A Wear Leveling Refresher: How Long Will My SSD Last?

As if everything I’ve talked about thus far wasn’t enough to deal with, there’s one more major issue that directly impacts the performance of these drives: wear leveling.

Each MLC NAND cell can be erased ~10,000 times before it stops reliably holding charge. You can switch to SLC flash and up that figure to 100,000, but your cost just went up 2x. For these drives to succeed in the consumer space and do it quickly, it must be using MLC flash.


SLC (left) vs. MLC (right) flash

Ten thousand erase/write cycles isn’t much, yet SSD makers are guaranteeing their drives for anywhere from 1 - 10 years. On top of that, SSD makers across the board are calling their drives more reliable than conventional hard drives.

The only way any of this is possible is by some clever algorithms and banking on the fact that desktop users don’t do a whole lot of writing to their drives.

Think about your primary hard drive. How often do you fill it to capacity, erase and start over again? Intel estimates that even if you wrote 20GB of data to your drive per day, its X25-M would be able to last you at least 5 years. Realistically, that’s a value far higher than you’ll use consistently.

My personal desktop saw about 100GB worth of writes (whether from the OS or elsewhere) to my SSD and my data drive over the past 14 days. That’s a bit over 7GB per day of writes. Let’s do some basic math:

  My SSD
NAND Flash Capacity 256 GB
Formatted Capacity in the OS 238.15 GB
Available Space After OS and Apps 185.55 GB
Spare Area 17.85 GB

 

If I never install another application and just go about my business, my drive has 203.4GB of space to spread out those 7GB of writes per day. That means in roughly 29 days my SSD, if it wear levels perfectly, I will have written to every single available flash block on my drive. Tack on another 7 days if the drive is smart enough to move my static data around to wear level even more properly. So we’re at approximately 36 days before I exhaust one out of my ~10,000 write cycles. Multiply that out and it would take 360,000 days of using my machine the way I have been for the past two weeks for all of my NAND to wear out; once again, assuming perfect wear leveling. That’s 986 years. Your NAND flash cells will actually lose their charge well before that time comes, in about 10 years.

This assumes a perfectly wear leveled drive, but as you can already guess - that’s not exactly possible.

Write amplification ensures that while my OS may be writing 7GB per day to my drive, the drive itself is writing more than 7GB to its flash. Remember, writing to a full block will require a read-modify-write. Worst case scenario, I go to write 4KB and my SSD controller has to read 512KB, modify 4KB, write 512KB and erase a whole block. While I should’ve only taken up one write cycle for 2048 MLC NAND flash cells, I will have instead knocked off a single write cycle for 262,144 cells.

You can optimize strictly for wear leveling, but that comes at the expense of performance.

Why SSDs Care About What You Write: Fragmentation & Write Combining Why Does My 80GB Drive Appear as 74.5GB? Understanding Spare Area
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  • albor - Friday, June 18, 2010 - link

    Hi,
    try RamDisk Plus 11 from SuperSpeed.
    (http://www.superspeed.com/desktop/ramdisk.php)
    I use it on Xp pro 32 bit with 30 GB OCZ Vertex and 8 GB RAM. All above 3.2 GB is configured for swap and temp. Works perfectly and no visible SSD performance degradation after about 10 months.
    Greetings.
    Reply
  • jmr3000 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    would explain to me how did you install it?

    the ssd as a second drive or did u install all the program on the ssd and use the hhd as a second?

    thanks in advance!

    jm
    Reply
  • marraco - Friday, August 13, 2010 - link

    SWAP file is one of the most important speed bottleneck on windows.

    it writes frequently to disk, so consumes the read write cicles of the disk, reducing his useful life.

    But you are not buying space storage when you buy SSD. You are buying speed, so it makes nosense to buy an expensive SSD, and then remove from it all the activities that need the speed and are bottlenecks.

    you buy a SSD to do the fastest SWAP. keep it on SSD.

    Also, drive indexing permanently does a lot of reads, but it does not matter if the disk is fast. Drive indexing is like a little local google. If you disable it, and then search for all the files with a given text on it, searching the entire disk takes longer than just read an indexing.

    Those activities consume the useful life of the disk, but at the time the disk gonna need replacement, (5 years, maybe), this disk gonna need replacement anyways, and new SSD gonna be dirty cheap, so it makes no sense to disable swap, temp files, and indexing.

    On other side, prefetch, superfetch and defrag most probably are better disabled under SSD.
    Reply
  • jimlocke - Wednesday, June 01, 2011 - link

    Pehu, I know this much after your posting, but I was curios what you ended up doing for swap.
    8GB of RAM almost seems like swap may not be needed, unless you have several memory-hogging apps open.
    Hope you still like your SSD. I'm looking at getting one soon, and agree this was an excellent article!
    -Jim
    Reply
  • krumme - Friday, October 09, 2009 - link

    First: I submit to the importance of random 4k for ssd.
    Second: Over the years I have highly valued the articles of Anand. It is remarkable to see such detailed and enthusiastic information.

    Now I have a few questions, following the general impact of this work.
    Some observations first:
    Following an article at Toms of a ssd article the 6 of September. The author was called a “Moron”, primarily as the random 4k synthetic bm was missing. The author was giving a different opinion on the indilinx vs intel, in the desktop sector, compared to Anand, giving more weight to transfer vs iops.
    In an discussion about a Kingston V-series review, one said that he would take the indilinx ssd any day because it was “750 times faster” – an argument based on iops.
    Another remark I have read several times is: “The Intel x25-M g2 is the only drive to get”.
    Another is: “I would like to buy the Dell xx, but it has an Samsung controller so its of no use”.

    I think it is time to stop, and make sure there is reason in what is happening for normal desktop use.

    Do we have blind test where to tell the difference between the Intel, Samsung and Indilinx?
    What is the actual real world bm fx. Win7 boot times for the 3 controlers?

    There is something called good enough. When is 4k random read/write time enough, to not notice any subjective improvement afterwards in win7? Could it be fx. 10M/s?

    The ssd is the best thing happening since 3d gfx, but I think we should enjoy what is happeing right now, because this time, could be the turning point where we soon are focusing on small differences.

    Anyone knows what´s the next big thing?
    Reply
  • bebby - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    Random 4k and its relevance for desktop use is really the main topic for me, too.
    If I assume that I only use the SSD for the OS and software and save my data on other, much less expensive HDDs, I doubt very much that this discussion is worth it. The Samsung SSD then suddenly looks not so bad at all and much cheaper...
    The next big thing for me would be an OS starting up in 5 seconds, like the OS we had in the 90s...making SSD obsolete.
    Reply
  • bebby - Friday, October 30, 2009 - link

    Random 4k and its relevance for desktop use is really the main topic for me, too.
    If I assume that I only use the SSD for the OS and software and save my data on other, much less expensive HDDs, I doubt very much that this discussion is worth it. The Samsung SSD then suddenly looks not so bad at all and much cheaper...
    The next big thing for me would be an OS starting up in 5 seconds, like the OS we had in the 90s...making SSD obsolete.
    Reply
  • marraco - Friday, August 13, 2010 - link

    I agree completely. I think that human beings can nottice the difference between a hard disk, and a non bad SSD, because the difference is too large, but over "good enough", it does not matter much if the SSD is 2X or 4X faster in 4Kb random R/W.

    But mine is just an opinion, and I don't have good data to test it. I would like to read an article with repeatable testing on human perception.
    Reply
  • SimesP - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - link

    I haven't read all 254 comments (yet) but I'd like to add my thanks to everyone elses for the comprehensive and illuminating article. This, along with the previous AnandTech SSD articles have increased my understanding of SSD's immensely.

    Thanks again!
    Reply
  • ClemSnide - Friday, October 02, 2009 - link

    Anand,

    A couple of guys from HotHardware.com pointed me at your SSD article, and it allowed me to make an informed decision. Thanks!

    I wanted to speed up one game in particular (World of Warcraft) as well as routine OS tasks and web browsing. I think an SSD will do a bang-up job on at least the first two. The one I decided upon was the OCZ Agility 60 GB, which offers some growth room; I currently have 40 GB on my system drive. I know the Intel has better numbers, but I was able to get the OCZ for $156 after a rebate, which translates to decent performance at a price I can justify. (For the curious, it's available from TigerDirect for $184, and OCZ is giving a $30 rebate.)

    Even though my system build is still months away, this should be usable on my old clunker as well. Very nifty!
    Reply

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