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Solid State Hard Disc Drives


A while ago, hard disc drives were always round wheels that spun on a bearing and had an armature to select tracks, with heads that could read and write the data into magnetic regions on the disc. The data was accessed from the computer using an interface, and from the computer's perspective, discs looked a bit like memory, only round.

As computer memory improved, it became possible to have "memory sticks" which were typically "Flash" memory, a non-volatile type of memory which had evolved from the EE-Eprom. Memory sticks typically had a USB interface.

However, a later adjustment to the technology means that some of the flash memory / memory sticks are configured with an interface like that of a hard disc drive. The first time I saw this was when a CF (Compact Flash) camera memory unit was found to be interfaced to a computer through a remarkably simple interface/connector to one of the computer's IDE (disc drive) ports. The later versions are much more like hard disc drives, and they are quieter, but there are issues:

* Flash memory, whether it's configured as a USB memory stick or as a solid state hard disc drive, has a problem that parts of it can fail after a large but finite number of write-cycles. Manufacturers, aware of this, have optimised the internal operations of the memory so that the usage is shared out across the space, like a tyre, except that the roundness itself tends to even out the wear on a tyre. In contrast, the internal logic of the memory unit evens out the wear. Unfortunately, the problem doesn't go away, and eventually it will fail, typically catastrophically! If that happens, you need to see Data Recovery companies to see about rescuing/recovering your data. However, you don't need to lose confidence in all solid state hard disc drives and USB memory sticks. Instead, just be sympathetic to the number of write-cycles and not pretend it's indefinitely re-usable. It's also important that the definitive version of your data does not reside on the shaky ground of a USB stick or solid state disc drive.

* Something that makes this initial problem of the temporary nature of that type of the memory is the fact that the internal logic is optimised for FAT32. That's all very fine if you're using FAT32 on the drive/memory. However, if you've reformatted it to Linux ext3 or to Microsoft DNFS, then it will wear out much sooner.

* If your solid state hard disc drive fails, don't give up! You can almost certainly get the data back. Experts at the Data Recovery companies can often get most, if not all, of the data back. Don't worry about the fact that it's just a black box (unlike a real gramophone-style hard disc drive which has actual moving parts inside).

* When buying a solid state hard disc drive, go to somewhere reputable like Maplin, and avoid buying dubious drives on online auction sites, or you could end up with the fake memory sticks problem. (There was no such problem with old-style HDD, as the forgers would not go to the trouble of making something that sounded right as well as pretending to be a disc drive).

To sum it up: It's easy to assume that a spinning hardware old-style disc drive will wear out whereas a modern solid-state hard disc drive won't ever wear out. In contrast, the old spinning disc technology has been refined by various hard disc drive manufacturers so that the machines are amazingly reliable. The heads don't actually touch the surface so the surface is not worn away. The contrast continues with solid-state hard disc drives seeming to be perfect and without risk of error as there are "no moving parts", so nothing to wear away. Yet curiously, the electrical characteristics are such that the blocks of memory DO wear out. Also, the mode of failure with a hardware hard drive is usually not catastrophic. Most of the disc surface is undamaged. Solid State Hard Disc Drives tend to fail catastrophically. Then it's an expert job for the Data Recovery people to get at the lost data.

Helpful hints and tips for making your solid state hard disc drive live longer and/or save yourself some grief:

* Get it from somewhere reputable.

* Make sure it's formatted FAT32.

* Don't assume it's an everlasting unbreakable nonvolatile memory.

* Write to it infrequently (it is the write-cycles that wear it out).

* Don't let your operating system use it as a scratchpad!

* Keep you definitive versions on the most reliable medium (currently physical hard disc drives, kept in safe places). Keep backups.

Well, there it is, a summary of solid state hard disc drives, initially written in December 2009. Good luck!


Here's a list of Data Recovery experts, just in case.