A Wear Leveling Refresher: How Long Will My SSD Last?

As if everything I’ve talked about thus far wasn’t enough to deal with, there’s one more major issue that directly impacts the performance of these drives: wear leveling.

Each MLC NAND cell can be erased ~10,000 times before it stops reliably holding charge. You can switch to SLC flash and up that figure to 100,000, but your cost just went up 2x. For these drives to succeed in the consumer space and do it quickly, it must be using MLC flash.


SLC (left) vs. MLC (right) flash

Ten thousand erase/write cycles isn’t much, yet SSD makers are guaranteeing their drives for anywhere from 1 - 10 years. On top of that, SSD makers across the board are calling their drives more reliable than conventional hard drives.

The only way any of this is possible is by some clever algorithms and banking on the fact that desktop users don’t do a whole lot of writing to their drives.

Think about your primary hard drive. How often do you fill it to capacity, erase and start over again? Intel estimates that even if you wrote 20GB of data to your drive per day, its X25-M would be able to last you at least 5 years. Realistically, that’s a value far higher than you’ll use consistently.

My personal desktop saw about 100GB worth of writes (whether from the OS or elsewhere) to my SSD and my data drive over the past 14 days. That’s a bit over 7GB per day of writes. Let’s do some basic math:

  My SSD
NAND Flash Capacity 256 GB
Formatted Capacity in the OS 238.15 GB
Available Space After OS and Apps 185.55 GB
Spare Area 17.85 GB

 

If I never install another application and just go about my business, my drive has 203.4GB of space to spread out those 7GB of writes per day. That means in roughly 29 days my SSD, if it wear levels perfectly, I will have written to every single available flash block on my drive. Tack on another 7 days if the drive is smart enough to move my static data around to wear level even more properly. So we’re at approximately 36 days before I exhaust one out of my ~10,000 write cycles. Multiply that out and it would take 360,000 days of using my machine the way I have been for the past two weeks for all of my NAND to wear out; once again, assuming perfect wear leveling. That’s 986 years. Your NAND flash cells will actually lose their charge well before that time comes, in about 10 years.

This assumes a perfectly wear leveled drive, but as you can already guess - that’s not exactly possible.

Write amplification ensures that while my OS may be writing 7GB per day to my drive, the drive itself is writing more than 7GB to its flash. Remember, writing to a full block will require a read-modify-write. Worst case scenario, I go to write 4KB and my SSD controller has to read 512KB, modify 4KB, write 512KB and erase a whole block. While I should’ve only taken up one write cycle for 2048 MLC NAND flash cells, I will have instead knocked off a single write cycle for 262,144 cells.

You can optimize strictly for wear leveling, but that comes at the expense of performance.

Why SSDs Care About What You Write: Fragmentation & Write Combining Why Does My 80GB Drive Appear as 74.5GB? Understanding Spare Area
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  • paulgj - Saturday, October 09, 2010 - link

    Well I was curious about the flash in my Agility 60GB so I opened it up and noted a different Intel part number - mine consisted of 8 x 29F64G08CAMDB chips whereas the pic above shows the 29F64G08FAMCI. I wonder what the difference is?

    -Paul
    Reply
  • Bonesdad - Sunday, October 10, 2010 - link

    Been over a year since this article was published...still very relevant. Any plans to update it with the latest products/drivers/firmware? There have been some significant updates, and it would be good to at least have updated comparisons.

    Well done, more more more!
    Reply
  • hescominsoon - Thursday, February 17, 2011 - link

    Excellent article but you left out sandforce. I'm curious if this was an oversight or a purposeful moission. Reply
  • PHT - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    This article is fantastic, the best I ever read about SSD.
    Any follow up with new SATA III drives and new controllers like SandForce, new Indilinx etc.?
    I will be glad to see it.

    My Best
    Zygmunt
    Reply
  • lucasgonz - Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - link

    Hello everyone.
    This post is quite old but I hope someone can answer.
    I am concerned about the life of my ssd (sandisk extreme 240). I performed partitions ignoring the issue of the level of wear and partitions. I have it for one year ago with a 30gb partition and one with 200GB. I wanted to use large drive for data but I did not have time for that and just use the first 30gb partition . My question is if the ssd may be damaged by using only a little segment. DiskInfo shows 10tb reading 18 tb and writing.
    sorry my poor English.
    Thanks for any help.
    Reply
  • Ojaswin Singh - Monday, January 13, 2014 - link

    Hey,This is the most informative article i have ever read.Can You Please clear Out Some Of my Doubts:-
    1.Does Playing Video Games or Running Programs add to Writing on the SSD
    2.Is 1 Write Cycle=Filling 120GB of SSD once
    3.I really write on my HDD a lot(Seriusly a Lot) So how much life cycle can i expect from Samsung 840 SSD(Neither Pro nor EVO) I mean for how much time can i expect it to be writable
    Please Help me cause i want the speeds of SSD but i want it to last for me too
    Thanks,
    Ojaswin
    Reply

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