Solid-state drives (SSDs) are much less failure-prone than regular hard drives. The series of flash memory chips used to store data in an SSD are not as susceptible to physical damage as the spinning disc used in a traditional hard drive. However, SSDs do fail occasionally. To understand why, one must first understand the inner workings of an SSD.
How an SSD Works
A solid-state drive consists of a grid of electrical cells used to send or receive data. These cells are organized into “pages”, and these pages are organized into “blocks”. It is important to note that an SSD can only write to an empty page. Therefore, while a traditional hard drive can easily overwrite data in any location, a solid-state drive must use a longer process to commit new data to memory.
An SSD writes by scanning for a block that has enough unused pages to store the new data. When it locates a block that is empty enough, it will set the pages in the block to “blank”, sending the existing data to memory. Next, the old data is rewritten along with the new data. A solid-state drive must use this process every time it writes data. Thus, as the drive gets older it will slow down.
Why do SSDs Fail?
As the drive continuously subjects itself to the previously-described writing process, it must periodically reset the charges within the cells used to store data. As time goes on, the resetting process gradually increases the resistance of each cell. When this resistance surpasses the voltage capacity of the SSD, the cell is rendered useless. If enough cells reach this limit, the SSD will fail because there are no longer any functional pages or blocks. Thus, each SSD has a finite amount of writes it can undergo before failing.
SSDs generally have a longer life than traditional hard drives. Despite the finite amount of writing ability the drives have, they are designed to compensate for failing cells. When a cell fails, the drive will block access to it and write to a different cell instead. This strategy allows for an SSD to outlast the computer it is installed in. Many SSDs also remain useful far past the manufacturer’s projected lifespan.
How to Preserve an SSD
Most modern SSDs have a write limit that far exceeds what an average user could ever reach. However, an SSD subjected to high-intensity use (or an older SSD) can benefit from changing a few settings in Windows.
While a traditional hard drive greatly benefits from frequent defragmentation, in an SSD this is completely irrelevant. The defragmentation process will subject an SSD to completely unnecessary wear-and-tear. In a Windows PC, this setting can be changed by searching for “disk defrag” and turning off any defragmentation processes that are scheduled. This setting will be under the “Change Settings” section of the Drive Optimization tool in Windows.
Superfetch is a feature designed to improve application performance by committing app data to a cache. However, this process involves frequent writing – which will wear out an SSD. Thus, this feature should be disabled. Simply run “services.msc” and find Superfetch in the list. Right click, select properties, and then select stop to disable the service.
Hibernation commits RAM to physical memory, allowing a Windows PC to reactivate quickly after being unused for a period of time. However, this feature is not good for an SSD as it involves a lot of data writing. To disable hibernation, search for Command Prompt in the Windows dialog box. Right-click, run as Administrator, and type “powercfg.exe /hibernate off”, then press Enter. This will disable hibernation mode on the PC and extend the life of a connected SSD.
Warning: Turning off hibernation can lead to data loss if there is a power interruption while the computer is sleeping
Windows has a feature called file paging that allows the drive to act as RAM in the case that RAM limits are exceeded. This can put a lot of stress on an SSD. To disable virtual memory, search for “advanced system settings”. Click on “Settings” under the Performance section of the dialog box. Next, click “Advanced” on the top of the Performance Options box. Under the Virtual Memory section, click “Change”. Uncheck “Automatically manage paging file size for all drives”. Now, select “no paging file” while the SSD is selected in the box. Press “OK” on all open boxes, and allow the PC to restart.
Solid-state drives are much more reliable than traditional hard drives. They also offer increased speeds and more efficient data retrieval. While SSDs have a write limit, most modern SSDs have a limit that is too high for a casual user to feasibly reach. However, in high-intensity applications or on an older SSD, changing certain Windows settings can greatly increase the life of the SSD – maybe even outlasting the PC itself.