Solid state drives, also known as SSDs, are a type of storage device that uses flash memory to store data. Unlike traditional hard disk drives that use magnetic platters, SSDs have no moving parts, making them faster, quieter, and less prone to mechanical failure.
However, SSDs can still fail or stop working, often without warning. There are several potential reasons why an SSD may stop working:
Wear and tear
Like all flash memory, SSDs can only withstand a finite number of write/erase cycles before they begin to fail. Most modern SSDs are rated for anywhere from 1,500 to 100,000 write/erase cycles. If a drive exceeds its rated cycle count, it can begin to experience performance issues or complete failure.
Heavy usage like repeatedly writing and deleting data can wear out the flash memory cells in an SSD. Operating system functions like virtual memory swapping can also wear down an SSD over time. Drives used for data centers, servers, or other write-intensive applications are more susceptible to wear out.
Read disturbance errors
As flash memory cells in an SSD are repeatedly read over time, it can cause electrons to shift and get trapped – leading to read disturbs. These types of errors accumulate over time and eventually make data unreadable.
SSDs use error correction code (ECC) to detect and recover from read disturbs. However, over time as these errors multiply, ECC may not be able to recover the data. At that point, a read disturb can cause data loss or corruption leading to SSD failure.
Write amplification refers to the amount of data actually written to an SSD compared to what the host system requested. For example, a write amplification factor of 2x means 2 units of data are written for every 1 unit requested.
This extra writing occurs due to garbage collection, wear leveling, and other functions of the SSD controller. It contributes to additional wear on the flash memory cells, shortening the SSD’s lifespan.
Faulty or buggy firmware
The firmware or controller software built into an SSD oversees all of its operations. Bugs or issues with the firmware can lead to crashes, blue screens, disappearance of data – or outright failure.
Firmware problems typically require updating to a newer version or workaround to resolve. If firmware bugs are severe enough, they may permanently damage an SSD.
End of life
SSDs have a finite lifespan and will eventually reach end of life, even with light usage. Most SSDs are designed to last 3-5 years with normal consumer workloads. In enterprise or write-intensive environments, SSD lifespan may only be 1-2 years.
Once an SSD reaches its write/erase cycle endurance rating or simply ages out, it will go into read-only mode and eventually fail completely as cells die off.
Power loss or sudden shutdown
Cutting power to an SSD during a write operation can corrupt data or damage the drive. SSD controllers have capacitors to flush cached data to memory in the event of power loss. However, if power is disconnected too quickly, data loss can still occur.
Similarly, abrupt system shutdowns or restarts during writes can interrupt the process and corrupt data. The potential for damage is higher with queued TRIM operations.
Controller or PCB failure
Besides the NAND flash memory, SSDs contain a controller chip and printed circuit board (PCB). Failures of these components can render the SSD completely dead.
Electrical issues like power surges can damage the controller or PCB. Manufacturing defects in the controller or PCB can also cause premature failure. Overheating due to poor airflow, fan failure, or heat damage can permanently damage these components.
While more durable than hard drives, SSDs are still vulnerable to physical damage from drops, impacts, liquids, dust, and other risks. The SATA or M.2 connectors can be damaged, stopping communication between the SSD and computer.
Physical damage to the PCB or components can occur as well. Being solid state, SSDs aren’t damaged by vibration or movement during operation. But sufficient shock from drops or impacts can damage internal chips and components.
Some SSDs, like self-encrypting drives (SEDs), use built-in hardware encryption. If encryption keys become corrupted or lost, the data on the drive becomes inaccessible.
SEDs require a separate controller to provide the encryption keys and handle the locking/unlocking of data. If this encryption controller fails, the SSD may lock up and stop working.
Flash memory cells have a limited program/erase cycle life before they start to fail and become unusable, called bad blocks. SSD controllers manage these bad blocks by swapping in spare good blocks as needed.
However, if the number of bad blocks exceeds the number of spare blocks, data loss and corruption will occur. A large accumulation of bad blocks can cause the SSD to stop working entirely.
How to diagnose potential SSD failure
There are some signs that may indicate an SSD is about to fail:
- Increasing number of bad sectors reported by S.M.A.R.T. data
- Slow performance and very high latency when reading/writing data
- Files and data becoming corrupted or going missing
- Operating system crashes or blue screen errors mentioning the SSD
- Visibility of the SSD disappearing from BIOS and OS
Monitoring tools like S.M.A.R.T. stats and disk health utilities can help spot issues before complete failure occurs. Periodic surface scans using chkdsk, SCANDISK, or the SSD manufacturer’s tool can also detect bad blocks early.
Backing up important data regularly is recommended to minimize losses from a failing drive.
Recovering data from a failed SSD
Once an SSD has completely failed, data recovery becomes difficult but may still be possible in some cases:
- If failure is due to corrupted firmware, updating firmware can restore functionality.
- Failures from power outages may be recoverable by repairing the file system using chkdsk or special utilities.
- Severely worn SSDs can sometimes be temporarily revived to extract a copy of the data.
- Specialized data recovery services can disassemble SSDs in a cleanroom and access raw NAND flash chips to recover data.
However, SSD data recovery attempts aren’t always successful. The best way to protect important data against SSD failure is prevention through regular backups.
Preventing SSD failures
You can help minimize the chance of SSD failure by:
- Monitoring drive health statistics with tools like S.M.A.R.T. and short disk self-tests.
- Maintaining up-to-date firmware on the SSD to prevent bugs and issues.
- Enabling overprovisioning or leaving 10-20% unused space to improve performance and lifespan.
- Reducing unnecessary writes by disabling virtual memory swap files or limiting heavy logging.
- Avoiding sudden power loss while writing data by using an UPS (battery backup).
- Using high quality surge protectors to guard against electrical damage.
- Physically handling SSDs carefully to prevent drops, impacts, static, liquids.
While SSDs can and do fail, taking the right precautions helps ensure your drive lasts to its full rated lifespan or beyond.
Replacing a failed or failing SSD
When an SSD has completely stopped working or is showing signs of impending failure, replacement is necessary. A few tips for replacing a failed SSD:
- Purchase an SSD with equal or greater capacity as the old drive.
- Match the physical form factor – 2.5″ SATA, M.2, etc.
- Ensure the replacement SSD fits your notebook or motherboard if installing internally.
- Consider an external USB SSD enclosure if connecting externally.
- Clone over data from backups after installing, don’t rely on migration software.
- Securely erase and dispose of the old SSD if it still partially functions.
Upgrading to a newer, higher-capacity SSD when replacement is needed provides an opportunity to boost performance. An external USB SSD allows convenient reuse of the old drive for other purposes if desired.
SSD failure rate statistics
Studies have found a typical annual failure rate for SSDs under normal consumer workloads is 1-3%.
Intel examined their enterprise SSD field failure rates and found:
|Drive Age||Annual Failure Rate|
|1 year old||1.4%|
|2 years old||2.2%|
|3 years old||5.9%|
This demonstrates that SSDs have relatively low initial failure rates that increase over time. Enterprise or server SSDs tend to fail earlier than consumer models due to heavier workloads.
By comparison, studies on HDD failure rates show 3-9% annual failure rates under normal operating conditions.
Overall SSDs currently show lower failure rates than traditional hard disk drives. Proper usage, maintenance, and replacement once wearout approaches can help minimize data loss.
SSD failure troubleshooting tips
If your SSD suddenly stops working, try these troubleshooting steps before concluding it has completely failed:
- Restart computer and enter BIOS to see if SSD is detected
- Try SSD in another computer or external enclosure
- Check SATA/power connections are secure
- Update SSD firmware and chipset drivers
- Clear CMOS settings to reset BIOS if SSD disappeared
- Run manufacturer diagnostics software on the drive
- Use disk utilities like chkdsk to repair file system
If the SSD is still not detected, cannot be accessed, or data appears corrupt, it likely has failed completely. Professional data recovery or replacement is recommended.
SSDs can and do fail, for a variety of reasons. Their lack of moving parts gives them advantages over traditional hard drives, but write/erase cycles, controller errors, physical damage, and other factors can still cause premature failure.
Carefully monitoring SSD health, avoiding unnecessary writes, updating firmware, and preventing physical damage can minimize the chances of failure. But regular backups are still essential to avoid catastrophic data loss.
By understanding the reasons SSDs fail and taking appropriate precautions, you can still reliably utilize these high speed, silent storage devices for faster system performance.