If you recognize and dismiss all these SSD myths and misconceptions for what they are, you’re ahead of most people. And if not, there’s no time like the present to update your SSD knowledge.
When compared to their mechanical hard drive (HDD) counterparts, solid-state drives (SSDs) still cost more per gigabyte of storage, it’s true.
But if you haven’t gone parts shopping recently, you might still think that SSDs are a too-costly upgrade you should skip. Fortunately, the days of spending $200 on a drive barely big enough to install Windows on are long behind us.
For as long as there have been solid-state drives, there has been concern over how long they last, which is fair, of course. If something is positioning itself to replace the tried-and-true mechanical hard drive, you want it to last at least as long.
Thankfully at this point, we have plenty of data to work with. And the data from punishing SSD use in data centers indicates they last a very long time.
While there are a variety of things that factor into SSD longevity, one of the biggest is Terabytes Written (TWB). Solid-state drives have a limited number of writes before the drive is exhausted, and the TWB value is the manufacturer’s statement of how much data you can write before hitting that point. The TWB value for most drives is proportional to the size of the drive (such that a 1TB drive will have a much higher TWB value than a 500GB drive).
When held up against real-world use for your average consumer, TWBs are astronomically high. Most 1TB drives have a TWB of 600TB. To hit that TWB value in 5 years, you’d need to write 328.8GB to disk every single day.
Realistically, your SSD will outlive your computer and perhaps several upgrades. Only a personal note, I’ve been using SSDs as my primary OS drives since 2011, and I have yet to have a drive die. Every SSD in my household lives multiple lives working its way from PC to PC and project to project.
The fear that hibernation mode ruins solid-state drives is a logical extension of the fear that the drives, in general, wear out prematurely. But, like that fear, the fear of ruining your SSD with hibernation mode is misplaced.
Hibernation takes the active contents of your system’s RAM and writes them to disk so that when you resume using the computer later, the operating system can dump the hibernation file back into the memory, and it’s like you never left.
That seems bad for SSD longevity, but we crunched the numbers, and it turns out it just doesn’t matter. What did we find? Daily hibernation of a PC shaves less than a percent per year off the TBW life of the drive.
Whether you hibernate every time you stop using your computer for the day, put it to sleep, or turn it completely off, it just doesn’t matter in the long run.
Ask anybody who has switched from a traditional HDD to an SSD what the benefits are, and it’s likely the first thing they’ll talk about is boot times. No doubt about it, the difference between booting with an HDD and booting with an SSD is astounding. Even after using an SSD as my primary disk for over a decade, I’m still in awe of how fast computers boot with an SSD.
But fast boots times aren’t the only reason to use an SSD. They’re faster, quieter, more energy efficient, produce less heat, and take up less space. They’re great for gaming, too—with my last PC build, I switched over all my game disks to SSD, and the performance improvement is noticeable.
And while this might not matter as much for desktops, they’re also far more impact resistant. It’s not great to drop your laptop at all, but at least with an SSD you have a storage drive with no moving parts to get jarred around.
Back in the day when SSDs were new, operating systems weren’t designed with the assumption that you’d likely be using one. Swapping between an HDD and an SSD was a bit of a minor hassle that often involved manually updating SSD firmware, using tools to align disk partitions, and other hoops to jump through.
Today, SSDs are treated as the default, and migrating from an HDD to an SSD is unbelievably simple to do with free software tools. So simple that you can do it in under an hour. In fact, it’s so easy to do it’s our top recommendation for breathing new life into an old PC.
If you search the internet for advice on optimizing your SSD, you’ll find piles of it. But that advice is a combination of misguided and outdated.
If you want to see for yourself, here’s how to check that TRIM is enabled in Windows. TRIM is an SSD-only function that optimizes data deletion to extend drive life. It’s turned on by default, but it’s always comforting to see things are running as they should.
The established way to “wipe” a traditional mechanical hard drive securely is to overwrite the drive with garbage data like random numbers. This is because traditional hard drives magnetically write the data to disk—a random pass overwrites the existing data to prevent recovery.
The way the TRIM function works with SSDs, however, changes things. Overwriting your entire SSD with random data just puts excessive wear and tear on the SSD with no real benefit—and, in fact, because of hardware-level optimizations, you may not even fully overwrite everything. TRIM isn’t a secure delete tool, but by the nature of how it functions, it might as well be as it makes it extremely difficult to recover data from the disk.
If you want to go the secure disk wipe route with an SSD, however, you can use a different set of tools than you would for a mechanical hard drive. Instead of a brute-force disk writing tool, you should use a secure erase tool designed for SSDs.
Some motherboards have an SSD erase tool built into the BIOS, and most manufacturers have a manufacturer-supplied secure erase tool—such as Samsung’s Magician software. These tools interact with the drive at the controller level and erase the storage cells without imposing unnecessary writes.
Years ago, there were persistent rumors that if you didn’t power up your SSD regularly, you would lose data because the electronics in the storage cells would dissipate. How regularly? As the rumor went, it could happen in a matter of weeks or even days.
But these rumors were largely a result of misinterpretation of industry data—primarily this early 2010s slideshow—intended to help enterprise customers understand data loss risks for drives that were run past their end-of-life windows and then stored under less-than-ideal conditions.
The average consumer is not writing petabytes of data to an SSD and then storing it at high temperatures, so there’s little to worry about. Further, the industry specifications for consumer-grade SSDs indicate the drive should retain data for at least a year without powering on. Consumer-grade drives are designed specifically with the understanding that they will not be powered on all the time and may be stored for extended periods.
Practically speaking, it’s far more likely your computer will be lost, stolen, damaged, or outright replaced before you run into a situation where the disk has been powered off so long you lose data.