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Are SSDs really more reliable than HDDs?

Solid state drives (SSDs) are all the rage right now with computer enthusiasts because of their stellar performance. They make boot-ups and load times extremely fast and don’t have any moving parts because they are essentially big flash drives. Hard disk drives (HDDs) are the time-tested storage medium that has been in use for years. They consist of a spinning platter with a magnetic head overtop. Hard disk drives have been tested thoroughly and researchers have been able to determine average performance metrics for them. In contrast, solid state drives are so new, that there isn’t much data on them and there are no long-term studies that span many years. Tom’s Hardware did a study of over a hundred thousand of solid state drives and determined that solid state drives are not definitively more reliable than hard disk drives. Now, they did also say that all of their computers use solid state drives and that there isn’t enough long-term data to prove or disprove that solid state drives aren’t more reliable, but still the conclusion is pretty surprising. The report also explains that reliability is heavily dependent on the manufacturer and even the particular batch that the drive was made in. So it could be more important to find a reliable manufacturer than deciding to go with a solid state drive over an hard disk drive, if reliability is the main concern.

For most people, the performance gains of a solid state drive is what makes it more appealing than a hard disk drive, so if the reliability is the same for the two of them, then overall solid state drives will still win. Also, solid state drives require less power for both operation and cooling, which is another advantage of solid state drives. Since solid state drives have faster read and write times, it could be possible to get by with less of them, which would mean less drives failing. Since solid state drives cost a significant amount more than hard disk drives, that is not always an option for consumers and businesses. Also, drive manufactures of both solid state drives and hard disk drives consistently overestimate the reliability of their drives.

The report concludes that whether you are using a solid state drive or hard disk drive, you should backup your data regularly. As the article states, the average failure rate (AFR) “under the best of conditions…typically tops out at 3% by the fifth year”. We don’t know what the long term average failure rate is for solid state drives yet since they are so new. The reliability of hard drives becomes increasingly important as its number of years in operation increases. The average failure rate increases significantly after 3 to 4 years in service. Solid state drives haven’t been in wide use for that long, so it is impossible to know if they will follow suit. Five or so years from now, researchers should have a better grasp on the subject and be able to definitely say whether solid state drives are more reliable that hard disk drives.


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