Investigation: Is Your SSD More Reliable Than A Hard Drive?

A Peek Into SSD Reliability

Unfortunately, no hard drive manufacturer publishes RMA data, and this applies to the SSD vendors as well. However, back in December of 2010, Hardware.fr released SSD failure rate data gleaned from its parent company LDLC, one of the top French tech retailers. The Web site provides the following explanation on how it calculates these figures.

The returns rates given concern the products sold between October 1st, 2009 and April 1st, 2010 for returns made before October 2010, namely after between 6 months and a year of use. The statistics by manufacturer are based on a minimum sample of 500 sales, those by model on a minimum sample of 100 sales.

As you can see, these are not failure rates. They are return rates. Ultimately, the French-English language barrier was responsible for how hyped-up this information became. Sites like Mac Observer and ZDNet incorrectly reported these figures as "failure rates" based on a Google Translation.

Sold Between 10/1/2009 and 4/1/2010, Returns Made Before 10/1/2010
1 TB Hard Drives
Return Rate
2 TB Hard Drives
Return Rates
SSDs
Return Rate
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.B5.76%WD Caviar Black WD2001FASS9.71%Intel0.59%
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C5.20% Hitachi Deskstar 7K20006.87%Corsair2.17%
Seagate Barracuda 7200.113.68%WD Caviar Green WD20EARS4.83%Crucial
2.25%
Samsung SpinPoint F13.37%Seagate Barracuda LP
4.35%
Kingston
2.39%
Seagate Barracuda 7200.122.51%Samsung EcoGreen F34.17%OCZ
2.93%
WD Caviar Green WD10EARS2.37%WD Caviar Green WD20EADS2.90%

Seagate Barracuda LP2.10%



Samsung SpinPoint F31.57%



WD Caviar Green WD10EADS1.55%



WD Caviar Black WD1001FALS1.35%



Maxtor DiamondMax 23 1.24%



Sold Between 4/1/2010 and 10/1/2010, Returns Made Before 4/1/2011
1 TB Hard Drives
Return Rate
2 TB Hard Drives
Return Rate
SSDs
Return Rate
Samsung SpinPoint F15.2% Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000
5.7%Intel0.3%
WD Caviar Green (WD10EADS)4.8%WD Caviar Green WD20EADS3.7%Kingston1.2%
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C4.4%Seagate Barracuda LP3.7%Crucial
1.9%
Seagate Barracuda LP4.1%WD Caviar Black WD2001FALS
3.0%Corsair2.7%
WD Caviar RE3 WD1002FBYS2.9%WD Caviar Green WD20EARS2.6%OCZ
3.5%
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12
2.2%WD Caviar RE4-GP WD2002FYPS1.6%

WD Caviar Black WD1002FAEX1.5%Samsung EcoGreen F31.4%


Samsung SpinPoint F31.4%



WD Caviar Black WD1001FALS1.3%



WD Caviar Blue WD10EALS1.3%



WD Caviar Green WD10EARS 1.2%




A drive failure implies the device is no longer functioning. However, returns can occur for a multitude of reasons. This presents a challenge because we don’t have any additional information on the returned drives—were they dead-on-arrival, did they stop working over time, or was there simply an incompatibility that prevented the customer from using the SSD?

Sold Between 10/1/2009 and 4/1/2010, Returns Made Before 10/1/2010
Top Three SSD Returns
Return Rate
Top Three HDD Returns
Return Rate
OCZ Vertex 2 90 GB2.8%
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 160 GB
8.62%
OCZ Agility 2 120 GB2.66%
Samsung SpinPoint F1 1 TB
4.48%
OCZ Agility 2 90 GB1.83%
Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000
3.41%
Sold Between 4/1/2010 and 10/1/2010, Returns Made Before 4/1/2011
Top Three SSD Returns
Return Rate
Top Three HDD Returns
Return Rate
OCZ Agility 2 120 GB6.7%
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 160 GB
16.0%
OCZ Agility 2 60 GB3.7%
Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000 2 TB
4.2%
OCZ Agility 2 40 GB3.6%
WD Caviar Black WD2001FASS4.0%


This information only presents us with more questions. If online purchases account for the majority of hard drives sold, poor packaging and carrier mishandling can have a real effect on return rates. Furthermore, we also have no way of normalizing how customers used these drives. The large variance in hard drive return rates underlines this problem. For example, the Seagate Barracuda LP rises from 2.1% to 4.1%, while the Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS drops from 2.4% to 1.2%.

Alright, so the data really tells us nothing about reliability. What does it say then? Well, there seem to be more satisfied French customers purchasing Intel SSDs and not returning them than any other brand. Interestingly, in private chats, engineers from several SSD manufacturers note that a significant percentage of returned drives are unused and sealed, even though customers claim a compatibility issue. Customer satisfaction is interesting, but it's far less interesting to us than failure rates. Moving on.

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  • AlexIsAlex
    The 'drive completely dead, data unrecoverable' failure mode is not the worst; I can restore yesterday's image and lose, at most, a day's data (acceptable for my usage - obv. tailor backup frequency etc. to what's acceptable to you).

    The worst is what happened to my last SSD. For weeks I thought the problems I was seeing were software issues: the occasional crash, the odd SxS error in the event log, a game failing Steam file validation, an
    old email showing half garbled. Eventually, I managed to diagnose the problem.

    Old, untouched, files on the SSD were being corrupted at a very low rate (a few bytes per GB, I'd estimate). A file could be written and verified after writing, but days later might fail a checksum test when read. Without any error notification, SMART or otherwise, to indicate that the data read was anything other than perfect.

    Now that was a problem. Who knows when the last backup image without any corruption was? How can you even tell? The vast majority of files will be fine, but some will be backed up corrupt, and may have been for some time. With much manual effort I eventually did recover everything important, but my new backup regime involves checksumming everything on the SSD weekly. If something has changed data but not changed timestamp, this time I'm going to get some red flags!

    I can't say for certain that this failure mode is SSD specific, but it happened on my first SSD, and never on any of my spinners. Not enough data to be statistically significant, but enough to make me cautious.
  • Anonymous
    Can second the findings with regard to OCZ Vertex 2 drives. Mine has just gone and without any warning - all data lost after a year of light use. OCZ are completely useless in helping to fix it. It's like they know that their SSDs fail a lot and aren't at all surprised. Have gone onto Intel 320 SSD based on the hardware.fr findings.
  • dyvim
    Thanks Andrew, that's an interesting article even for a layman operating a single SSD ^^
    So far my OCZ Vertex 2 is doing fine, but then failure is always only a probability. System drives shouldn't be used to store important data in my eyes anyways.
    If not having mechanical parts doesn't really lower the percentage of dying drives, that only means that backup is just as important (and as often forgotten) as it always was.
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