Do Solid State Drives Fail More Often Than Hard Disks?

All disks eventually fail, whether they are hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid state drives (SSDs). But the two technologies fail in different ways.

HDDs have spinning magnetic platters on which data is stored, and actuator arms that move read/write heads back and forth above tracks on the platters in order to access data block locations. Even if there is no other defect, all that movement will eventually cause a HDD to wear out mechanically.

SSDs, on the other hand, are purely semiconductor devices with no moving parts. The semiconductor technology, called flash memory, has a peculiar failure mode all its own. Every time one of the device’s storage cells is written to, that cell is degraded to a small extent. As the writes add up, eventually the storage cells are degraded to the point that they can no longer accept data, and no more writes are possible.

To make matters worse, SSD data can only be written in blocks, not bytes. So, in order to change one byte in a file, the entire block in which that byte is contained must be rewritten to a new location and the old location erased. This makes SSDs subject to an effect called “write amplification” because the number of storage locations that must be erased and rewritten in order to store new or changed data can be far greater than the actual size of the new data.

To combat this, SSD manufacturers employ two strategies – over-provisioning and wear-leveling. Wear-leveling refers to a firmware algorithm that spreads writes evenly throughout the storage media so that no blocks get worn out more quickly than others. Over-provisioning simply means that the drive includes more than the rated amount of memory. The extra storage is used by the wear-leveling algorithm to more effectively limit the number of times any particular block is written to.

The result is that SSDs are actually less failure-prone than HDDs, and have a significantly better MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures).

SSDs are growing more in popularity everyday. Their speed is now not the only thing they have in their favor. They are now capable of storing as much as their HDD predecessors, the price is decreasing, and now you’ve learned, they are more reliable. If you’d like to know more about the impact of SSD technology on the future of data storage, please contact us.