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
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
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.
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.
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.