back to article Why is solid-state storage so flimsy?

No matter how much storage space you get, and no matter how much you free up later on, it always gets stuffed to the gills. I am, of course, talking about my attic... and the garage, and indeed the garden shed. Many reasons for this have been mooted, including the need to do something with my kids' childish belongings as they …

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Silver badge
Go

Yes, SSDs are a bit dodgy. They can be recovered though. I work for Kroll Ontrack and share an office with a chap who's happy to get busy with soldering iron and whatever else is needed to pull the data off.

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Backup?

Seriously, if you haven't mastered backups by now, all hope is lost.

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TRT
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Coat

Yay for old stuff.

I've just been handed a 1990 vintage neuronal stimulator/amplifier with a duff PSU in a 19" modular eurorack.

2 minutes with a screwdriver and a voltmeter and I'm 75% certain there's a partially blown bridge rectifier. 60p replacement part, 30 minutes with a screwdriver and a soldering iron, job done.

Last week, a 2007 model, with no sign of power. The PSU is in an epoxy sealed box seemingly fusion welded onto the motherboard which forms an integral part of the custom moulded 19" housing. Replacement cost? Around £1600.

So I agree about data being gone in a flash.

I'm just grabbing my lab coat to go tell the nice lady that her box is fixed.

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HD failure

in the *cough* *cough* 20 something years since I had my first hard drive capable PC - Amstrrad 1640.. that smoked the competition with it's 40Mb drive. I've had exactly 2 personal hard drive failures and just 1 single drive fail in a server room environment (the raid controllers in the server room, there's another story!)

1 of those drives was poxy portable hard drive that I might have been a teensy bit careless with and trodden on as well.

Yet solid state fails with alarming frequency, the CF Card in Apple Newton being the first, but SD Cards for my cameras fail frequently, as did the 8Gb solid state drive in my Acer Aspire One, luckily I'd just bought a 60Gb replacement (non ssd) drive for it when it did. 60Gb.. not much I know, but with everything fully loaded on to it, I've still got a spare 30Gb free.

What do you people do with your machines to consume so much space so quickly?

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Re: HD failure

Three failures? Jesus, I've had a good half dozen over 15 years, out of maybe 30-odd I've had in use. Some 2.5", some 3.5".

Actually it's that sort of failure rate that pushed me towards SSD - I reasoned it can't be any worse, and because of it I'm already backing up religiously. My server is on RAID-1 SSD and my laptop has a beautiful, beautiful 640MB Intel SSD. My god, I could kiss it. Best IT purchase I've ever made.

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Re: HD failure

Me too, and the only RAID array I have every had die was a RAID 5 array with IBM deathstars in them. It was backed up to tape though. And Ive never used RAID 5 since then.

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Re: HD failure

... and to put it into context, where I am working, we lose at least 2-3 drives a month.

But I suppose that is because the systems I look after have more than 8000 drives in them, all either RAIDed or mirrored, and half of those will be spun down for the last time in the next month or so.

Mind you, you begin to get a bit worried about data integrity when you lose a second disk in an 8+2 RAID5 set within a few days (the organisation has a policy of no disk replacements done at the weekend, and have had two disks failing in a the same set over one weekend on more than one occasion).

On the other hand, the first system for which I was a sysadmin had 32MB CDC SMD removable pack disk drives which were the size of a desk pedestal, and the first machine I had a login for had a couple of 2.5MB RK05 removable disk cartridge drives, and that served a community of about 30 people!

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Re: HD failure

@netean

"What do you people do with your machines to consume so much space so quickly?"

You're seriously think we'll believe you haven't discovered porn yet?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: HD failure

Even at home, in 20 years I've had half a dozen HD drive failures.

No problems yet with SSDs

It isn't a fair comparison to speak of SSDs and memory cards in the same breath - memory cards are not expected to be so durable and I wouldn't use them for what I intended to be permanent storage.

I find HD drive lifetime had a lot to do with brands - Hitachi drives weren't nicknamed deathstars just because someone liked star wars, y'know

Why do we need so much space? First, as everyone says, if you have a terabyte attached storage, it is in effect a quarter or so really by the time you have accounted for backups

In the good old days text documents didn't take up much space - a floppy drive could hold a decent sized book.

Now you have graphics, images, font effects, etc, space is chewed up.

Then music, video, photos - what do you do with your computer that you don't even know what uses space?

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Linux

Re: HD failure

>> @netean

>>

>> "What do you people do with your machines to consume so much space so quickly?"

>

> You're seriously think we'll believe you haven't discovered porn yet?

Never mind porn. Just consider digital media. If you were actually a serious user of services like Amazon or iTunes you would eventually accumulate large amounts of stuff. If I were to "buy" something from iTunes, I would certainly want a local copy.

Plus there is digital photography and video both of which can generate large collections of files. Neither of these is a terribly "geeky" undertaking. They are both the domain of grannies.

So the idea that no one needs ample storage space is beyond absurd.

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Cloud backup

All drives fail and usually fail in the most inconvenient (or even disastrous) way. The only solution is proper backup and, although I do take local backups to another HDD, there is a lot to be said for a reliable cloud backup solution.

I use Crashplan and I have been very happy with it. It's reasonably cheap but operates quietly in the background with no user intervention (which is particularly useful for the rest of my family who resolutely refused to back anything up no matter how many times I warned them). It would be a pain to try to restore 1.5TB over the net but I can prioritise and at least I know it's highly unlikely to go wrong at the same time as my HDD and local backup.

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Re: Cloud backup

EASUS is good for family machines too (free versions available). Works seamlessly with a USB external drive, will bare metal restore or file restore too.

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Re: Cloud backup

@lotus49 - Agreed. Crashplan for me has proven pretty good for backing up and restoration from local and remote backups. I backup the laptop both to my local NAS and to their server. The local datastore makes for really speedy restores, but should something catastrophic happen, having the offsite backups is good too. Its backing up changed files every 15 minutes, so it would be pretty difficult to lose very much data. I don't notice it running, it just gets the job done non-intrusively.

Had my laptop hard drive go suddenly *POOF* earlier this year. Replaced it, got OS going, installed Crashplan, restored, and kept on going without too much fuss. Its also pretty cheap for the "family plan" to backup every device in the house regardless of OS (Win/Mac/Linux). Pretty happy that it does what it says on the tin since not every product (particularly Cloudy ones) do that.

Based on my recent experience with SSD failure (father in law's went PHFFFFT with no warning at all), along with hearing horror stories from colleagues on the same, something like Crashplan that is doing "cloudy" backups throughout the day is pretty much mandatory with an SSD.

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Holmes

"Why was I so stupid... ?"

Would you really like an answer to this? Because I can think of at least one. But none that you'll like.

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Golf considered harmful.

Well done Alistair! It's never cool to play golf, not when even you reach 50. I wouldn't be seen dead playing golf! Surely I can go hangliding or mountain biking when I'm in hell. Oh wait, will hell have compulsory golf:-(

Pedantic note:

Of course you should still be spelling 'disc' with a 'c'. 'Disk' is a contraction of 'diskette' an IBM neologism for floppy discs. Unless you're writing about floppies, there's no justification for the 'k'.

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Coffee/keyboard

Storage

I must admit I went for an SSD cache drive because one thing I feared was if I lost the SSD I have no idea how to get anything back, but then again on a notebook I think they will last longer purely because of the way I see people using (Dropping them) them

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Sudden death

I can usually scrape most of the bits off a "dead" HDD or indeed FDD with a bit of patience; wonky flash device, your data is probably toast, at least this side of getting it to a specialist lab and paying serious beer tokens.

Personally, I've had a few hard drives die on me by now - virtually no data lost, between a little bit of RAID and a lot of backing up across the LAN. If my laptop filesystem gets eaten by gremlins, a reformat, reinstall and restore just takes a few hours to be back where I was earlier that day, restoring over my LAN; if the backup drive there has gone too, I can pull it over the Internet from the remote backup overnight. Sadly, the habit doesn't seem to be spreading!

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A few points

We've been selling htese for a while now, especially on our Video editing suits. I resisted SSD for a long time as we've had run ins with the early IDE/CF ones and PC/104 drives before, not really that fast and last months under moderate use even with logging etc disabled. MTBF was too low as was overall life expectancy.

We push out a fair number now and have done for over 18 month, we've had one failure of a cheapie Team drive that even Team were at a loss to explain (decided it just wanted to be a 1Gb drive rather than 120). And maybe a handful of controlled failures on our test rigs. So...

Failures dont seem to be any worse in terms of numbers than hard disks. Correcting for skew as we push out more HDs, they are on a par, if not more reliable than 2.5" drives (they do fail more often than 3.5"s in our experience)

Failure modes are identical to HDs, these drives support SMART (not sure why people think they dont) and will give warning of an impending failure. Block remapping does the same as bad block reallocation on an physical disk so the warnings are there. The higher end drives will also fail read only long before they die totally. We've nuked a total of one test drive and that was days old (Bad drive to start). Yes they dont clunk, click screech and wirr, but if its doing that it was too late anyway.

If you are putting all your eggs in one basket, then you'll loose data, in this respect thats poor planning and the same as a hard drive. Using an SSD makes you no more or less of an idiot if you dont backup.

Some things will prematureley age a drive, using them as swap, cache or log drives would be the biggest culprits, read life wise they should well outlast any mechanical disk. We can kill an SSD in about 3 days, I've managed to nuke hard drives in under a day with one Samsung making its heads cease to exist and a Hitachi shattering a platter.

Cloud storage is great, until you need it. So your server is backed up to the cloud ok, cool. So your office burns down, how long is that rebuild going to take in real terms? Assuming you cant get help and have to wait for a new broadband connection thats a long wait, if you can get help a few 100Gb is going to take forever. A real backup? I'll have your server back in an hour or two at most. The cloud is still an answer looking for a question and a good place to store all your cat pics. Its not a business grade backup solution and wont be while most users connect to it by 'broadband over damp string' (tm)

Our standard setup in the editing systems is a properly sized SSD with NTFS junctions used to bring all the data to where Windows expects this. On top of this the SSD is imaged to a seperate partition on the hard drive every few days meaning that in the even of an SSD failure, the user gets told 'use F10, boot from the hard disk and we'll have another SSD out in a day' We knoe this system works, its just never been tested as one has never copped out. The Team unit was an Asterisk box that freaked.

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Re: A few points

does anyone ever read below the faded out bit on these long posts?

no offence meant either, i'm just curious.

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Re: A few points

Yes, I always read the long posts, if someone went to the trouble of writing it then clearly it is worthy of being read.

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Re: A few points

Yes, I read the long posts too if the subject matter is interesting.

I cringe inwardly when I encounter "loose data" or something similar in the middle of an otherwise worthwhile post.

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Re: A few points

"Cloud storage is great, until you need it."

I used to say the same thing about tape backup. Not once have I ever managed to restore anything from tape. I was overjoyed the day I found I could afford big external hard disks.

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Facepalm

100MB files? Pah!

One of my cow-orkers this week received several >1GB Excel spreadsheets (we found out because he was trying to unzip them onto the network drives).

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Windows

Re: 100MB files? Pah!

What where they? Star catalogues from Tycho? I'm fascinated.

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Re: 100MB files? Pah!

Presumably a couple of feature length porn movies embedded in an XLS to try to sneak them under the radar.

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Flash is a transitional technology

Hopefully it will be replaced by more reliable tech currently in research labs.

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Pint

SSD failure and HDD failure are very different

I design controllers for both SSDs and HDDs. Failure mechanisms are typically very different.

For SSDs what kills you is the NAND wearing out, and that's a big function of how much data you have on your SSD. The problem for SSDs is that sector oriented writes in HDDs are still 512-4K bytes, while SSDs require different sized writes that are typically much bigger, although the exact size depends on NAND configuration. Since SSDs require full page erase-write cycles that means that a lot of small writes can cause page wear far beyond what you'd expect since even with wear leveling controllers you'll be writing tons and tons of new pages if you're not careful.

That same wearing of writing small blocks causing big blocks to be written and wear out gets exponentially worse as your SSD fills up. While you can push an HDD to 80+% capacity without significant penalty (just usually seek time), pushing an SSD past 50% capacity causes the controller to have write factors well above 1.0 and your SSD will wear out significantly faster. This is a real issue in SSDs that use MLC NAND because of the lower lifetime.

I tend to agree with richard7 above: a smallish SSD for OS/apps backed by an HDD for data storage and redundancy is the right way to go. I hate trusting the Cloud as it's pitifully slow if you have a lot of data to recover, and flash tends to have to many catastrophic failure mechanisms that arise without warning. I've been doing this stuff since the start of the PC era and I've only had one HDD fail without warning, but I've seen lots of SSDs fail without warning.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: SSD failure and HDD failure are very different

Why would writing to a full SSD cause it to do more erase/write cycles than to an empty one?

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Alien

Re: SSD failure and HDD failure are very different

As drives fill up you get a couple of different things going on. First, the wear leveling starts running out of blank pages and has to start going garbage collection to try and make more compact file systems. Second, the more fragmented the file system the more writes you have to do. Thirdly, your overprovisioning starts to run out and get less efficient. If you want the more detailed version look up write amplification on Wikipedia, it's a tolerable introduction to the problem.

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A great concept

Most of this article leaves me with a "stating the bleeding obvious" aftertaste, but one casual throw-away phrase struck a chord: "Future Proofing", and coupling that with "laptop" crystallized a desire I have.

I'm tired of having to migrate every bloody archived document I have from my old machine to my new machine for fear (realized, sadly) that the long-term storage device(s) will fail and will not be replaceable due to the mad dash into the future. I can get spares for a vintage foreign car easier than I can get a domestic computer component spec'ed 15 years ago.

How pleasant it would be if the major devices that go to make up my laptop had interfaces that were themselves guaranteed to provide connectivity despite the details of the device itself. Switch from backlit LCD to PBP (Psychotronic Brainwave Projection)? No problem because the intefaces will cope. Hard Drive to SSD to Atomic Differentiaion Matrix? Ditto.

Yeah, I know it would be damn near impossible, but I would really like a portable Marshall Tucker Band device, where changing the individual parts due to the realities of time does not mandate a brand new system. Something like Lego, where new stuff works with the old because the peg/socket interface was sorted out at the start.

Gotta Dream.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A great concept

What are you talking about? SSDs have been using hard drive interfaces since day 1. You and the guy who wrote this article don't seem to be aware of this fact. But the vast majority of SSDs are in 2.5 inch hard drive enclosures and have hard drive interfaces. I bet you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between an SSD and a hard drive except that one is much faster and quieter and has less storage capacity.

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Silver badge

If you are using Windows

I have three words for you: Windows Home Server. These three words make the backup process easy. What I do, in addition to the standard daily backup Windows Home Server does, is to use SyncToy to copy the most important files -- pictures and documents -- to Windows Home Server. It is my opinion that WHS is Microsoft's second best OS, just behind Windows 7.

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Linux

Re: If you are using Windows

You don't need a special product. Any modern OS installation can be a NAS. Backup software is cheap and plentiful. Appliances are cheap and plentiful. You don't need a special product from your OS vendor. You don't need to pretend that you live in some sort of Microsoft Walled Garden that doesn't really exist.

This is not a complicated thing but certain people like to perpetrate the mystique when it comes to this stuff.

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Unhappy

I feel immensely let down and hurt.

I just came here for the bewbs.

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Re: I feel immensely let down and hurt.

> bewbs

Me too, pal. Me too.

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Mixed strategy is best

SSD for OS, proper HD for data. Plus some imaging software you use periodically (Acronis etc) to image SSD to a file)

2 years, 2 SSDs, lesson learned.

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Silver badge

Re: Mixed strategy is best

SSD for the OS only seems to be a good idea to me, though you have to be careful about the default locations of mysql databases.

I have a host which dual-boots windows (for games) and linux (for everthing else) and SSD would be great for that. While some games could benefit from a disk speed increase, I suspect its nothing that a decent raid5 disc array couldn't sort out for me.

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FAIL

nonsense article

Apart from conjuring up some quaint memories this article is complete nonsense - not usual register standard - common sense should tell you that a mechanical device spinning at up to 15,0000 rpm is inherently much less reliable than a solid state device - hence ipads iphones and the like are remarkably resilient. Hard drives fail all the time and no they don't warn you- idiotic statement - we and our customers have experienced many catastrophic failures from hard discs. following many painful lessons i can also tell you that raid is useless as well for protection - they give a false sense of security when one drive goes another one often does as well - also backups are also quite often useless unless regularly tested for restores - most don't do this - im looking forward to the day hard-drives become obsolete

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Silver badge

Re: nonsense article

I certainly hope your are the guy shifting the material in the backrooms and not giving out advice to customers.

Don't lose anything, now.

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Re: nonsense article and "common sense"

Common sense might tell you that a mechanical device spinning at umptytum RPM is less reliable than solid-state. If you're slinging that mechanical device around in your handbag, or clipping it on your arm to go for a jog, then sure.

But leave them both in an immobile PC, and bets are off. If you're not aware of manufacturers specifying expected write-cycle lifespans for flash, then you don't know about the main cause of failure of one of these. If in addition you are using the SSD as the main (or only) drive and you haven't got temporary files being put anywhere else, then you're not aware of the main reason you'll burn through those write-cycles. In short, if your only comparison is mechanical-vs-solid-state then you don't know enough to have an opinion on the subject.

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never mind disc vs disk, why are we still calling it a "drive"?

Solid State DRIVE? Surely the word "drive" is derived from the fact that we had floppy disks and then a floopy disk drive that contained a motor which spun (i.e. drove) the disc? The Hard Disk Drive still had a motor which spun/drove magnetic discs.

Therefore, should it not just be called "solid stage storage" or an individual unit a "storage module"? Any better suggestions?

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Re: never mind disc vs disk, why are we still calling it a "drive"?

FFFS

Fast Fashionable Flaky Storage

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Silver badge

Re: never mind disc vs disk, why are we still calling it a "drive"?

It's a DRIVE as long as it goes via the DRIVE INTERFACE.

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Best of all worlds?

I've swapped out the internal optical drive of my laptop for a caddy that holds a spinning disc. I have a (only 128GB!) SSD as the boot/applications/user folder/working files drive. The spinning disc is partitioned - with one partition being a target for a scheduled daily clone from the SSD, and the other being a place to store larger files (eg media).

I think I'm having my cake, and eating it - but I'll wait for the inevitable correction...

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Anonymous Coward

"What's playing on my mind, though, is that the SSD unit in my notebook might not be easily replaceable, or even removable at all"

Shouldn't have bought a Mac then.

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My Opinion

I thought about buying an SSD for a while but i came across the same stuff said in the article and decided not to. Plus there are some advancements in hard drive tecnology such as helium being put into the drive case speeding up the disc to ridiculous speeds and increased reliability. i can't wait to see the next new tech in hard drive technology because ssd's can't really evolve much bejond this other then their controllers. and storage size.

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IT Angle

I have this tried and tested setup for building my backup servers:

OS = 2 x 64GB SSD RAID 1 - currently OCZ Vertex 4 (5 Year Warranty)

Data = 4 x 2TB HDD RAID 10 - currently Seagate low power 5400 RPM

Using an LSI RAID card. Don't trust Marvell with a barge pole and their chipset is on the majority of motherboards these days. Infact I hate them!

While SSD had a nice drop in price this year, it is still way off what it should be and what it needs to be in order to strive.

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Anonymous Coward

Had it happen to me

64GB el cheapo SSD, installed in someone's laptop.

When it failed it took the laptop's HDD controller with it, yet for some reason the drive worked fine.

Put it in another machine and got the data back but can I trust it again?

Symptoms:- laptop BSOD'd with no warning when used a lot yet all tests passed OK then just failed to boot one day with "Disk Read Error"... !

Tried it with Linux boot disk and the HDD wasn't showing up, put old nonSSD back in and it also didn't show.

Tested the PATA port and nothing abnormal but simply didn't boot.

No sign of drive in BIOS, concluded that the board was shot.

Now have a nearly identical board with the same exact fault, yet the (SATA) optical interface seems fine.

Put me right off SSDs, as it cost me a lot of money to fix and the drive couldn't be returned due to it being 2 months old and off "insert unfavourable supplier here".

AC---

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Anonymous Coward

Not easily replaceable? Plus, longevity

From the article:

"What's playing on my mind, though, is that the SSD unit in my notebook might not be easily replaceable, or even removable at all."

Uh, what notebook do you have that your SSD unit isn't easily replaceable?!?! They are even easily replaced in a MacBook Air if you have the right screwdriver to take the bottom of the case off.

"And Flash tech has a fixed lifetime, or at least decreasing performance over time, so buying lots of it doesn't necessarily prolong its usefulness if you use most of it very often."

Well, let's assume an absolute worst case scenario where your flash cells are crappy and give out after only 10,000 cycles. That means you can write 5000 terabytes to your laptop's 512 GB wear-leveled drive before it gives out. If you write 10 GB to it per day (seems like a lot), it will only last 1400 years. Are you worried about this for some other reason than uninformed drivel that people post on internet message boards?

Also, SSDs no longer slow down after you've filled them up, thanks to TRIM and/or overprovisioning. That was a problem a few years ago but not anymore.

By far the biggest point of failure with SSDs is going to be the controllers, which have certainly had their problems in the past. Please worry about the controllers instead of propagating drivel about flash write cycles.

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Linux

Re: Not easily replaceable? Plus, longevity

Nice assumptions, but not real. Write amplification is a real problem, especially with a drive that's even somewhat packed. Even the best SSD controllers can't keep the write amplification below 1 at ~30% capacity. By the time you hit 80% capacity you're talking monstrous amplification factors for even relatively sequential writes.

Example: I write a 512 byte sector. In a HDD, I write the sector. Done. In an SSD I have to read/erase/write the whole page (~64K or more). That's not including any remapping that has to take place for moving the other sectors on the page.

Then there are problems with longevity (cells need to be refreshed periodically since flash really isn't a permanent storage mechanism and cell content degrade over time), etc. There's garbage collection, all that junk that has to go on in the background on an SSD that doesn't go on in an HDD.

All told, flash isn't a technology to make a long lived drive. It's fast, and it's useful in some applications, but you have to be even more paranoid about it failing and give it a lot more margin than you'd give a HDD.

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