Factors like an SSD’s age, usage intensity, type of memory used, and operating conditions impact the lifespan of the SSD. Optimal conditions can certainly delay failure, but sooner or later, all drives will fail.
As such, it’s best to be aware of the warning signs given by a failing SSD so that you can back up all important data in time and replace the faulty drive with minimal trouble.
Unlike HDDs which have a bunch of moving parts, SSDs, by design, are much more resistant to vibration, shock, and other forms of physical damage. The lack of mechanical parts also means that looking for physical signs of failure, like unusual noises, won’t do you much good.
Instead, you’ll be better off looking for software-end indicators like degraded performance, freezes, crashes, and some of the other signs that we’ve detailed in this article.
Warning Signs of a Failing SSD
The first thing to note is that failure progression in SSDs differs quite a lot. Some SSDs fail gracefully, gradually slowing in terms of performance, giving warning notifications, and eventually switching to a read-only state so that the data can be recovered before the drive completely fails. Others may fail abruptly with almost no forewarning.
As such, identifying the warning signs won’t always be possible. For such cases, you can take additional precautions like periodically checking the SSD health status and regularly backing up your data to ensure you’re always prepared. With all that said, let’s talk about the most common signs now.
This indicator is specific to NVMe SSDs on Windows only (not SATA SSDs or HDDs), but we’ll cover this first due to its obvious nature. Windows monitors the SSD for any hardware abnormalities and displays a critical warning message when any problems are detected.
For instance, the “reliability is degraded” message is typically displayed in case of internal errors to the NVM subsystem. Other warnings, such as “spare capacity is low”, are a bit easier to decipher.
In any case, if you do encounter such warnings, we recommend backing up your data and reviewing your SSDs health in further detail to figure out how much longer the drive might last.
A strong but easy-to-miss indicator of a failing SSD, particularly in the early stages, is plummeting read/write speeds. At first, you may notice such instances of poor performance once in a while.
The performance impact will be felt more and more often until, eventually, the SSD just stops working. This final death can seem abrupt, especially if the performance drops weren’t particularly noticeable. So, once again, backups are your friend.
Freezes and Crashes
If you’ve noticed increased load times when using applications, or the program straight up freezes or crashes, it’s possible that you have a faulty SSD. It’s hard to make this diagnosis with this indicator alone, as you can also encounter such issues due to faults with the memory or internet connection. As such, we recommend looking for this sign along with the others to correctly determine if the SSD is the problem.
Bad blocks on the SSD can lead to data corruption, which surfaces in the form of various errors when accessing certain applications or volumes. A more critical case of such errors is a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) that can be generated as a result of system file corruption.
If you’ve been encountering BSODs recently, we have an in-depth article on the topic that you may find helpful. In troubleshooting the BSOD, you’ll figure out the cause of the specific bugcheck and thus determine whether the SSD is at fault.
Some BSODs will have your PC stuck in a crash loop, preventing you from booting normally. But aside from this, you may also face boot-specific issues like the system hanging up during POST or errors like No Bootable Device found due to a failing SSD.
SSDs store data in flash memory blocks that can only be used for a limited number of write and erase cycles. As the memory degrades over time, some SSDs will switch to a failsafe mode so that you can at least read the data on the drive and recover it before the SSD completely dies. Needless to say, if your SSD is in a read-only state, it would be best to back up the contents elsewhere, as the drive may soon fail completely.
Why Do SSDs Fail?
Beyond the obvious reasons common in most storage media, like damaged hardware or file system corruption, there are a few SSD-specific causes that we’ll cover in this section. These causes should help you understand the best practices to improve the lifespan of your SSD.
The jury is still out on what the primary factor is that affects an SSD’s lifespan, but evidence from recent studies suggests it’s the device’s use age. This means that rather than how much data is written, aging mechanisms like silicon aging may play a bigger role.
The SSD controller has to keep track of a number of things, from flash block pools and encryption to wear leveling. After years of usage, all of this can add up. Alternatively, issues in other parts, such as the soldering and PCB, can also pop up, which ultimately leads to the failure of the SSD controller.
Additionally, there’s also the matter of using SSDs for long-term storage, i.e., archiving. SSDs store information in the form of electrical charges, and if left without power, the charge will be lost over time. Archiving data in any form and forgetting about it is not a good idea, but it’s particularly risky in the case of SSDs, as you may find that your data is lost a few years down the line.
Data Write Lifespan
As stated, the memory cells where the data is stored can only be erased and written so many times before it wears out and becomes unusable. Because of this, the usage intensity can also strongly impact an SSDs lifespan.
An extreme example would be something like chia mining, which involves repeatedly allocating and freeing up space on the SSD. The constant and excessive strain from this causes most SSDs to fail in a matter of months. Of course, this is only an extreme example, as most users aren’t using SSDs to mine crypto.
A more relevant concern for the average user would be wear leveling. If a specific block of memory cells wears out much faster than the rest, this can cause the SSD to fail much sooner than you’d expect.
Modern SSDs combat this through wear leveling, where the SSD controller distributes the writes across the flash blocks. This helps ensure that a specific block doesn’t fail prematurely.
Wear leveling does have one downside – distributing writes across the blocks requires frequent relocation of data which reduces the data write lifespan. Manufacturers try to find a balance between both sides in order to maximize the drive’s lifespan.
On the user end, we recommend checking your SSD’s TeraBytes Written (TBW) rating. This metric should give you an estimate of how much data can be written to the SSD before it’ll likely start failing. Note that TBW is an estimate and not a guarantee of performance.
Firmware bugs used to be one of the most common reasons that lead to an SSD failing. The exact reason for failure would vary according to the bug, but typically, it would be along the lines of the corrupt firmware leading to data corruption or an entirely bricked SSD. Such firmware bugs aren’t as common these days as they have mostly been patched, but they are still something to consider.
With older SSDs, abrupt power loss was a major reason for data corruption and failure. This was because when the power was suddenly lost, the controller wouldn’t have enough time to finish writing the data from the storage cache into the NAND flash and update the mapping table (FTL). Modern SSDs employ Power Loss Protection mechanisms, so this is rarely an issue with recent models.
An SSD’s failure rate is also impacted by its operating temperature. Studies have found that SSDs operating at temperatures above 40 °C (104 °F) have an increased failure rate. To combat this, manufacturers implement mechanisms like thermal throttling as well as ship higher-end modules with integrated heat sinks.
How to Check SSD Health Status?
We’ve already mentioned how a failing SSD won’t always give out noticeable warning signs. As such, it’s best to manually check the health of the SSD from time to time. There are various ways to do this, but our recommended method is to use the tool provided by your SSD manufacturer (e.g., Samsung Magician Software).
Can You Fix a Dead SSD?
If your system suddenly stops detecting the SSD, reseating it can be helpful. It’s also worth checking the other components, such as the cables and ports, for damage if reseating doesn’t help. Upgrading the firmware is another effective way to recover SSDs that are failing due to firmware issues.
Keep in mind, though, that ultimately, these are just general fixes that have helped some users. If you think your drive died prematurely, these are worth trying. In case you still had important data on the SSD when it stopped working, it would be best to take it to a professional for repair.