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I Got the Solid State Blues

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Solid state drives are all the range, taking the place of traditional mechanical hard drives in laptops, the have become standard in mobile devices and they’ve even been seen in traditional desktop PCs.  And for good reason.  Solid state drives, unlike traditional drives with a magnetic spinning platter and a head, have no moving parts.  That means there is nothing mechanical to wear out.  Additional benefits?  They are faster which makes your computer seem faster, especially when booting.  What’s there not to like?

For one thing they’re pricier.  They cost considerably more per gigabyte than mechanical hard drives.  But more important when they do break they are the Humpty Dumpty of drives, really difficult to put all the pieces together again.  That is because unlike HHD the data you store doesn’t live in any particular sector, it’s sort of spread out amongst the solid state chips.  Technically speaking, the operating system thinks it knows what’s going on in every sector, but the SSD drive has a mind of its storing data in its own particular pattern.

How do I know this?  I fried my solid state hard drive on my Samsung Series 9 laptop. I’d been traveling quite a bi,t so I lost about a month of data since I wasn’t saving things to the cloud (thanks to bad connections) or to a backup (since there was none).  Samsung was more than happy to replace my broken drive, but incapable of restoring the data on the damaged one.  My first attempt to repair was to DIY. We bought a USB to micro SATA and tried to find data on the drive using a Linux bootdisk. This required me being very nice to my husband, who has had considerable experience recovering data from disks.  He fell short on this one.  The recovery tools found nothing.

After an endless Samsung support call loop (they have a solid state department who sent me to the laptop department over and over again) I was finally referred to a third party data recovery specialist.  The quote was $1600 to recover the data.  I gasped, but chalked it up to dumb luck and sent my drive to a company called Data Recovery Systems, an outfit that prided  on milking the  data back out of anything.

After a week they called me to tell me that “it was worse than they thought” and that the real cost for recovering my data would be another $2900. “ The $1600 was just a for us to look and see if we what we could recover, “ announced Sam, the tech guy,  “ but solid state drives are very tricky.  They need to be taken apart chip by chip and the data rebuilt  sort of manually.”

We bargained, I checked out solid state drive information on Quora and finally settled on more money but not that much money.  They even had the you-know -what’s to charge me for a hard drive to put my recovered data on.  What would have cost $60 on Amazon, cost another $300.  Like a gambler I was now in it to win back my data.

The point of my tale of woe is not for you to stay away from solid state drives, but it is for you to recognize their limitations.  They don’t break often, but when they do – it’s near fatal, unless you’re willing to put in a king’s ransom for repair.

Some other tips I learned along the journey. If you use an SSD keep your hibernate feature turned off.  Hibernation does a lot of writing to the disk and SSD have a limit to how many times you can write to each space.   For even more geeked out advice read this article from Cnet.

Solid state drives work well with the cloud. If you plan to be online all the time and keep minimal data on your hard drive a solid state is a worthwhile investment.  In my case – traveling and working offline as often as online, it’s a bit more dubious.

Have you had problems with solid state drives?  I’d love to know I’m not alone out there.