Solid-state drives, or SSDs, have been around for quite a while and have become very popular in many different environments. SSDs are extremely popular because they are so much faster than traditional hard drives. This technology has allowed people to benefit from faster response times on games, computer bootup times that take just seconds, and much more.
Despite the many obvious advantages of SSDs, there have always been a few downsides to them, which has kept people from fully moving away from traditional hard disk drives (HDD). The first issue is that it is much more expensive to get large amounts of storage on an SSD than it is for an HDD. The other issue is that solid-state drives have traditionally been able to handle fewer instances of writing data on them than an HDD could. This has helped to prevent them from being used in environments where large amounts of data has to be written on a regular basis, such as certain types of databased.
Is the SSD Write Issue a Real Concern?
The first thing to note about this problem with solid-state drives is that it has largely been overblown from the beginning. While it is true that there are limits to the number of times data can be written to each cell on the drive, that limit has always been quite high. There are four different types of flash memory used in solid state drives, each of which has a different estimated write endurance:
- Single Level Cell – This was the original type of solid-state drive and allowed the storage of one bit per cell with two levels of charge. An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 writes to these cells was possible using this technology.
- Multi-Level Cell – This is the most commonly used option today. This technology uses two bits per cell and four levels of charge so that more data can be kept on a drive. With the right software, you can expect to have 30,000 to 35,000 writes to each cell.
- Triple Level Cell – This option is rarely seen in production today and can store three bits per cell with eight levels of charge. You can expect to get 1500 to 3000 writes on this type of technology.
- Quadruple Level Cell – This is the latest advancement in SSD technology. It can store four bits per cell with 16 levels of charge. The downside of the larger amounts of data per cell is that it can only handle an estimated 150 to 1000 writes, making it impractical for most situations.
As you can see, the more data that can be put on each cell of the drive, the fewer number of writes it can handle. This is why many people are concerned with using solid-state drives for their day-to-day computers.
The fact is, however, that most people will never come close to writing an individual cell 30,000 times. The SSD on the Mars rover is another story. For consumer SSDs, the firmware on the drive spreads the writes out to different cells to help maximize the longevity of the device.
For the vast majority of situations, there is no need to worry about opting for an SSD rather than an HDD due to this issue. The only real reason someone should opt for an HDD for normal personal or business use is that HDDs are more affordable when you need to store large amounts of data.
While it is true that historically speaking, SSDs could not handle as many write instances per cell than an HDD, that is not the only factor to consider. Since hard drives have several moving parts in them, there is a lot more that can go bad. On average, an SSD would actually last a lot longer than an HDD. The only areas where this was not true was on systems that performed a huge number of write operations on a very regular basis.
Modern SSDs is High Write Environments
If you need to store data that is frequently overwritten, you have likely been told that an HHD is the right option. While this may have been true in the past, today’s premium SSDs can handle huge numbers of write operations without a problem. For many situations, this has made it possible to take advantage of the dramatic speed increases that you get from solid-state drives without having to worry about drive failure due to the lower write endurance.
Manufacturers have made a number of important improvements to the solid-state drive technology that have made them a viable option in just about any situation. In fact, a growing number of storage environments are even moving to SSDs. This technical hurdle has been overcome in a variety of ways, including the following:
- More Efficient Use of Writing – Modern SSDs are able to keep track of the cell endurance issue so that the drive can tell approximately how much life each cell has. It will then spread the writes out more efficiently so that they all wear more evenly, thus expanding the life of the drive itself.
- Larger Number of Spare Cells – Hard drives (whether SSD or HDD) generally have more physical space on them than is advertised. Manufacturers include a larger amount of space on the drives so that the ‘extra’ space can be used should cells (on SSDs) or sectors (on HDDs) go bad. Premium SSDs can have significant amount of spare cells built in to dramatically increase the number of writes the drive can handle.
- Reduced Cell Damage – Drives are able to reduce the amount of cell damage that is caused by each write, which can help to expand their durability.
Which Type of Storage is Right for You?
Looking at the advancements in modern SSDs, they are definitely going to be the best disk storage option for any use as long as you can meet your size requirements. For times when you need to storage a huge amount of data, HDDs are still definitely the way to go. As the technology continues to advance, it is likely that even that limitation will be overcome and spinning disk drives will eventually be phased out entirely.