SSD hard drives: a small revolution in the digital storage sector

The appearance of SSD hard drives was a small revolution in the computing microcosm, as they brought numerous improvements compared to mechanical hard drives that use rotation and electromagnetic technology to store data.

Three SSD hard drives ready for comparison

Are SSD hard drives faster?

Throughout the past decade, we have noticed a rapid acceleration in the speeds of the different parts that make up the personal computer, both desktop and laptops. The processor, the RAM, as well as the graphics card have also gained speed, but throughout many years, the principal storage device, the hard drive, has seen a stagnation on a technological standpoint.

With an average speed of 7,200 revolutions per minute for a magnetic hard drive, the latency period is roughly four milliseconds, dropping the performance of the other components. For laptop computers, this performance is especially weak, as the reduced space generally limits the speed of the hard drive to 5,400 revolutions per minute. The arrival of the SSD drive revolutionised this aspect because this new technology allowed for the access time to achieve 0.1 milliseconds, due to the absence of mechanical movement.

What are the main advantages of SSDs over HDDs?

Thanks to flash memory, what we find in mobile phones, tablets, SD cards, USB sticks, and even all Apple laptops, have successfully improved their performance in comparison to electromagnetic hard drives.

In addition, to the considerable gain in transfer speed which can attain 500 Mb/s on the SATA III interface, the physical nature of the SSD hard drive guarantees an enhanced strength compared to the traditional hard drive. The plates made of glass and scanned by a reader head are quite fragile, while the SSD hard drive does not actually have a drive, but rather has flash chips. In fact, the SSD is the most resistant to potential shocks and to vibrations while still having the advantage of being completely silent.

For an office computer or a laptop, the SSD hard drive maintains the same performance. It requires less space, which is why it is possible today to develop particularly thin ultrabooks that weigh very little, perfect for professionals and individuals.

Lifespan of the SSD drive

While the lifespan of a magnetic hard drive is linked to the shocks and the vibrations that it incurs, and therefore, contribute to errors, the SSD hard drive offers a lifespan limited by nature. In fact, each cell has a limited number of writing-erase cycles.

For an MLC (Multi Level Cell) SSD hard drive, which means that each cell can support several bits (information units), the cycle oscillates between 5,000 and 10,000. This technology is used by the large majority of commercialised models, it promises a span that largely surpasses five years. The modern operating systems, Windows 10, Linux 4.13.2, etc., improve the life span, thanks to an optimisation of data redistribution written on the storage unit.

The SLC (Single Level Cell) SSD hard drive has cells that only support one bit. This type of storage, while more expensive, is suited for very high-end computers and to servers that require the velocity of SSDs. With a capacity of 100,000 write-erase cycles per cell, the theoretical life span is longer than the MLC drive, exceeding 10 years. Some testers even predict 20 years, which is more than laudable.

Reliability of SSD hard drives

Just as USB sticks and memory cards have had their rough starts, the hard drive had also experienced some initial blunders, bugs, and failures with some manufacturers. Now, however, the technology has matured and is able to offer even higher storage capacities.

The majority of MLC drives can easily live past 10 years, according to previous tests, and the evolution of file management systems within operating systems are improving the reliability of hard drives.

When deciding on an SSD hard drive, the reputation of the brand is a factor to consider, because in addition to the drive itself, the firmware – the small internal software that operates it – is primordial. Today, an SSD breakdown is more often than not linked to a faulty firmware than to its being at the end of its cycle. Tests on specialised and independent sites are vital before making your purchase.

Repairing an SSD hard drive: advice

To guarantee optimal life span of an SSD hard drive, many users combine it with an HDD hard drive. In other words, the system and software are found on the SSD, while the data is stored on an HDD, optimising the write-erase cycle.

In the case of an SSD hard drive failure, the first thing to do is to plug it in as a secondary unit to see if it is detected by BIOS and by the system. If it is detected, the startup files could have been damaged and it is necessary to do a system restoration or a complete re-installation if no backup had been done beforehand (which we  strongly advise against).

If the read or write speed drops significantly during SSD usage, the firmware is often the culprit. Check for updates and perform them if necessary.

If the hard drive is out of service, recovery must be handled more delicately than on classic hard drives. Before anything else, try to recover your data using TestDisk  or Ontrack EasyRecovery. If the process fails then professional data recovery is required because the recovery would require advanced manipulations.


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