When trying to choose the best type of hard drive for storage longevity there are key factors to consider, the main one being the degradation of data, SSDs are not emune to this and can lose data very quickly.
Each generation of SSD see improvements in the amount of time they can store data without power. They are required by the JEDEC standards to be able to retain data for a minimum of 1 year without power for consumers. So why only a year when manufacturers claim a lot longer?
How do SSDs store data without power?
SSDs are very impressive technology, all in all, they are an amazing step up from HDDs in almost every way, they are faster, more durable, smaller, have no moving parts, etc… To achieve all of these things they use NAND flash memory. Where HDDs store data by polarizing parts of magnetic disks SSDs store data by using floating gate transistors and internal electrons to allow or block current to transistors creating an altered readable state which can then be interpreted as either a 1 or a 0.
These transistors don’t require power to hold their state, but they cannot go without a charge indefinitely. This is because the state is determined by how many electrons are injected into the NAND gate which makes it identifiable as a 1 or 0 by its voltage. These Electrons “leak out” over time and require the SSD to be plugged in to regenerate or reinstate the charges over the gates. If this isn’t done soon enough the voltage will change enough for the state of the transistor to be changed which corrupts the data.
What holds data longer without power, SSDs or HDDs?
Newer models of SSD claim to be able to retain data for as long as 50 years without power, that said the average consensus is somewhere between 5 to 10 years based on consumer data. HDDs can hold the data itself for a lot longer without degradation but typically their mechanical parts fail first, usually within 8 to 10 years.
At this point, it is impossible to tell how long an SSD can hold data without power because unlike HDDs which don’t see many improvements, SSDs are continuously being improved with each generation so the tests are only as good as the drives available when the test commenced. Brand new top of the line SSD should last a very long time without power according to the manufacturers but it remains to be seen how accurate their numbers are.
This makes it a very difficult question to answer, on the one hand, HDDs are measurably better and meet higher standards, and in theory, a magnetic state should have no reason to change as it doesn’t suffer from degradation as charges do. However, theoretically, an SSD will outperform it in every way.
With that said there is another thing to consider and that is the recoverability of the data. HDD data is far easier to recover, SSDs are harder to recover data from and once the data is corrupted due to the transistor charge failing the data is unrecoverable.
Can heat corrupt data on my SSD?
The JEDEC standards stipulate that an SSD must be able to retain data unpowered for 1 year in up to 30 degrees Celcius. In fact, if you increase that temperature by 5 degrees Celcius then you reduce that time scale by half, significant increases can reduce it right down to a couple of days, however, this is an extremely unlikely circumstance. As I don’t know about you but if my house is higher than 30 degrees Celcius it would be too uncomfortable for me let alone my hard drive! at that point, I’m trying to cool it down!
Most manufacturers will have their own specs for this but the standard for an SSD that’s powered on is to operate fully up to 40 degrees Celcius, so if you have adequate cooling in your computer then this shouldn’t be an issue. But overheating can cause data corruption so it is worth ensuring your computer is running efficiently.
Are SSDs a good option for long-term data storage?
A newer model SSD should work well for long term data storage provided it is stored appropriately itself. Keep an SSD free from knocks and fluctuating temperatures and it SHOULD last a long time. At least a year anyway. As I have said there is no way to tell exactly how long.
Whether you are using an HDD or an SSD for long-term storage you should periodically plug them in to check the drive health and any important data should be stored in a system, that uses reliable backups as putting a hard drive in a drawer is no guarantee that that data is safe until you plug it in again.
A common solution to this is to use a raid system with multiple drives that act as continuous backups. That way when one drive fails it can be removed and replaced without any data loss. This is most commonly done with HDDs as they are far more affordable, especially for higher capacity needs. And seeing as long term storage doesn’t typically require the speed advantages of SSDs it usually isn’t worth the extra expense.
How long can I leave a computer turned off for without losing data?
If you have a spare or old computer that has an SSD in it or an HDD for that matter you may be wondering how often you should be booting it up in order to prevent the risk of data loss. As a rule, at least once a year should suffice to ensure the data isn’t getting corrupted. But you should probably do it more often if you want to ensure the mechanical parts remain functional as fluctuations in temperature can reduce the functionality of the grease used in fan and motor spindles though this is unlikely in normal environments.
Can I use a SSD in a time capsule?
SSDs are definitely the most advanced digital storage medium we have available today but probably aren’t the best choice for storing data in a time capsule as there are more effective long term storage solutions available.
This is because they arent designed to be able to retain data for centuries, they are designed to make important and often used data accessible as fast as possible. Despite the fact they don’t have moving parts this is what puts them in a favourable position over HDDs and older technologies. But it also means that data retention only needs to be considered for relatively short amounts of time. Some manufacturers claim storage unpowered for up to 50 years but this requires very stable and controlled conditions that would be unlikely to be maintained in a time capsule.
HDDs are also a sub-optimal choice, although the data retention is arguably better they require internal mechanical parts that cant be changed, so let’s say 100 years from now you dig one up, you would need the specialist equipment of the day to be able to recover the data from it.
In fact, the most highly recommended solution to this problem is to use a tech that is somewhat obsolete to us already. CDs. Optical disks can provide a very reliable solution for the long-term storage of data, particularly if you choose archival grade disks. A quick search will bring up some results. There are even services that will burn the disk for you because if you bought your computer in the last 5 years it probably didn’t come with a disk drive!
The problem future generations might have is in finding an optical drive to read the disks! Perhaps you could put on in the time capsual with it!