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What is the lifespan of SSDs

Currently mounting a gaming computer and not including an SSD drive is something totally unthinkable. Units of solid state hard drive or SSD They have become essential for their good performance. Faster, more compact, stronger and lighter than HDDs, they are an essential part of modern computing. But, What is the lifespan of an SSD drive?

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Introduction

SSD drives have become the quintessential solutions to develop gaming equipment. It allows to significantly reduce loading times due to the good read and write speeds what are you offering. More recently SSD drives have been forked, being able to find 2.5 inch format SSD drives O well M.2 format SSD drives.

We are not going to go into differentiating the types of formats and the type of connectivity, since what interests us is another point. Both types of storage units they are based on memory chips (NAND Flash), a cache chip (usually a DDR3 or DDR4 RAM memory chip), and a controller.

Fundamentally who determines the lifespan of SSD drives is the NAND Flash chip. These chips are responsible for storing information, erasing and writing data as needed. To avoid excessive wear in an area, the controller manages where the information should be stored.

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Parameters to know the useful life of an SSD

The NAND Flash memories of SSDs are divided into layers and each layer has a number of cells. These cells can be programmed and deleted (P / E) a certain number of times. The number of P / E cycles determines the life of the SSDs. But in addition to these cycles, there are two other parameters to take into account. The three parameters are:

  • P / E cycles: They are the write and erase cycles of the SSD drives. The number of P / E cycles is very relative and depends on the manufacturer and the quality of the NAND Flash memories. It usually ranges between 500 P / E and 100.000 P / E.
  • TeraByte Written (TBW): The magnitude of 'Terabyte written', in Spanish, indicates the amount of data that can be written to an SSD before the unit fails. It is the manufacturer of the unit who offers this information, which can usually be found in the unit's box or manual and on the manufacturer's website
  • Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF): Parameter that indicates the number of hours that can normally elapse before the unit fails. This parameter does not indicate the durability of the SSD, but the time that will pass until a failure occurs. To give us an idea, an HDD has an MTBF of about 300.000 hours and SSDs of about 1.5 million hours

NAND Flash cell types

There is another parameter that can have a significant influence on the lifespan of SSDs. The cell type NAND Flash used in SSDs is another important aspect. Basically they differ by the amount of information bits that fit in each of these cells. The types that exist are:

  • SLC (Single Level Cell): The first SSDs used NAND Flash that only supported 1 bit per cell. Currently SSDs are still manufactured with this type of cells because they offer a lot of security and for certain scenarios this is crucial
  • MLC (Multi-Level Cell): These memories have two bits for each cell. They are rarely used today
  • TLC (Triple Level Cell): They have three bits for each cell and are the most common today. These memories offer more capacity, allowing to reduce the price of SSD units
  • QLC (Quad Level Cell): They are the newest type of NAND Flash memory and are still beginning to be introduced to the market. Obviously, it increases the capacity compared to its predecessors and allows prices to be further reduced.
bits-cell-ssd-nand-flash
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Internal SSD controller

The most important element in a solid state hard drive is the controller. We are talking about a chip that is responsible for writing and reading information. This chip sends the data to the different cells and currently also controls wear.

One of the most important functions of the controller is telling the data where it should go. In addition, it keeps track of how many times a cell on the memory chip is used. To avoid excessive wear, the controller allocates new cells where the data goes. This prevents the excessive use of a cell and that it ends up 'breaking'

controller-ssd

SSD temperature

One of the factors that can damage a solid state hard drive or any component is heat losses. Part of the energy consumed becomes value and this must be dissipated correctly. 2.5 ″ SSD drives do not suffer from this problem, as the housings act as heat sinks. The big problem is in the M.2 drives.

These units initially came without any type of heat dissipation element. To avoid damage, the unit drastically reduced its performance. Motherboard manufacturers currently, in the mid-range and high-end models, already add passive heatsinks for the M.2. In addition, M.2 SSD manufacturers also add a passive heat sink.

Currently on the market we can find passive heatsinks of all shapes and colors. But the offer has increased a lot, finding already heatsinks for M.2 SSD with liquid, for Custom cooling systems, with fans and even with RGB. Little by little they have become more sophisticated and improved, all to avoid a performance drop in M.2 SSD drives.

heatsink-ssd-m.2
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Calculations to estimate the useful life of an SSD

We have seen the parameters to know the useful life of an SSD, but we can perform a series of calculations to have an estimate. You must bear in mind that knowing the durability of an SSD accurately is very difficult. To estimate the useful life we ​​can apply the following formula:

GB / day = (TBW x 1000) / ((warranty x 365) / 2)
Durability (in days) = ((TBW x 1000) / (GB / day)) x2

object lesson

For our example we are going to choose the Kingston A400 SSD SA400S37 48GB drive. We chose this unit because it is the best seller on Amazon and it is a very inexpensive unit that offers a great quality / price ratio. The parameters required for the calculation are:

  • TBW: 80TB
  • Warranty: 3 years

With the data parameters we apply the first formula and it indicates that it supports up to 146GB per day during the 3 years of the warranty. For a period of 6 years it would be 73GB daily writing, for a period of 9 years it would be 36.5GB daily writing, etc. But it is difficult to write so much data on a daily basis and even so, it is an estimate, since we must bear in mind that the controller tries to prevent a certain number of cells from being saturated.

It also depends on the use of the system. It is calculated that:

  • For office automation, internet browsing and multimedia use, between 10GB and 35GB are written per day.
  • For gaming it is estimated that between 20GB and 70GB

We are now going to apply the second formula taking that we use the computer for gaming and write 45GB every day (average term). We obtain that the durability of the SSD is 3.555 days, which is equivalent to about 9.7 years. Logically this depends on the use of the PC and many other factors.

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The useful life is longer than you might think

The German digital medium Heise in 2016 published the results from a test in which they subjected several SSD drives. The units were installed in a system that generated reads and writes in a 24/7 period. Without a doubt the conclusions are impressive.

All units tested had the ability to far exceed the manufacturer's specified TBW value. The half life of the units tested was 2.5 times the TBW specified by the manufacturer. The result of the Samsung SSD 850 PRO was surprising, which managed to support up to 9.1 Petabyte of data, which is 60 times more than the TBW specified by Samsung.

It is not uncommon, as the shelf life parameters of the manufacturers is very conservative. That the drives will hold up much more than specified is not a huge surprise, but the value of the Samsung drive is. Typically, SSDs exceed 2-5 times the TBW of manufacturers.

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Conclusion

Determining the useful life of an SSD is not easy, as we can see, since it depends on many factors. In addition to the manufacturer's indicators, the amount of reads / writes we perform influences. But, as the experiment we have found shows, the shelf life is usually much longer than the marked one.

Of course, we must bear in mind that there are manufacturers and manufacturers. A recognized manufacturer such as Crucial, Kingston, Corsair, Samsung and the like is not the same as unknown or Chinese brands. Unknown or Chinese brands often use lower quality NAND Flash chips, simple controllers, and DDR3 cache, all factors that 'favor' drive wear.

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Roberto Solé

Director of Contents and Writing of this same website, technician in renewable energy generation systems and low voltage electrical technician. I work in front of a PC, in my free time I am in front of a PC and when I leave the house I am glued to the screen of my smartphone. Every morning when I wake up I walk across the Stargate to make some coffee and start watching YouTube videos. I once saw a dragon ... or was it a Dragonite?

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