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SSD vs. HDD Performance Overview

Whether enterprises are in the market for desktops, laptops, or servers, choosing the right storage solution is an important part of the process. By investing in storage technology that fits your specific needs and those of your clients, you can enjoy faster speeds, greater performance, and reliable longevity.

However, deciding what storage solution is the best choice can be difficult. With two major options on the market today—Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Hard Disk Drives (HDDs)—you’ll need to do your homework to understand the ins and outs of each. And although both have their own advantages and disadvantages, it’s clear the market is currently in a period of transition. While HDDs have been the go-to choice in the past, SSDs are increasingly the preference of high-end developers and next-generation technology.

This means that managed services providers (MSPs) and their clients should have specific requirements in mind when selecting which storage solution is the best fit for their business. While SSDs appear to be the latest and greatest, the technology itself isn’t necessarily as mature as HDDs. Conversely, while HDDs are generally more affordable and commonplace, it’s up to decision-makers to assess whether it’s wise to invest in an option that may start getting phased out.

Regardless, the best solution for you and your clients hinges on what gaps you’re trying to fill. For some teams, newer SSDs will be a natural choice. For others, tried-and-tested HDDs might still make sense. To that end, we’ve put together an overview of key performance factors between SSDs and HDDs. If you’re preparing to invest in your next storage solution or you’re working with customers to help them prepare, take the time to learn more about a decision that will have a wide-ranging impact on IT operations.

Do SSD drives wear out?

The SSD vs. HDD lifespan is crucial to consider. Computers encode information on HDDs in a writing process that magnetizes and demagnetizes sectors with binary values of ones and zeroes. If that information needs to be overwritten for whatever reason, those sectors are magnetized and demagnetized in the same way. However, the writing process for SSDs is significantly different, operating in such a way they can eventually wear out the drive.

Encoding information on SSDs is complicated. They’re made up of flash memory cells, similar to those that make up thumb drives—although their capacity is much higher and they’re more reliable than thumb drives. To write information onto those flash memory cells, SSDs move electrons in and out of the cells through a process known as tunneling. While this process is faster than writing functions on HDDs, the downside is that tunneling gradually degrades the flash memory cells to the point they don’t function properly.

Additionally, it’s possible for electrons to get stuck in the walls of a cell during the tunneling process. Over time, the build-up of these electrons will make it difficult for the cell to store and access data effectively. This means, in the long run, tunneling can also affect the ability of SSDs to reliably preserve data.

Taken together, these factors indicate that yes, SSD drive life expectancy is limited; they will wear out one day. Between the degradation caused by tunneling and the build-up of electrons in flash memory cell walls as data is written, read, erased, and rewritten, at some point SSDs will no longer be usable or reliable in a way fit for consumer or commercial use.

How long does an SSD drive last?

While the potential for SSDs to wear out, break down, and otherwise degrade might seem like a critical downside, it’s important to put the timescale for these processes in perspective. Because of the way SSDs work, tunneling won’t actually affect performance in a permanent way for years. SSD tests managed by TechReport showed that consumer-grade SSDs endured data writing and reading to more than 700TB.

To contextualize this, the average SSD consumer writes somewhere between 20GB and 40GB of data every day. If you continue that usage day in and day out, it’d take you about 50 years to reach the 700TB mark at which your SSD would degrade to the point where it’s no longer usable. In other words, you’re more likely to need another SSD because of technological advances than you are from the hardware itself failing.

However, these calculations change depending on use. For instance, if you and your clients are looking for SSDs for industrial and enterprise-use cases, that time frame is going to be shorter than it would be for purely private applications. With that said, you’re still probably not going to run into failing SSDs soon after you purchase them.

Another thing to consider is that, as SSD technology matures, developers are designing new ways to make flash memory cells more resilient. For example, newer SSDs come with wear-leveling algorithms that ensure every block of cells has been filled up as much as possible before existing data is erased for new data to be written. This technology helps prolong the lifespan of SSDs and delays the worst effects of tunneling.

Do HDDs last longer than SSDs?

Considering all this, you might be wondering how SSDs compare with HDDs—are solid state drives reliable? What’s the SSD vs. HDD lifespan? What about SSD vs. HDD performance? While each of the answers to each of these questions comes with plenty of caveats based on specific use cases, it’s clear that for the most part SSDs last longer and are more reliable than HDDs.

In the IT space, it’s common knowledge that HDDs have a fairly finite lifespan, even if they conceptually have an infinite amount of space available because of their capacity for erasing and rewriting data without affecting the hardware itself. While the exact figure changes from one study to the next, the consensus seems to place the average lifespan of HDDs at about three years. In other words, you should be ready for them to fail when you reach that point—and anytime thereafter.

While SSDs only have a limited amount of space available before the flash memory cells experience critical wear, that event horizon is surprisingly long, as explained above. Aside from that eventuality, SSDs lack many of the vulnerabilities that make HDDs so prevalent to failure. For instance, because HDDs contain moving mechanical parts, they’re susceptible to shock. Many current models have shock-resistant designs, but a bad fall can easily put many HDDs out of commission.

Aside from accidents like this, the addition of moving parts in HDDs increases the risk of mechanical failure from normal use. If something goes wrong with the needle or if the internal motor malfunctions—even if you don’t drop a device—you have an unusable HDD on your hands. Alternatively, SSDs are, as the name implies, made of completely solid materials—i.e., they have no moving parts. While they’re susceptible to environmental factors such as humidity, just like any computer component, their lifespan is naturally longer than HDDs.

Is an SSD More Reliable than an HDD?

To dig into the question of reliability, it’s necessary to note that SSDs aren’t impervious to failure. Just like any computer part, things can go wrong and data can be lost if you’re not backing things up properly. However, the nature of SSD failure is different than HDD failure, leading IT experts to conclude that—generally speaking—SSDs are indeed more reliable than HDDs.

As explained above, the very nature of HDDs increases the risk of something going wrong that has nothing to do with normal functions. From accidentally setting down a laptop too hard to your desktop HDD experiencing motor failure, a surprising number of things can go wrong with HDDs that often lead to shorter lifespans. With SSDs, however, reliability most often becomes an issue regarding the wear-and-tear described earlier.

To explain further, the tunneling that degrades flash memory cells and causes electrons to build up can, in the long run, cause SSDs to fail. However, as SSDs approach that point of failure, they may lose the ability to retain data properly. Again, this likely won’t happen for a long time—much longer than the average lifespan of HDDs—but once these issues start popping up, SSDs do become unreliable and their data storage capabilities become unstable.

Additionally, there are things that can go wrong with SSDs. For example, they’re considered more sensitive to temperature fluctuations than HDDs—extreme temperatures can degrade stored information and make retrieval unreliable. However, as SSD technology matures, these flaws are likely to be remedied in some capacity.

Ultimately, neither technology is perfect. While SSDs are the up-and-coming technology likely to take an increasing share of the storage market, HDDs are viable and cost-effective options for many enterprises. What matters going into this debate is what you need, what you can afford, and what your current systems can support.

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