Flash-Based Failure


Today’s Question: In your answer on July 27th, you mention “flash-based SSD storage”, which you say has an almost guaranteed failure after a time. Can you clarify if ‘flash-based’ is a particular type of SSD storage? Is there another type of external SSD storage (other than flash-based) that does not have that same problem?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Flash-based storage refers to any device that employs non-volatile memory using flash memory chips. Flash-based storage includes SSD (solid state drive), the memory cards you use in your digital camera, USB-storage devices that are often referred to as “jump drives” or “thumb drives”, and more. Traditional hard drives are not flash-based storage devices, using magnetic platters and moving parts to read and write data.

More Detail: As discussed in my answer from July 27th (https://asktimgrey.com/2021/07/27/hard-drive-type/), flash-based storage will fail after a certain number of erase/write operations. Obviously, this isn’t a precise number of operations at which point a specific memory chip will fail, but rather an estimated number based on the general performance of the memory chips in use.

Most flash-based storage devices employ techniques that spread the load evenly across the memory chips on the device, along with other ways of attempting to extend the life of the storage and taking failed memory out of use without the device failing completely. Still, the overall life of flash-based storage is somewhat limited.

That said, I consider the advantages of flash-based storage, such as faster performance, less energy consumption, and more, to outweigh the drawbacks. It just means that you may want to replace your flash-based storage devices every few years or so, depending on the specific device and the degree to which you update the data on the specific storage device.

You can find some flash-based storage option examples here: