Why Techies Are Different

The Hot/Crazy Solid State Drive Scale

I feel ethically and morally obligated to let you in on a dirty little secret I’ve discovered in the last two years of full time SSD ownership. Solid state hard drives fail. A lot. And not just any fail. I’m talking about catastrophic, oh-my-God-what-just-happened-to-all-my-data instant gigafail. It’s not pretty.

Emphasis in the original.

Well, that just killed their appeal for me.

The record at the link is horrifying: Not one SSD lasted a full 365 days!

In the real world of non-techies, people don’t religiously backup. They trust their storage with precious data: photos, videos, music, eBooks, etc. A catastrophic failure such as those mentioned in that post would be devastating and incalculable.

If this is the same technology used in the MacBook Air SSDs, Apple is going to be facing a lot of bad press in the coming months. Maybe that’s why Apple is pushing towards a cloud service with a rumored price of free. If they give OS X owners free backup, they have a legal out against future litigation. Even so, I’d still side with the people who lost their data. And I think any jury would.

4 Comments

Filed under Other Hardware

4 responses to “Why Techies Are Different

  1. Normally, I don’t comment, tweet or blog about something as purely technical as SSD reliability, but in this case I’m feeling an unnatural urge to do so.

    There are quite a few reasons to take these numbers with a grain of salt:

    1. All of the failed units are of an older generation of SSDs (1st and 2nd gen of the new consumer SSD wave). A high proportion of failed units cost manufacturers a lot of money. It’s reasonable to assume that reliability would be the first thing for them to address, but it’s impossible to tell until the new drives start failing (whether that happens in a year or in five years).

    2. Most of the units mentioned in the blog post are the the cheapest lowest capacity
    units of the range, which, going by online reviews and anecdotal data, have a much higher failure rate than the mid-range units.

    3. All of the units mentioned are sold as bare drives, not as a part of a system. If the SSDs shipped in laptops, for example, had the failure rate implied in the post, they would wipe out all of the computer manufacturer’s margin. The outfits making and selling bare SSDs can get away with a lot more bullshit than the providers of full systems, so I’d guess the culprit is poor QC on their part, not some inherent unreliability in SSDs. Apple and others have been shipping SSDs as options on their laptops for several years now, they wouldn’t be rolling out machines as fiercely integrated as the Macbook Airs with SSDs if they had those sort of inherent failure rates. Besides, the Airs use Toshiba and Samsung SSDs, which aren’t really that available to enthusiasts and have very different performance characteristics (the Toshiba SSD, for example, doesn’t suffer nearly as much from the longterm performance degradation that TRIM support is supposed to counter). So, we don’t know if any of this applies to them as well.

    4. SSDs are everywhere (iPads, iPhones, iPods) and nowhere do they exhibit the same failure rate as implied by the post. That supports my theory that the culprits are the integrators (Crucial, OCZ, et al.) who buy NAND flash in bulk and slap them together with a SATA controller for as little money as possible and little to no quality control.

    5. Intel and quite a few corporations are rolling out SSDs company wide. In Intel’s case that’s over 90 000 desktops and laptops. No corporation does anything on that scale as a vanity project, especially if the failure rate was as bad as implied. (Source: http://www.silentpcreview.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=58422&sid=5fbd571183d8af3af11ed6344c706002&start=60 ). Intel’s numbers from actual employee use are that the failure rates are “~5% for hard drives and ~0.5% for SSDs”. They’re biased, I know, but these numbers aren’t coming from a marketdroid but from their IT department.

    What I take from this discussion is that it’s a bad idea to buy bare SSDs off the shelf and install them yourself. To avoid buying a Macbook Air or a Macbook Pro with the SSD option because of these sort of reports is a massive overreaction, especially since we know that HDDs are really, really unreliable. At worst, I’d guess that in the context of buying a laptop, SSDs are no more unreliable than HDDs, but are verifiably dramatically faster.

    • mikecane

      Thanks for that clarification. It makes me feel better about people who own OS X ‘books with SSDs in them!

  2. I really want a MacBook Air. I played with the base model ($999) at an Apple Store. It launched all the big apps noticeably faster than my 24″ 3 GHz iMac with 8 gigs of RAM. The base model, mind you.

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