use spinning disks, SSDs are mainly composed of electronic components such as transistors and capacitors. These components are likely to fail if there is a constant power surge or power interruption. Frequent power surges or power interruptions can cause short circuits in SSDs, damaging the components and leading to an SSD’s eventual failure.

Bad Blocks

While HDDs can fail because of bad sectors, SSDs can fail because of bad blocks. When there are bad blocks, data usually become read-only, or data writing can take an unusually long time. Bad blocks can be due to the malfunctioning electronic components of the SSD, but they can also be caused by viruses, malware, and other threats.

External Factors

External factors such as heavy blows and water spillage can also cause SSDs to fail, but this is more common in external SSDs than installed inside a computer.

Firmware Upgrade

Firmware upgrades improve the SSD’s performance. However, caution must be taken when doing firmware upgrades because it will damage the SSD if not correctly.

Lifespan

An inevitable factor for SSD’s failure is its lifespan. SSDs store data in flash cells. Before data in the flash cells can be overwritten, they must first be erased. This is called the P/E cycle (program/erase cycles), and it’s one of the determinants of an SSD’s lifespan. P/E cycles are limited, and once the limit is reached, SSDs will no longer be usable.

Another way to determine an SSD’s lifespan is through TBW (Terabytes Written). TBW is a measure of how many terabytes of data an SSD can write in its entire lifetime. If an SSD has a TBW of 200, for example, it means it can write a total of 200 terabytes of data, and once this is reached, you can start backing up your file as it’s expected that the drive will fail anytime soon.

Aside from P/E cycles and TBW, you can estimate an SSD’s lifespan through DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day). It is the daily overwriting capacity of an SSD during its warranty period, and once the threshold is reached, the SSD is likely to fail. If a 200GB SSD has a warranty period of five years and a DWPD of 1, that means it can write 200GB of data every day for five years before it will start to malfunction.

Warning Signs

We can generally tell when a hard drive is about to fail by an audible whirring, whining, or clicking sound. SSDs do not emit such sounds, and it’s a bit difficult to tell when it’s about to fail. Aging SSDs may start showing symptoms of forthcoming failure, but new SSDs may also have factory defects that cause SSDs not to function correctly. If you notice any of the symptoms below while using your computer or your external SSD, then it’s better to give your SSD a check for a possible failure.

Frequent Errors

Often, when SSDs are about to fail, errors will start popping up, especially during write operations. One common error is the read-only error, where files can only be accessed but cannot be edited or updated. When this starts to happen, better start backing up your files before you completely lose them.

Random Crashes

When your computer starts to freeze or hang up in between applications, chances are, the SSD is about to fail. This may also happen during boot-up. Although this may also indicate problems with other components such as RAM or a corrupted operating system, it’s better to transfer your files to another storage media to be safe.

Read-Only Disk Error

When the SSD fails, it will prohibit data writing to the flash cells, most likely due to bad blocks. This, in turn, shows a Read-Only Disk error, and you will no longer be able to edit or save your files. There’s a good chance of data access, so you better keep them to another drive before the SSD is entirely dead.

Corrupted Files

Another warning sign of a failing SSD is data corruption. This shows typically in files that you can still see but cannot open or edit. It is also likely a sign of a virus or malware, but it’s better to start checking your SSD’s health to be sure. There is also a chance that the virus or any other similar threat has corrupted your SSD, causing such issues in your files.

SSD Health Check and Monitoring

The best way to check if your SSD is failing is through health check tools. These types of software will not only monitor your SSD’s performance and health status but will also check for errors and bad blocks. Some of these applications are free, like Crystal Disk Mark but there are also paid versions with more enhanced features.

SSDs are undeniably one of the best storage media of today with their faster speed and power-efficient advantages over HDDs. But just like HDDs, SSDs are also expected to fail over time. As such, it’s essential to know the factors that cause SSDs to fail and the warning signs of failure so that you can still save your files before the drive becomes completely unusable.

[1] https://n-able.com/blog/ssd-lifespan N-able Nov 27, 2019

About the author

Glynis Navarrete

A freelance blogger who loves to write about anything related to technology. Born and raised in the Philippines and worked in Singapore for eight years as Technical Support for a wide range of IT equipment. Took a dive into the world of freelancing and now enjoying doing what I’m passionate about while not losing touch with technology.