To answer these questions and shed some much-needed light on the matter, today we cover everything you need to know about SSD reliability. There’s never been a better time to do so given that we are nearing a decade of widespread use and are therefore finally in a position to draw conclusions.
Age, Not Use, Determines SSD Reliability
The HDD is prized for being reliable over the long term. In other words, as long as the drive isn’t incessantly bombarded with reading and writing tasks, the drive is likely to last a long time. SSDs, on the other hand, are more vulnerable to the cruel passage of time regardless of the frequency of use.
Unlike an HDD, an SSD has no moving parts and consists instead of flash memory cells that degrade with time. Studies suggest an SSD is better equipped to handle more data than an HDD, but its electronic parts are more likely to fail within the same time frame.
For example, if we put an HDD and SSD side by side subjecting them to the same amount of reading/write cycles within a time frame of say six months, the HDD failed more often than the SSDs flash memory wore out. But, if we extend the time frame to six years and spread out the data cycles, the SSD failed more often.
Conversely, the lack of moving parts means dropping or banging an SSD is less likely to damage the data as opposed to an HDD where the read/write head/needle physically writes to the disc and is therefore prone to scratching it causing irreparable damage. But in a head to head battle against time, an SSD is more likely to encounter component level errors and failures.
When An SSD Fails, It Does So Catastrophically
As mentioned above, SSDs handle data better than HDDs, but when it comes to the nature of failures, SSDs do so more dramatically. When an SSD fails, it does so catastrophically with a total loss of data as the defining result in most cases. Put differently, an SSD fails less often than an HDD, but when it does, it doesn’t mess around.
Similarly, if a brand new SSD is coughing up errors, then the likelihood of these problems snowballing into a total failure is much higher than an HDD with a few scratches. Luckily, these warning signs are prompts to replace the SSD or make a warranty claim so pay heed if your SSD is behaving oddly.
Longevity Is Relative
Most studies into SSD/HDD longevity are based on stress testing drives with nonstop read/write cycling that is well beyond the demands of the average user. Doing so means that time frames are sped up considerably compared to using a PC at home.
The nuance is important because, in the majority of cases (barring an innate hardware issue that was present when the unit was shipped), obsolescence will always trump reliability when sentencing a drive to the electronics graveyard. Put in simple terms, the chances of the whole system being replaced before the SSD fails are much higher than the other way around. This fact is reassuring for the majority of us who subject our SDDs to moderate use.
In the same vein, write limits emblazoned on SSD packaging are overly cautious and represent the statistically unlikely worst-case scenario. For most users, those limits will never be attained through regular use and as such aren’t necessarily a good indicator of reliability.
Personal usage habits will also have a very different effect on an SSD’s longevity. A video editor accustomed to writing and reading massive clusters of video daily will wear out an SSD faster than the average gamer who installs the odd new game once a month.
Not All SSDs Are Created Equally
As with any computer component, price and manufacture have a significant influence on the quality, and by extension, the longevity of the product. Opt for a low-cost SSD from an unknown company rather than a more expensive model from an established hard drive manufacturer, and you are opening the door to questionable reliability.
Furthermore, even opting for the priciest SSD in the hope of securing better components doesn’t guarantee reliability as any SSD leaving a factory has the potential to be a dud. The nature of data storage with its numerous variables is complicated, and as consumers, we need to be acutely conscious of the potential for unexpected problems when it comes to our precious data.
Back-Up Your Data
Regardless of whether you favor HDDs or SDDs no data storage solution is immune to failures and errors. These are part and parcel of storing what is in its most basic form vast amounts of binary code. Backing up critical data is the soundest way to safeguard your precious family photos or long-time projects. Good backup habits are pretty much on par with having updated antivirus software running at all times and responsible web browsing etiquette.
If lost data isn’t a deterrent enough, in the unlikely event that the information on a failed SSD is recoverable, the cost of doing so is expensive compared to similar services for HDDs.
The Final Word
For the average user with good backup habits, SSDs are slightly ahead of HDDs whether we consider writing limits, speeds, or longevity. That isn’t to say SSDs aren’t immune to failures, but instead, they are better geared towards the typical PC user.
The comparative price of an SSD to an HDD remains high and can be prohibitive. If a budget limits your buying power, then a trusty HDD isn’t a bad call especially if lower speeds aren’t too much of a concern or you want to complement an existing SSD with storage for media files that are rarely accessed.
The UK-based journalist and gamer, Thomas, describes himself as a man of few words with an unhealthy obsession for everything wonderful about the world of gaming. Thanks to his experience in the gaming industry, he brings a wealth of talent into GamingScan.