Government // Mobile & Wireless
Commentary
5/28/2010
03:45 PM
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Busting The SSD Reliability Myth

One of the most persistent myths surrounding solid state disk (SSD) is that it just isn't reliable. Like most myths, this one started with a grain of truth -- but didn't end that way.

One of the most persistent myths surrounding solid state disk (SSD) is that it just isn't reliable. Like most myths, this one started with a grain of truth -- but didn't end that way.As most of you know, SSD is a relatively new technology. A decade ago, it was still considered an exotic -- and outrageously expensive -- data storage option. A 64MB flash storage card for a digital camera was a big deal, never mind a multi-GB business-class mass storage device.

But price wasn't the only issue. SSD controllers -- the hardware that manages the process of reading and writing data -- varied wildly in their quality and reliability. Just a few years ago, buying a "budget" SSD drive meant buying a cheap controller that would fail at the drop of a hat.

And then there were the problems with "write fatigue." Simply put, you can only write data to a flash storage address block so many times before it goes kaput. This was a major headache in the past, when an SSD might deliver a few hundred thousand write cycles. That sounds like a lot, but it isn't.

What about today? For starters, manufacturers have steadily pushed the write endurance envelope. A good SSD may promise five million write cycles or more, and that number is climbing almost by the month.

Controllers have also gotten much better. While I might still stick with SSDs that use a top-class Intel controller for important business apps, less expensive SSDs with less expensive controllers are now fine for use in things like laptops.

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But if you want to skip the technical details and get a good overview of SSD reliability these days, just look at the mean time before failure (MTBF) rating. A budget 128GB SSD drive, for example, can offer a MTBF of 1.5 million hours or more. And more expensive drives now offer MTBFs on a par with traditional SATA disk drives.

It is still true that with SSDs, you get what you pay for. But as SSD reliability continues to improve, it's also true that you're getting a lot more at any price point.

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