Before discussing the lifespan or reliability of SSD or HDD. We first need to have a bit of understanding about them both and how they work.
What is an HDD?
A hard disk drive (HDD) is a data storage device which stores data magnetically with the help of spinning disks (Also called platter due to being rigid in structure).
The data is written on the disks with “heads” which are arranged on an “actuator arm”
HDD has been available in the market much before the SSD’s. They come majorly in two form factors –
Big 3.5 inch used in desktop computers
Smaller 2.5 inch used in laptops
What is an SSD?
Solid state drive (SSD) are a data storage device which store data electrically through circuit boards which has flash memory chips on it.
The Flash memory which used SSD’s is NAND Flash (Know more about it here). Then there is a controller unit which controls the data on SSD.
SSD’s do not have any moving parts in them. That is why they are called solid state, in the sense that they do not have any moving state.
Due to no moving parts in SSDs are lighter and smaller than HDD’s. Making them flexible for smaller use cases.
Quick reference Table – SSD vs HDD
Now that we have some heads up, lets jump right in to the actual discussion.
Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
Solid State Drive (SSD)
Offer much better performance
HDDs are cheaper
General Lifespan and Reliability
SSD’s are better
Very Long term storage/Archival storage
HDD’s are better
Physical Damage (drops, vibations etc)
SSD’s are better at handling
Size, Dimensions and Weight
SSDs are more compact and light weight
Failure Rate in General Usage
Less fail percentage
Data recovery in case of failure
Easier to recover data
SSD vs HDD : lifespan
The general life span of an average consumer hard drive (SSDs or HDDs) is roughly similar to around 4-5 years. Most manufacturers give a warranty period of 3 – 5 years. But in most cases it goes much beyond that
Even though SSDs do have limited r/w cycles (also called p/e cycle or program/erase) – which is how many times a drive can read and write data in its lifetime. This is due to the electrical nature of IC used in SSD.
Still, most modern SSDs can will easily outlast average consumer use case. The manufacturers of SSD give this estimate in terabyte(s) written (TBW). This means how much TB of data can be written to drive over its overall lifespan.
The average TBW given for a typical 250 GB SSD ranges from 70TBW to 150 TBW. Let’s take 70TBW. If you write 30 GB per day on your hard drive. It will take approximately 6 years to reach that 70 TB limit.
For your normal usage 30 GB is still a lot. Add to it, these reported numbers are still lower than the real TBWs. As per the test conducted by a German tech magazine here. The real TBW are around 3 to10 times more than reported figures.
For higher capacity and higher quality SSDs, the TBW is even higher. This clearly proves fear of a limited lifespan is just exaggerated mostly.
On the other hand even though HDDs have no such limit, HDD usually fail earlier due to mechanical reasons like damaged head, motor failure etc.
In most general use case scenarios modern SSD’s will have more lifespan
To conclude, the rule of thumb should be to seek for replacing your hard drives after 5 years.
SSD vs HDD : Reliability
In general usage SSDs are more reliable than HDD. Due to no moving parts in SSDs. They are less prone to mechanical failures, more resistant to accidental drops and rough usage.
On the other hand, HDD have moving parts and are more prone to failure if dropped and exposed to vibrations. As the head and disk (platter) can get misaligned or lead to other issues.
HDD or SSD? Long Term Storage/Archival storage
In this case, we are talking about a scenario in which you just copy your data on a hard drive and just stash it away for a very long duration may be for multiple years.
In this case, HDDs are more preferable. Mainly due to two reasons. Cost and the storage type.
HDDs store data in magnetic form which is more suitable for long term storage compared to SSDs, which store data electrically in the form of electrical charge. They can lose their data, if left disconnected for a long time due to leakage of charge.
With that said, the modern SSDs are becoming more and more efficient for the long term situation. But still HDDs are more preferable for long term, due to their magnetic storage type.
Also, what makes HDD more suitable here is cost. HDD are comparatively cheaper than SSD. And why you will buy your premium SSD just to keep it in your cupboard stashed away.
SSD vs HDD: Failure
The failure rate of modern SSDs is less than that of HDDs. In a scientific study conducted, it shows that failure rate of SSDs (failure rate of 0.5% to 1%) is much lower than HDDs (failure rate of 2-5%).
But, one thing to keep in mind is even though SSDs fail less than HDDs. They fail abruptly compared to HDDs. That is why keeping check on SSDs working becomes important. Luckily you can use disk monitoring tools like crystaldiskinfo (for windows) or Smart Reporter Lite (for mac) which help in identifying how the SSDs are working.
For HDD, they will frequently start to give warning signs before failing- weird sounds, slow performance, corrupted files etc
Finally, your SSDs will fail less often than HDD in most normal usages.
Data Recovery : SSD vs HDD
While SSDs are more reliable and durable than HDD. Data recovery is a whole another game.
Recovering data from SSD is very difficult compared to HDD.
This is due to the complex Circuit design of SSDs and use of controllers to manage data in SSDs.
In contrast, data recovery from HDDs is easier than SSDs.
Bonus Tip : Backups are the most important
Whether you go with SSD or HDD. Everything will eventually fail. Backup is the most important thing you should have. Backups are the only thing that will help you in case of any failure.
Ideally, you should follow a 3-2-1 scheme.
You should have 3 copies of your data
Your data should be backup up in 2 different types of mediums (like – HDD, cloud backups etc.)
Keep 1 copy in some off-site location. Different from your usual locations
This may sound over the top. But you have to decide how important is your data to you.
Summing it Up
The world of storage and Hard drive is constantly changing.
While SSD are getting more and more popular due to their high performance and generally good reliability. HDD are not going anywhere soon. Due to their cheap costs and many new innovations coming in them.
SSD vs HDD topic is here to stay. Do let me know in comments if I have missed any point? How has been your experience with SSD vs HDD lifespan ?