Preserving Data on HDDs and SSDs

Hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) offer numerous advantages over each other, like speed, cost and storage capacity. But a key thing to consider when deciding what to opt for storing your data on is longevity, as well as the ease of data recovery should anything go wrong.

The first thing to bear in mind is that any life expectancy figures for hard disk drives and solid state drives are only guides, and assume that they’re kept in the correct environment. Sudden extremes in temperature and moisture, as well as incorrect handling, can lead to physical damage that can drastically reduce your drive’s lifespan. Hard disk drives are electromechanical devices, with moving parts inside, which makes them more susceptible to physical damage. In saying this, though, data recovery techniques have been refined over the years, to the point of a near-guaranteed success rate so long as the drive isn't ridiculously damaged. Although solid state drives don’t have any moving parts, they do have their own problems, and can suffer from physical faults. SSDs’ use of NAND flash chips can also make data recovery more challenging in the event of physical damage.

One would assume that if you left a hard drive and solid state drive in one place indefinitely, in optimum conditions, then they’d last forever and no data would be lost. This isn’t necessarily true. Data on a hard disk drive will gradually degrade, due to the magnetic domains changing polarity. With solid state drives, data is lost even faster, due to how data is stored. SSDs store data on NAND flash chips as electrical charges, which leak away much faster in comparison with magnetic storage; data recovery from a degraded SSD is virutually impossible. The level of cells in the SSD’s flash chips will determine how long your data will last; triple level cell (TLC) memory will degrade quicker.

Storage conditions also have an impact on the lifespans of both hard disk drives and solid state drives. High humidity can lead to oxidisation of components in both HDDs and SSDs. But high temperatures have a hugely significant effect on SSDs ability to retain data; media degradation increases the higher the temperature. If your NAND chips have been subject to too high a temperature, again, data recovery will become next to impossible.

So should you be worrying about your data disappearing? Generally, no – if you keep your computer or laptop in the correct conditions and avoid physical damage, you’ll be fine. Obviously, with mobile devices, there is a higher risk of physical damage, and their use of NAND flash memory makes them more susceptible to media degradation. If you’re looking to store data long term, we’d advise you to use an HDD over an SSD. Not only are they cheaper in terms of cost per GB, it’s easy to undertake data recovery if you do lose your data.

Data Recovery