Solid State Drive (SSD) Failures

This week, both Lenovo and Dell wanted to talk about Solid State Drives, and the numerous articles that have recently been written in regards to failure rates. I’ve read several of them, and was tempted to post a few, but I decided to wait and see what the PC makers response would be, and low and behold we have a couple of major ones from the past few days. For an example of what I’m talking about, you can read this CNET article.

First off, Lionel Menchaca from the Direct2Dell blog:

Recent Opinion on SSD Failure Rates Fails to Include the Facts
Sometimes we have to react to information that has no basis in reality. That’s what we’re dealing with here.

A recent analyst document from Avian Securities incorrectly stated that Dell is seeing high return rates (20 – 30%) due to performance issues and failures on solid state disk drives (SSDs). It has been the basis of conversations in the blogosphere like Crave, Gizmodo, Techcrunch and BloggingStocks.

Here’s the real story: the 20 – 30% failure and return rates cited by Avian Securities don’t even vaguely resemble what’s happening in our business. It’s also true that Avian did not contact us while doing their research. Said another way, it’s just not true.

Our global reliability data shows that SSD drives are equal to or better than traditional hard disk drives we’ve shipped. Beyond that, return rates for SSDs are in line with our expectations for new technology and an order of magnitude better than rates reported in the press.

Next up to bat, Lenovo’s Inside the Box blog:

I’m not one to defend a competitor here, but I highly doubt that any Tier One vendor is seeing SSD hard disk drives being returned at a 10 percent rate. The article circling the Internet is fear mongering meant to drive readership. On the other hand I do doubt that return rates are as low as traditional hard disk drives though.

For those that aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, there are stories and blog posts that suggest that “a leading vendor” has had major issues with solid state hard disk drives including premature failure and poor performance that isn’t meeting customer expectations. Here’s one example.

I’ve written about SSD drives before and it probably warrants an update. Like in the last post, I’m indebted to Jeff Hobbet and the other engineering teams here at Lenovo. Many of the words here are theirs. Getting to work with these guys on a regular basis is one of the highlights of my job.

SSD technology is new. It is undergoing growing pains, and while Lenovo took a lot of heat from our customers for waiting so long to ship an SSD option, we did this for one primary reason. IT’S YOUR DATA and it requires a lot of care to keep it safe. Anything that replaces a tried and true technology for something new should be approached with skepticism until it has proven its worth in the marketplace and has been tested, retested and tested again. (The same can be said for just about anything from Full Encrypting HDDs to LASIK surgery).

He mentions something very interesting about writing/reading and data retention:

Data retention – though SSD drives use solid state technology, they DO wear out. The more times they are written to and erased, the less time they can maintain data in storage. Hard disk drives can reliably maintain data for ten years or so regardless of how much they are used. SSD drives, depending on their usage pattern, can also have data retention times up to ten years. In practical usage, this often will be considerably less. The more you use it, the less time an SSD can retain your data. Thus, these drives SHOULD NOT be used for archival storage.

The industry has come up with some clever ways of making drives last as long as possible. Your average 64GB SSD drive actually contains more like 68GB of flash memory. The extra is used by the SSD to automatically be a reserve for those cells that wear out. Additionally the drive is using wear leveling algorithms to constantly move the data around internally to prevent hot spots from wearing out prematurely.

Lenovo engineers have set a design target of a write throughput which we know to be well above what the average user will experience over the lifetime of his or her machine. Our engineers have the data that show that the 2nd generation Samsung SSD drive that Lenovo uses (the Samsung RBX – more on that later) will perform to those standards or better.

Both of these articles make it very clear that Lenovo and Dell are both standing behind SSDs, and will continue to do so.

From the SSDs I’ve tried and am using, I’ve not seen the poor performance some of the articles mentioned. As far as failures – given that I’m interested in smaller devices, I’ll take the ruggedness of a flash-drive versus a mechanical drive any day of the week.