updated 11:15 am EDT, Tue March 18, 2008
SSD Notebook Failure Rates
At least one major computer manufacturer is encountering an unusually high rate of failure among notebooks equipped with solid-state drives (SSDs), according to a report by analyst group Avian Securities. Declining to name the company in question, manager Avi Cohen of the research firm claims that a major PC manufacturer is seeing returns of at least 20 percent and as much as 30 percent of the SSD systems it sells. Most of these, or up to 20 percent, are from drives which failed outright, though Cohen doesn't say whether this stems from the storage itself or the controller chip, which manages data transfers between the SSD and its host computer.
The analyst is also hesitant to name the drive manufacturer, though Samsung is currently the most common SSD producer.
A further portion of these returns, or as much as 10 percent of all sales, are coming back from owners unhappy with the real-world performance of the systems. While sometimes marketed as faster than conventional hard disks, most current SSDs are often slower at reading or writing sequential files, such as a series of small files. The near-zero latency of flash memory is usually credited with the speed-up but most often affects just random access, where the spin time for rotating hard disks proves a setback.
The return rate for conventional systems is far lower in comparison, according to Avian. Hard drive-based failures only account for no more than 2 percent of all notebook returns from the same unnamed company, suggesting a systemic flaw in the SSDs themselves.
While faster SSDs are expected this year that should eliminate most speed complaints, the problem raises concerns for computer makers whose model lines depend in part or in whole on SSDs for storage. While Dell and its sub-label Alienware have been some of the most outspoken supporters of SSDs and include them as options for most of their higher-end notebooks and desktops, other companies have produced high-profile systems that use SSDs as selling points.
Apple's MacBook Air can use an SSD as an option, while Lenovo's ThinkPad X300 is one of the few notebooks to depend exclusively on SSD for its permanent storage and ships with a 64GB SSD as standard. Both are believed to depend on the same Samsung drives, though may not necessarily be affected by the same problems as the unnamed PC builder.