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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  • valnar - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

  • antinah - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    For another great article on the SSD technology.

    I'm considering an Intel G2 for my brand new macbook pro, and if I understand what I've read correctly, performance should not degrade too much although OSX doesn't support trim yet.

    I also doubt Apple will wait too long before they release an update with trim support for osx.

    I just recently switched to mac after a lifetime with pc/windows. Anything i shoud be aware of when I install the SSD in a mac compared to pc running windows? (other than voiding the warranty and such). I'm thinking precations regarding swap usage or such.

    Best regards from norway
  • medi01 - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    So I absolutelly need to pay 15 times as much per gigabyte as normal HDDs, so that when I start Photoshop, Firefox and WoW, straight after windows boots, it loads whopping 24 seconds faster?

    That's what one calls "absolutelly need" indeed and you also chose amazingly common combination of apps.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    You can look back at the other two major SSD pieces (X25-M Review and The SSD Anthology) for other examples of application launch performance improvements. The point is that all applications launch as fast as possible, regardless of the state of your machine. Whether you're just firing it up from start (which is a valid use scenario as many users do shut off their PCs entirely) or launching an application after your PC has been on for a while, the apps take the same amount of time to start. The same can't be said for a conventional hard drive.

    Take care,
  • Seramics - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    its not abt the 24seconds but rather the wholly different experience of near instantaneous u get wit ssd tht cannot be replicated by hdds
  • medi01 - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    Nobody starts mentioned apps together directly after boot.

    I've played WoW for a couple of years, and never had to wait dozen of seconds for it to start.

    Most well written applications start almost instantly.

    And the whole "after fresh boot" is not quite a valid option neither, I don't recall when I last switched off my pc, "hibernate" works just fine.

    The "you get completely different experience" MIGHT be a valid point, but it was destroyed by ridiculous choice of apps to start. And I suspect that it is because NOT starting stuff all together and right after boot, didn't show gap as big.
  • kunedog - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    Anand, I think your article titled "Intel Forces OCZ's Hand: Indilinx Drives To Drop in Price" (http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36...">http://www.anandtech.com/storage/showdoc.aspx?i=36... could also use a follow-up, primarily to explain why the opposite has happened (especially with the Intel drives). Is this *all* attributable to Intel's disaster of a product launch? Maybe not, but in any case it deserves more attention than a brief mention at the end of this article.
  • zero2espect - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    great work again. it's for this reason that i've been coming here for ages. great analysis, great writing and an understanding about what we're all looking for.

    one thing that you may have overlooked is the difference in user experience due to the lack of hdd "buzz". fortunate enough to find myself in posession of a couple of g2160gb jobbies, one is in my gaming rig and the other in the work notebook. using the notebook the single biggest difference is speed (it makes a 18mo old notebook seems like it performs as fast as a current generation desktop) but the next biggest and very noticible difference is the lack of "hum", "buz", "thrash" and "vibrate" as the drive goes about it's business.

    thanks anadtech and thanks intel ;-P
  • Mr Perfect - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link


    Would you happen to know if there are different revisions of the G2 drives out? Newegg is listing a 80GB Intel drive with model #SSDSA2MH080G2C1 for $499, and another 80GB Intel with model #SSDSA2MH080G2R5 for $599. They are both marked as 2.5" MLC Retail drives, and as far as I can tell they're both G2. What has a R5 got that a C1 doesn't? The updated firmware maybe?


    PS, dear Newegg, WTF? 100% plus price premiums? I'm thinking I'll just wait until stock returns and buy from another site just to spite you now....
  • gfody - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - link

    It looks like the R5 is just a different retail package - shiny box, nuts and a bracket instead of just the brown box.
    Why Newegg is charging an extra $100 for it.. just look at what they're doing with the other prices. I am losing so much respect for Newegg right now. disgusting!

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