Solid state drives (SSDs) last longer than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fail. How do you recover lost data? Is it even possible?
When solid-state drives (SSD) began to hit the market, they were hailed for their speed and reliability. Users assume that because an SSD has no mechanical parts, it is less likely to suffer a mechanical failure.
Those users are largely correct. Numerous studies indicate that an SSD will last longer and perform better over an extended period, especially as the technology becomes more efficient and with larger storage to boot.
But that doesn’t mean your SSD will not fail at some point. And when that does happen, how do you recover your data? Can you recover data from an SSD?
Why Do SSDs Fail?
You don’t have to worry about the mechanical components in your solid-state drive wearing down over time. That’s because there is no moving arm writing to a spinning disc, like in a traditional hard drive.
That doesn’t mean your SSD will not experience any wear and tear. Capacitors degrade over time, the power supply could break, and the controller chip could kick the bucket. So, while an SSD is more reliable than a mechanical hard drive, it does have components that can and will break.
Solid State Drive Wear Rates
There are three common measurements used to describe SSD wear rates. Of course, YMMV, but manufacturers test the SSD hardware extensively before releasing it to consumers. The three specifications are:
- P/E Cycles: A program-erase cycle is a process where data is written to an SSD memory block, erased, and rewritten. The entire process counts as one cycle. The number of cycles an SSD can withstand depends on the manufacturer, hardware, and SSD technology. Total P/E cycles can range from as low as 500 up to a high of around 100,000.
- TBW: The Terabytes Written measurement details how much data you can write to an SSD before it fails. For example, a 250GB Samsung 860 EVO SSD carries a 150TBW rating, whereas the 1TB model comes with a 600TBW rating. Like P/E cycles, ratings vary between manufacturers and the SSD technology.
- MTBF: The Measurement of Time Between Failures is the third SSD reliability measurement you will see. MTBF describes the SSD reliability over its expected lifetime under normal operation and is typically measured in the tens of thousands of hours.
SSDs are built for longevity. You should expect your SSD to last you quite a while. Better still, there aren’t many things that can outright destroy your SSD. However, the simple fact of the matter is that as your SSD ages, electronic components wear and will eventually fail.
Can You Recover Data From a Failed Solid State Drive?
An SSD often does not give much warning before it fails. Electronic components don’t begin to grind or buzz as they grow older. They work—and then they don’t.
When an SSD suddenly goes silent, it’s bad news.
When SSDs were brand new to the market, data recovery specialists were unsure if you could recover data in the same way as you would with a regular hard drive. Several years on and data recovery software now comprehensively caters for SSDs.
Many consumer data recovery tools, such as EaseUS, Stellar Data Recovery, Disk Drill, and Recoverit, offer a specific SSD data recovery option or standalone tool. Recovering data from an SSD is absolutely possible.
The only question is how effective SSD data recovery is. The potential for data recovery on an SSD is hampered due to the way an SSD self-manages data destruction using the TRIM command. Furthermore, the chance of data recovery depends on the SSD status. Is the drive completely broken, or did you lose data in a power surge?
How Does SSD TRIM Impact Data Recovery?
To understand how TRIM impacts data recovery, it is useful to understand what happens when you delete a file on your computer.
Data Deletion on a Hard Drive
A traditional hard drive stores files in physical locations on a magnetic platter. The operating system indexes the file locations in a file system and accesses the data using a mechanical arm. Whereas, a solid state drive is a form of flash memory, like a USB thumb drive—but with a much larger capacity.
When you press Delete, the file doesn’t actually annihilate into the ether. First, it moves to the Recycle Bin, where its indexed location remains in place in case you want to rest. When you delete the file from the Recycle Bin (or use the Shift + Delete shortcut for direct delete), Windows removes the file completely and informs the operating system that the space is available for new data.
While that seems a little convoluted, it means your data remains recoverable, at least for a short period.
Data Deletion on an SSD
Your SSD is different from a regular hard drive due to the data storage technology. Your SSD stores data in cells. Before writing new data to a cell, the SSD must move the existing data to another location on the SSD.
During regular operations, SSDs essentially rapidly zero the data containing cells before rewriting data. SSDs maintain control over where data is written within the cells. This means that the operating system might request data to be written to block 1,000, whereas the SSD pointer table contains an altogether different number. This is known as wear-leveling.
Data still writes to the SSD. The SSD manages the location of the data, ensuring there is space for the new data to write to the drive. However, the operating system might mark a block as empty according to its records, while the SSD is moving data around to ensure even wear.
That’s where the TRIM command comes in, TRIM allows the operating system to tell the SSD which blocks it can pre-zero. The process keeps the data write process fast as you don’t have to wait for the block to zero.
The flip side of that usefulness is that you don’t know when the TRIM command will inform on which blocks to zero.
How to Spot a Failing SSD and Save Your Data
The best way to stop a catastrophic loss of data from your SSD is to understand the warning signs. Your old hard drive would whirr, click, grind, and beep before it finally hit the dust. But your SSD doesn’t give those audible warning signs.
There are several common warnings that indicate that your SSD is about to die:
- Bad block errors: You cannot write to a specific block on the SSD, random freezes and errors, random crashes
- Cannot write to disk: As it says, you can no longer write to the SSD, which in turn causes crashes, errors, and more
- File system repair: You need to repair your operating file system on an increasingly regular basis
- Boot crashes: Your operating system cannot boot properly, and your system fails to load
- Read-only: The SSD suddenly switches into read-only mode, stopping you from writing new data to the drive
These are not the only indicators before an SSD failure, but they are the most common. A healthy backup system should form part of any computer user’s routine. You never know when something might happen, and you’ll kick yourself if you lose important data.
Check Your SSD Health
You can check the health of your SSD, too, making sure that a failure and loss of data isn’t lurking around the next boot process. Software results vary depending on the hardware and operating system, but you can find out if your SSD is working well.
Failed SSD Data Recovery Is Possible
If you take care of your SSD, use monitoring tools to check drive health, and perhaps purchase a surge protector, you stand a chance of stopping a catastrophic SSD error. You cannot catch everything, however, and some issues will make it through your checks and defenses.
Taking a regular system backup is the best way to protect against not only an SSD failure but a vast array of critical hardware issues.