What Happens When Your SSD Fails?

When your hard drive dies we all know what happens. You go to turn on your machine one day and your OS doesn't boot, or your drive stops getting detected. But with SSDs their lifespan is far more predictable, so what does happen as they near the end of their life? A well designed SSD will have a good enough wear leveling algorithm to make sure that all blocks in the device get equal usage, so that when they fail, they do so at the same time.

Intel's SSDs are designed so that when they fail, they attempt to fail on the next erase - so you don't lose data. If the drive can't fail on the next erase, it'll fail on the next program - again, so you don't lose existing data. You'll try and save a file and you'll get an error from the OS saying that the write couldn't be completed.

The beauty here is that the SSD knows exactly when it can't erase/program a block, and if the drive knows, then you can use software to ask the drive what it knows. In the near future Intel will be releasing its own SSD tool that will let you query two SMART attributes on the drive: one telling you how close you are to the rated cycling limit, and one telling you when you've run out of reallocating blocks. The latter is the most important because Intel fully expects these drives to outlast their rated limits. As bad blocks develop, the SSD will mark them as such and write to new ones - by telling you when it has run out of bad blocks (or nearly run out of bad blocks), you'll know exactly when you need a new hard drive.

This is hugely important. While Intel's SSDs aren't exactly cheap, the beauty of flash is that it follows the same Moore's Law that CPUs do. In the next ~18 months you'll be able to get a 160GB drive for the price of the 80GB, in another couple of years we'll be at 320GB for the same price (most likely lower as SSD demands increase). Within the next five years we'll be in a situation where the fans in your system are more likely to fail than your hard drive, and if your drive does happen to fail it'll tell you well in advance. How nice of it.

How Long Will Intel's SSDs Last? The Generic SSD
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  • npp - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    I first sought the review of the drive on techreport today, and it was jawdropping - 230 Mb/s sustained read, 70 Mb/s write, 0,08 s access time... And all those unbelievable IOPS figures in the iometer test. The review here confirms all I've read, and it's amazing. Now I can see why SATA 3 is on the way - saturating a SATA 2 channel may become a real issue soon.

    The only field where the drive "fails" is write performance - and now I can imagine what the SLC version will be able to deliver. I guess it will be the fastest single drive around.

    I really liked the comment about Nehalem - sure, one of those SSD beasts will make much more of a difference compared to a $1k Bloomfield. Nice!
    Reply
  • vijay333 - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    lots of good info...thanks.

    in for one as soon as they bump up capacity and reduce price...not asking for much i think :)
    Reply
  • wien - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    Excellent review, and a good read throughout. I especially enjoyed the way you guided us through your thought-process when looking into the latency issue. I love fiddling around trying to figure stuff out, so that part made me envious of your job. :) Reply
  • darckhart - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    i don't know the technical differences, but i've run into so many problems with the jmicron controllers on the recent motherboards these days that i can't understand why anyone would choose to use jmicron for *any* of their products. surely the cost isn't *that* much lower than the competition? Reply
  • leexgx - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    i thought there an problem with SSD + intel chip sets makeing poor performace wish SSD,
    as an intel chip set was used have you tryed doing some tests on an nvidia board or AMD
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    There was until the March 2008 driver updates from Intel. Performance is basically on-par between the three platforms now with Standard IDE and AHCI configurations, still testing RAID. Reply
  • michal1980 - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    IMHO, the price drop will be even more brutal then you think.

    in a year, prices should be, 1/2 and capacity double. so about 300 dollars for a 160gb. Flash memories growth rate right now is amazing.
    Reply
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  • leexgx - Thursday, January 22, 2009 - link

    we need the review of the new V2

    http://www.dailytech.com/Exclusive+Interview+With+...">http://www.dailytech.com/Exclusive+Inte...on+on+SS...
    Reply
  • ksherman - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    And then if they can keep that price, but double capacity again two years from now, a $300 320GB SSD would be exactly what I am looking forward to for my next laptop! Reply

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