SSDs (Solid State Drives) may one day become the standard form of storage in computers. Apple laptops are already heading that way. There are certainly many advantages when comparing SSDs to HDDs (Hard Disk Drives), however they do bring their own problems, which are often not well reported. We don’t care how good SSDs can be. We care about how they fail. It’s common to hear things like: “I’m replacing my hard drive with an SSD so I won’t have to worry about it crashing again.” While this is technically true – there are no moving parts to crash – there are plenty of other ways an SSD can fail. Whether it’s technically crashed or not doesn’t matter at all when you can’t access your files. It’s a shame but an SSD does not get you out of the boring task of running regular backups.
There are some pros and cons which specifically affect data recovery from SSDs. I haven’t listed things like battery life or read / write speed as they are not relevant when it comes to recovering data from them.
SSD Data Recovery Pros:
Shock resistance. No moving parts to crash.
Just as susceptible to filesystem issues, deletion, reformatting, bad sectors etc which can be recovered using existing equipment.
False sense of security. The word reliable comes up a lot in SSD marketing with phrases like “More reliable, faster, and more durable than traditional magnetic hard drives.” Maybe research exists that shows SSDs are less prone to failure but it doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. Anything that holds your valuable data runs the risk of getting drenched, getting stolen, getting lost, and that’s before we even take general failures into account.
Susceptible to electronic failure, Maybe more so than a hard drive as the storage and electronics are combined in SSDs. Some of the most common hard drive failures are caused by errors in the firmware which controls the performance of the drive. SSDs have very complex firmware, which opens the possibility of firmware corruption. In most cases firmware corruption will block access to your data.
Encryption. Most modern SSDs encrypt the data at a hardware level, which makes it impossible to remove data chips and extract data from them externally (you can do it, but the data is encrypted). The keys to the encryption are often stored within the controller chip, so if that fails, you could be locked out of your data for good. Modern encryption works well. You can’t get round it.
Wear-levelling algorithms. Which move the data around the SSDs to improve performance, can make recovery difficult as these algorithms would need to be taken into account when accessing a failed SSD. They don’t store data in logical order like hard drives do.
Apple have recently announced a recall program for all iMacs with internal 1TB Seagate Hard Drives. These hard drives fail unexpectedly with no prior warning. We noted the failure of these hard drives in a post back in 2009. You can check whether your iMac has an internal 1TB Seagate Hard Drive by entering your iMac Serial Number at this link.
This recall program has now ended. If you have one of these hard drives that has failed you may be interested in our Mac Data Recovery Services.
This immense 2TB iMac drive may be heavy, but have you ever wondered why?
When we recover these drives we often have to work on individual heads. As you can see from the image, this monster has 10 heads (the first is numbered zero). This means there are 5 spinning disks inside the drive.
From the outside, the only clue that these drives are so rammed full of disks is their weight. They are no bigger physically than any other desktop hard drive.
We have recently recovered a RAID 5 array which consisted of three of these ST373454LC SCSI hard drives. These are solid, weighty drives, which don’t give off a great deal of vibration, despite spinning at 15,000 rpm; 3 times faster than most laptop hard drives!
Upon opening one of the drives for cleanroom rework we discovered why these drives spin so quietly. In the picture below you can see that although the drives are standard 3.5″ form factor, they actually have 2.5″ disk platters. These smaller disks create less drag, and therefore can spin faster without stability problems.
These drives are not alone in mixing up the form factors. The popular WD Raptor drives also use a similar design.
Of course the biggest downside to using smaller disks is the lower storage capacity. Typically SCSI hard drives are much lower capacity than their SATA counterparts, so this trade-off is acceptable for the speed and reliability increases. The relatively low capacity is further mitigated when the drives are used in RAID arrays.
The Register has today posted two articles about the ongoing battle to expand hard drive capacities.
First is an actual device for sale, a 2TB Western Digital portable drive. This drive has a fancy new case and USB3 connection. It contains backup software and also the option to encrypt the data with a password. I wonder if it encrypts the data by default like some of their previous portables. (A bad thing!)
Second is a futuristic announcement from Seagate about their new HAMR technology. This new tech uses a laser to heat part of the disk before magnetising it. This apparently allows for much higher densities, theoretically paving the way for 60TB hard drives. There doesn’t appear to be any products using this technology at the moment.
60TB drives will be fantastic for backups, but horrible to backup without a new, faster form of connection. These would take almost forever (exaggeration) to fill up by SATA.
This news helps prove that hard drives are far from dead. It will take a long time until SSDs can cope with such massive capacities, at a similar cost to these beasts.
This Seagate ST31000333AS 1TB drive suffered a head crash resulting in severe media damage. The contamination caused by the damage can be seen on the disc surface as well as the internal filter. The filter is usually white but is now silver metallic in colour as a result of the contamination. The customer did not have any indication that this was going to happen.
Last week we wrote about the Thai floods affecting hard drive manufacturer Western Digital. It now appears that the floods are causing problems for Seagate. Although not directly affecting their own manufacturing plants, the floods are causing problems in the supply chain, which could cause delays and shortages getting their drives to market.
The Register today reported of expected supply problems for Western Digital, due to the severe flooding in Thailand at the moment. We are already having problems getting hold of certain hard drives, and this is sure to make the situation worse.
We at Dataquest have been aware of the problem with 1TB Seagate drives for some time. It is pleasing to see that Apple are also recognising the problem and are offering their customers a free swap out. These drives are mainly seen in iMacs, but you may also get them in the Mac Pro so make sure your back ups are up to date.
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