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Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer durability, speed and low power consumption, compared to “mechanical” hard drives. But if not properly configured, you can destroy your drive. Dead SSDs just require a bit of laziness.
SSDs can absorb a limited number of “writes” (information transferred) – a small amount of wear and tear occurs with each bit of data written to an SSD. The more writes, the more destabilized the drive. Ignore myths about SSD fragility, though. Tech Report found that most modern SSDs offer an absurd amount of durability – drives could absorb over a petabyte of writes before dying.
Even so, users should avoid certain configuration options – such as hibernation and hybrid-sleep. Many SSD warranties cover either “total writes” or 2-5 years — whichever happens first. Furthermore, upgrading the SSD’s firmware (its internal software) is highly recommended.
Mean Time Between Failures, Warranty & SSDs Explained
Many don’t know that SSDs, unlike regular hard drives, can sustain a limited number of writes before breaking. So SSDs die a little every time a document, video or other file transfers onto it. Many manufacturers void the warranty after three-years or double-digit terabytes of writes. This comes out to about 15-20 gigabytes of writes per day – a huge amount of data being transferred.
Manufacturers use a reliability estimate known as “Mean Time Between Failures” (MTBF). While not a hardcore indicator of a drive’s longevity, the figure gives an approximate estimate for when failure might occur. The MTBF oftentimes exceeds the warranty period by a substantial amount of time.
Approximately three kinds of flash memory (or NAND) are used in modern solid state drives. Each offers varying degrees of longevity.
- Triple-Cell NAND (TLC): TLC memory – manufactured primarily by Samsung, offers the lowest write durability out of all Solid State Drives.
- Multi-Cell NAND (MLC): MLC memory offers a mid-ground between TLC and SLC.
- Single-Cell NAND (SLC): SLC memory offers the highest amount of durability, but the outrageous cost limits it to enterprise-class products.
- Other Kinds of memory: Samsung recently released a variation on TLC tech: V-NAND cells, which – to date – offer the largest technological improvement in flash memory. These provide 50% lower power consumption and up to 10-times the endurance.
For consumers, MLC NAND drives — in theory — last the longest. However, Samsung’s TLC drives tend to last as long — if not longer — than many MLC drives from other manufacturers. Note though, that TLC drives will experience a performance drop-off as its internal NAND cells fail.
Hibernate, Hybrid-Sleep & Lots Of RAM
Whenever the Windows operating system goes to “sleep”, it writes the contents of its RAM to a massive file (hiberfil.sys) and then shuts off power to RAM, conserving energy. Windows does this because RAM requires a continuous power supply, otherwise it loses its data. That’s where the problem originates.
On systems with 8 or more gigabytes of RAM, the constant writing to the hibernate file may prove dangerous. The hibernate file’s size equals (in Windows Vista) the amount of system RAM. In Windows 7 and 8, the default size is 75% of system RAM (it uses compression to achieve this). Whenever the system hibernates or enters hybrid-sleep, the operating system writes the same amount to the SSD. On systems with large amounts of RAM, this can equate to a tremendous number of writes. Also keep in mind that laptops disable hibernate and hybrid-sleep by default.
A PC with 32GB of RAM, if hibernated 4 times a day, writes up to 46.7 terabytes per year in hibernate file writes alone. This voids many manufacturer warranties, if they place a cap on “host-writes” (which differs from NAND writes, due to a factor known as “write amplification“).
There’s a number of workarounds, including adding a second drive and moving the page file to it. The easiest method: Disable hibernate and hybrid-sleep in Windows 7 and 8. Additionally, you may want to free up drive space by deleting the hibernate file. Note, though, that deleting the hibernate file also disables hibernate and hybrid-sleep.
Turn off Hibernate & Hybrid-Sleep
Keep in mind that disabling hibernate/hybrid-sleep will also switch off Fast Startup. To turn it off, simply navigate to Change power-saving settings. I use Windows Search to locate the correct menu.
On your current power plan, select Change settings.
Choose “Change advanced power settings“.
Go to Advanced Settings. Scroll down to Sleep, expand the option by clicking on the “+” icon and change Hibernate after to “Never”. Then switch off Hybrid-Sleep.
Now your system will no longer write to its hibernate file.
You can also install a patch from Microsoft.
On the Downside: Disabling the Windows hibernate feature can cause slower start-up times.
Delete Hibernate File
Readers should note that turning off hibernate won’t remove the massive hibernate file (hiberfil.sys), which equals the amount of system RAM. On smaller drives, you may wish to remove this file, as it will serve no further purpose with hibernate disabled.
Deleting the hibernate file requires working from the command line (15 CMD lines you should learn). It also requires administrative rights. To delete the file in Windows, simply open an elevated command prompt. I use the following method:
Type “CMD” (without quotation marks) into the Windows search bar.
Right-click on “command” and launch with administrative rights, from the context window.
Type the following into the command prompt:
powercfg –h off
This erases the hiberfil.sys file – in my case, this step freed up 16GB of RAM. Most users’ hibernate file is actually only 75% (which is the default) of system memory. I’m not sure why my file equaled the entire amount of system memory.
On the Downside: Deleting your hibernate file will remove the option to re-enable hibernate. You can turn hibernate back on with the following command in an elevated command prompt:
powercfg -h on
Alternative: Cut Your Hibernate File In Half
There’s an alternative to deleting the hiberfil.sys file or turning off hibernate and hybrid sleep. Users can use an elevated command prompt to cut their hibernate file by 50%, or less. First, temporarily disengage the hibernate file through the following command:
powercfg /h off
Then reboot. The command to cut hiberfil.sys in half is as follows:
powercfg /h /size 50
This will cut the hibernate file in half. For systems with 4-6GB of RAM, which rely on hibernate, this significantly reduces wear and tear on the SSD.
Upgrade the Firmware
Manufacturers push out firmware updates to SSDs, which require a manual install. An exception to this rule is Samsung’s Magician software and Intel’s Toolbox, which offer automatic firmware updates.
A sure sign that you own a poor quality SSD: There’s no method of updating the drive’s firmware. All the higher quality drives offer at least some method of updating the firmware. The best will offer so-called “toolkits”, which can manually activate TRIM (what’s TRIM?) or adjust the settings of your drive for better reliability.
- Samsung Magician: The Magician software offers the largest number of tweaks. Samsung includes profiles, which allow users to – with a few mouse-clicks – optimize their drives for different kinds of usage. For example, users favoring reliability over performance can automatically disable hibernate. It’s not available outside of Windows.
- Intel SSD Toolbox: Intel’s Toolbox can perform a few manual optimizations, as well as upgrade the drive’s firmware.
- OCZ Toolbox: OCZ’s Toolbox– a distant third to Samsung’s Magician software – offers basic firmware updates, manual TRIM and a method for securely erasing the drive. It works in Linux and Macintosh. OCZ also offers a bootable disk.
On the Downside: Some manufacturers warn that upgrading the firmware can cause data-loss. Failed firmware updates can even destroy the drive itself.
Change Size or Location of the Page File
Page files (or swap file) function as auxiliaries to RAM. Whenever the computer uses more RAM than is available, the operating system begins reading and writing to virtual memory, stored on a hard drive. If you use an SSD, this results in greater write wear. Some systems include a second, mechanical hard drive. These users can move their page file, so that their SSD receives fewer writes.
I won’t get into changing the size, or disabling, of your page file (leaving the defaults is normally the best option). But the setting is located under Advanced system settings.
Here’s the instructions for moving your page file onto another disk:
On the Downside: I don’t recommend changing the location of your page file. Mechanical hard drives read and write slower than SSDs — which can translate into slower system performance when your computer requires access to the page file.
Also, systems with large amounts of RAM don’t require usage of the page file very often. So it won’t prevent all that many writes to the SSD.
SSDs Are Equally Reliable As HDDs
If reliability concerns prevent you from adopting SSD technology, don’t worry. Just disable your system’s hibernate functionality. While lacking the ability to hibernate a computer may cause slower start-up times, it will improve SSDs reliability.
How do you use your SSD and how long do you expect it to last?