Can Data Be Recovered From A Failed SSD?

oczssdthumb   Can Data Be Recovered From A Failed SSD?When they originally began to hit the market, solid state drives were hailed for both speed and reliability. Many users assumed that because an SSD has no mechanical parts it is at less risk to fail. It’s simple logic that is correct more often than wrong – if there are fewer parts to break overall reliability will be better.

In this case, however, that logic is not always correct. An in-depth article at Tom’s Hardware suggests that solid state drives and mechanical drives are equally reliable for at least their first few years of use and another study by a French retailer suggests that the two are equally reliable.

Whatever the statistics, it’s clear that solid state drives can and do fail. So how do they fail and what can you do to recover data afterwards?

How SSD Drives Fail

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Solid state drives don’t have to worry about mechanical components wearing down over time. They still have to worry about electronic components going bad, however. Capacitors go kaput, the power supply could decide to up and die or the controller chip could kick the bucket.

There is a common perception that hard drives tend to fail quickly if they are going to fail at all, but I haven’t been able to find any studies that back up that conclusion. The information available shows that drives wear linearly. Young drives are much less likely to fail than older drives.

Some mention is made from time to time about the number of read/write cycles flash memory can handle. It’s true that flash memory does eventually wear out but the endurance available is more than sufficient for consumer use. A typical solid state drive will be able to last for over a decade even if you write 100 gigabytes of data per day.

There’s no silver bullet that kills drives nor is there any magic potion that will protect them. As SSD drives age, electronic components wear and eventually fail. It’s as simple as that.

Recovering Data From A Failed SSD Drive

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An SSD often does not give much warning before it fails. Electronic components don’t begin to grind or buzz as they grow older. They work – and then they don’t.

When an SSD suddenly goes silent, it’s bad news. The problem is that solid state drives are new and recovering data from them is not like recovering data from a disc drive. Gillware, a storage recovery company, published a report stating that “solid-state technology represents an entirely new set of engineering problems to research teams at data recovery organizations”.

If a solid state drive fails there’s not much that you, the consumer, can do to recover it. Your first step would be to use decent data recovery software such as OnTrack EasyRecovery or Wondershare Data Recovery, but neither option is free.

The prognosis is worse for drives that use TRIM, which is commonly considered a must-have for consumer hard drives. TRIM works to keep the data on your SSD organized so that it can be easily and quickly access, but the downside is that TRIM aggressively deletes files in the process.

If you are unable to recover data yourself you will need to rely on a data recovery service like Drive Savers. This won’t be cheap, so if the data on the drive is not absolutely essential you’ll want to skip it. If you do need the data I suggest you first call the hard drive manufacturer’s customer service line. They may be able to refer you to a specific company they work with.

Preemptive Measures

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The truth is that recovery of data on a hard drive that has failed is difficult and expensive. The steps you took before the drive failed are more effective than the steps you take after.

One tool commonly used to detect drives that might fail is S.M.A.R.T, a self-monitoring system that looks for drive faults.  A Google study concluded that “SMART parameters alone are unlikely to be useful for predicting individual drive failures.” While drives that reported a fault were much more likely to fail than those which didn’t, many drives failed without reporting a fault.

Since you can’t predict when a drive will fail you should treat your solid state drive as if it could fail tomorrow (because, well, it could). Back up data early and often. I suggest reading our article about the best backup solutions for more information.

Conclusion

SSD drives don’t appear to be much more reliable than mechanical hard drives (for their first few years of life, at least) and they also are difficult and expensive to recover data from. Does this scare you away from SSDs, or do you feel that an aggressive backup schedule is enough to mitigate your risk? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: Half Empty, Brian Matis

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53 Comments -

0 votes

AriesWarlock

I didn’t know that. Guess I’ll be sticking with good old optic HDD.

0 votes

RAFY

Article is great; just what I concluded in my research. SSD good for OS and speed but keep data on standard HDD for now. There also more susceptible to electromagnetic that the platter version and you can always swap a board on the mechanical one.

0 votes
0 votes

Hafis

Prevention is better than cure, So I backs up my data every time..

0 votes

musicphann

Agreed. Everything fails eventually. Always have backups.

0 votes

Hal

Backup, backup, backup!!! Nothing beats taking care of the basics. And at least one backup offsite. This is a no-brainer.

0 votes

Cheryl Safonov

Can’t agree with you more! I usually backup my files every week!

0 votes

Robert Russell

Given this revaltion, I think I will wait to buy an SSD external. By the time we know more about their ability to survive, the prices will be out of the stratosphere.

0 votes

Tim Cooling

Simple, use disk imaging software such as Acronis or Ghost or Macrium. Some of the more recent versions of these offer a continuous backup option. Even though physical hard drives have been high in price lately, if you can afford a decent SSD, you can afford $40 for the software and $99 for the backup drive. Just make sure you test your backup often. I recently put a small SSD in my aging Dell desktop and it provided a nice speed increase, so an SSD can be really worth it.

0 votes

c0alition

@AriesWarlock: So your good old optic HDD eh?

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Jon Green

Better still, treat your hard drive as a local cache, and use a service like Dropbox, Google Drive or similar to ensure that your key data’s backed up in real time to the cloud – with a revision history so that that accidental delete (or drive-induced corruption) can be reversed. Oh, and pay for the service, to get the extra capacity and history depth. It’s a cheap “insurance policy” I’ve claimed on quite a few times. (And they haven’t pulled my no-claims bonus yet!)

That way, when your drive goes kaput (as Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO says: “Everything fails, all the time!”), you put it through the industrial grinder to destroy any personal information, stick in a new one, reload the OS and your backup tool, reload your data, and you’re good to go.

(Top tip: do a full backup of your DropBox/GDrive/… each week onto local storage, such as a 64GB USB3 key – now available at around £25/US$33 plus shipping and tax – to save download costs and time, so you only update the most recent changes over broadband.)

0 votes

RAFY

Pubic cloud sucks if you implement your private version I will agree…. If their servers are seized as it happened with some popular file sharing sites.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/technology/indictment-charges-megaupload-site-with-piracy.html

In addition your data is at their location but I wont go in depth it looks like u know what your doing. Good feedback but the solution is to prevent (backup) or use SSD for OS and old mechanical HDD for data since we already know the history of this drives.

0 votes

Saikat Basu

Well, Dropbox, Skydrive, and Google have better reputations than Megaupload.

0 votes

Saikat Basu

Good advice Jon. With cloud options available (and free to a certain extent), don’t see why can’t we take advantage of them. And keep critical data close by on a high-capacity pen drive.

0 votes

Muhammad Ahmad

Always prepare for it because there is no guarantee of electronic components they become useless at any time.

0 votes

RAFY

right on the money

0 votes

RichardH

I think for laptops or devices that required moving around a lot is safer with SSD than the HDD.

0 votes

Souheil

I use my SSD as the main drive (which also contains the apps, games etc).
My personal documents are either on external usb/lan storage or on a secure location if my house burns down, i’m profiting from both security and high performance.

0 votes

Shaun Powell

I have a Seagate external usb drive attached to my computer, which takes an automatic real-time backup of the primary SSD drive, so should the event of a cataclysmic (like that word) failure ever occur, I have an up to date image to recover from.

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David

I had a 480GB SSD drive fail. It crashed HARD and all the data was lost. Drive Savers in California had it for about a month and could recover nothing. It cost me nothing since they only charge for recovered data. The warranty replaced the drive and I would go back to a spinning drive. The whole thing taught me to backup more often.

0 votes

David

I wouldn’t go back to a spinning drive.

0 votes

Mike

Regarding ” There is a common perception that hard drives tend to fail quickly if they are going to fail at all, but I haven’t been able to find any studies that back up that conclusion.”

How about 27 years of experience? I’ve found that hard drives, in fact, die within 48 hours or after 5 years with no physical abuse. Mind you there has been the rare exception, of course!

Cheers

0 votes

Custer

Flock?

0 votes

J Carter

I’ve installed SSD in both my MacBook Pro and my iMac. Both are working just fine. I have had to re-install the OS in the iMac once when things started going downhill speed-wise, but it was only an update procedure from the install DVD as opposed to a complete re-install and nothing was lost.

For those who are concerned about recovering data from a failed drive, the best and least expensive solution is to ALWAYS keep a current backup of EVERYTHING on the internal drive to an external drive. Don’t even try to recover the data on the failed drive – just rebuild a new drive from the backup.

0 votes

Matt Smith

This man speaks the truth. If you’re not running an external or cloud backup you’re asking for trouble, no matter what kind of drive you use as your primary.

0 votes

Dennis Arter

I am surprised that you did not mention Steve Gibson’s “Spin-Rite”, a drive maintenance and recovery utility available for $90 US at grc.com. Although the program is best known for recovering spinning platter devices, it works quite well on solid state devices. I use the program in a preventive mode, to eliminate the need for recovery. Twice I year, I do a level 2 scan of all my drives. Spin-Rite will find precursors to failure and fix them on the fly. (No, I do not work for GRC, but I do listen to Steve’s “Security Now” weekly podcast on a regular basis.)

0 votes

Catherine McCrum

Interesting! My hubby has been pushing me to get an SSD on the basis that they were both faster and more stable. Yes they are faster but from what you say they may not be any more stable and are certainly more costly to recover data from in a failure. What I see as desirable is the speed benefits and your suggestion to load with operating system and programs and current work in progress type files makes perfect sense. Having a larger HDD for completed or less used data is smart as well. Thanks for the advice.

0 votes

Denis Paley

I use a small SSD(60 GB) for my OS and have a larger HDD for Data storage and OS backup. I move My Documents, My Pictures,My Music and My Video folders over to one of my larger HDD’s and store everything on them.
I backup my data HDD drive daily to an external HDD and my OS get backed up to that drive weekly. My OS is also backed up to my internal HDD I also use cloud storage for a number of Folders that have my most important information in them.
This seems to work for me. The speed of an SSD for my OS and HDD for eveything else.

0 votes

druv vb

Spin hard drives are okay for me for the time being.
In a couple of years, will see if they are a real importance to me, for media editing, games, and internet surf.
My 6 year 320GB Hitachi and 2 yr 1TB Samsung are still going strong.
And as always BACKUP, before you get a power cut and loose everything…

0 votes

Fayz

Drive failures are bound to happen. That’s why I find backing up everything from time-to-time very useful, no matter how big the back up is.

0 votes

Jesse Clark

Thanks for referencing our white paper on the difficulty SSDs pose to the data recovery industry. In related news, we can now recover data from Intel SSDs (320 Series) with the 8mb bug. Here’s a snippet from the blog posting:

Gillware Data Recovery now has the ability to recover data from Intel solid state (SSD) drives that are presenting BAD_CTX errors or the 8MB bug. Without the use of this new recovery tool, data on drives such as Intel’s 320 series would be unrecoverable due to their design characteristics and built in encryption.

More info here: http://gillware.com/blog/data-recovery-case/solid-state-data-recovery-possible-with-intel-ssd-320-series-8mb-bug-bad_ctx-error

Hopefully this will help any readers that are experiencing this bug.

0 votes

Matt Smith

I’d heard about that bug, though I was not aware it was so wide-spread that your company saw value in researching a way to recover data from impacted drives. Thanks for letting us know.

0 votes

Jesse Clark

Thanks for the reply Matt. Being able to address the 8MB bug and bad context errors in the Intel 320 Series SSDs is an important part of our work in recovering data from a broad spectrum of solid-state storage devices.To stay in front of the data recovery industry, we’re always working to address obstacles like this. From rarely used file systems and encryption to SSDs and multi-drive RAIDs, it’s always an adventure.

0 votes

NE

Hi Jesse, i was so glad when i found that there were some hope for my recovering my Intel 320 drive that was affected by the 8Mb bug, but the page you are referring to is dead and i cant find any related info on the Gillware website, did it not work properly.

0 votes

Achraf Almouloudi

Cloud storage is the thing .

0 votes

dragonmouth

Just ask yourself “If cloud is the thing, why doesn’t the NSA, FBI or CIA store their data in/on the cloud????” When those institutions deem “the cloud” to be safe and secure enough to use it, then the cloud will become “the thing.”

Storing data on the cloud is like storing your money in a lock boxed outside your front door.

0 votes

Matt Smith

Kinda, but it really doesn’t offer enough space (at reasonable prices) for many users.

0 votes

Oliver

Including SSD prices, it’s data recovery charges and many other force us to stay from being using it. But it will become the first chaoice for user like me who wants to make their computer sky rocketing, fun loving and free from common hard drive problems arise due to failed physical hard drive equipments which SSD have don’t suffer to (in starting, at least).

0 votes

Bryan

If you feel like you can’t be bothered to keep backing up your hard drive all the time, you could set-up something called a RAID1 or “mirror” array. While a RAID can be tricky to set up, it backs up all of your data instantaneously, dynamically, and without any use of system resources.

A “RAID array” is a special combination of two hard drives that your computer sees as one. There are two major types of RAID arrays: “RAID 0″ (or a “striped” array) or “RAID1″ (or a “mirror array).

RAID1 is also called a “mirror” array because the first drive “mirrors” all of its data onto the second drive. Should one of your drives fail due to a hardware problem, the other drive will still retain all of its data and will be fully functional. The best part: you don’t even have to undo your RAID array!

To set up a RAID1 array, you will need two hard drives. While you can use any hard drives in your RAID1 array, the process works best if you use HDDs that are the same size and same speed.

Once you have both your hard drives, you will need to configure your RAID1 array in your computer’s BIOS. This is the tricky part, as BIOS is very confusing for people who aren’t computer-savvy. You can always take your computer to a place like Best Buy’s Geek Squad and they should be able to set it up for you, though.

Of course, there are always external drives you can buy that are already RAID1 configured, such as Western Digital’s My Book Live Duo.

0 votes

Matt Smith

RAID1 is fine but I would not encourage anyone to use it as their only backup solution. It can protect you against drive failure but it can’t protect you from larger issues that might impact your computer as a whole. Theft is also still an issue. This is why I generally recommend the use of an external or cloud backup for your most important data.

0 votes

Nemanja

I thought we were talking about trusting the reliability of SSD’s and what to do to mitigate the risks of failure, not computer faults/theft and backup? Same applies to ‘regular’ hard drives.
I fully agree with Bryan and RAID 1 approach.

Cheers

0 votes

Hugo Ch

Need more info about this, i gave several devices, backup so far the best option

0 votes

Neo Max

If you’re not running an external or cloud backup you’re asking for trouble

0 votes

Hoku Sarroca

new to this SSD and HDD lingo… does SSD = tablets, what is HDD??

0 votes

Matt Smith

SSD stands for solid state drive. This kind of storage does not use moving parts and instead uses memory chips. It can be found in any computer, tablet, or phone.

HDD stands for hard disk drive, which is used to refer to older mechanical storage drives that used rotating discs to storage data.

Hope that clears this up.

0 votes

Hoku Sarroca

ahhh ok Thank you!

0 votes

Rocking Rameez

still need to have more technology in ssd…till then im going to use hdd

0 votes

Gian Singh

makes you more cautious

0 votes

Kevin

I do not have an SSD, but I subscribe to a popular internet based back up service that works in the background whenever I am online. I use my computer extensively in my everyday work and if I were unable to recover the data lost in a disk failure it would be catastrophic, hence the online back up service. If your data is irreplaceable and important it really doesn’t matter what type of drive you have, they all will fail. Backup, backup and finally backup.

0 votes

Nikhil Chandak

thanks for the article

0 votes

Jon Gude

In February/March of this year, 2012, I put together 2 PCs from components and installed Windows 7 as the Operating system on both. They are identical except for the amount of RAM and the motherboard/processor combinations. That way the contents on the hard drives in these two PCs’ can easily be backed up to each other. Both PCs also has a 60GB solid state drive where the operating system is installed.
On Dec 1 the PC that has been used a lot every day of the week would not start. It soon became evident that it was as if the solid state drive holding the operating system did not exist. The connecting cable was replaced and connected to another motherboard port but that did not help any. On the evening of the day that the problem was diagnosed, I happened to see an article headed “High heat helps ‘heal’ flash memory chips” at this web address: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-20579077. The first few paragraphs grabbed my attention:
->Flash memory is widely used in computers and electronic gadgets because it is fast and remembers data written to it even when unpowered.
However, flash memory reliability suffers significantly after about 10,000 write and read cycles.
Using heat, the researchers have found a way to “heal” flash memory materials to make them last 100 million cycles.
Heat has long been known to help heal degraded materials in old flash memory. But because the heat healing process meant baking the memory chip in an oven at 250C for hours, few saw it as a practical solution.<-
The drive that failed must have experienced more than 10,000 write and read cycles. When the article was noticed and read the solid state drive had already been removed from the PC and Windows 7 had been installed on one of the two partitions of a regular hard drive. The last of these 3 paragraphs suggested putting the solid state drive in the oven. The mounting hardware which had some plastic parts was removed and the little box holding the electronics was placed in the kitchen oven at about 250F, not Celsius degrees as the article suggested, for 4 hours. It was not possible to determine if there was any plastic inside this box so the temperature was kept well below 250C. Plan B was to increase the temperature in the oven.
Much to my surprise, the PC recognized the solid state drive again and the PC could be booted from it. It remains to be seen if it lasts another 10 months. The 100 million write and read cycles in the article referred to memory with a built-in heater. Maybe the solid state drives from both PCs should be taken out every half year and baked for a few hours.
Every disk manufacturer sells these solid state disk drives. It may be that the one that failed did so sooner than most but they can hardly be trusted without a significantly longer useful life.

0 votes

claire

Backup your SSD to another in the event of SSD failure.
http://www.aomeitech.com/features/disk-backup.html

0 votes

Mark Weiss

I have had two OCZ Vertex drives fail in a row, both lasting under 4 hours. My third SSD drive was an Intel X25 which, almost a year running, is still working.