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Some New Hard Drives Have Less Endurance Than SSDs

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Modern magnetic recording media, the building block of HDDs, has higher durability than most modern NAND flash memory used in SSDs. However, controversial workload ratings imposed by HDD makers to diversify their product portfolio make the latest NAS-bound hard drives less reliable than even cheap SSDs, much less the best SSDs on the market.

There are several breeds of HDDs available today: enterprise-grade drives rated for a 550TB workload per year, enterprise NAS-grade drives rated for a 300TB workload per year, and desktop PC drives rated for 180TB per year or so. Solid-state drives do not have per-year workload ratings but feature terabytes to be written (TBW) and drive writes per day (DWPD) endurance ratings that you can use to calculate the total endurance.

Annual Workload RatingTerabytes Written
WD Gold 20TB HDD550 TB2,750 TB
WD Red Pro 20TB HDD300 TB1,500 TB
WD_Black SN850 2TB SSD240 TB1,200 TB
WD Red SA500 4TB SSD500 TB2,500TB
Ultrastar DC SN840 6.4TB7,000 TB35,000 TB

ServeTheHome recently compared the latest Western Digital WD Red Pro 20TB NAS hard drive's 300TB annual workload (which includes reads and writes) to the endurance ratings for modern SSDs. The WD Red Pro comes with a five-year limited warranty, so it is designed to withstand a workload of 1,500TB (including reads and writes). Competing IronWolf Pro HDDs from Seagate have a similar workload rating, and the same applies to products from Toshiba.

In contrast, the endurance of Western Digital's own 2TB WD_Black SN850 SSD is 1,200TB over five years, whereas a 4TB WD Red SA500 NAS SATA SSD is rated for 2,500TB over five years, which is higher than the Red Pro 20TB. Both of these WD_Black and WD Red SSDs cater to mixed and read-intensive workloads, so we aren't even talking about enterprise-grade SSDs for write-intensive workloads. For example, Western Digital's Ultrastar DC SN840 6.4TB drive is suitable for 35,000TB written over five years.

Needless to say, if we compare endurance ratings of SSDs and HDDs in terms of endurance per terabyte of capacity, SSDs will win again. Does this mean that SSDs are now more durable than HDDs in terms of the possible amount of data that could be written? Well, yes and no.

The actual HDD platters are still considerably more reliable than NAND flash media simply because modern 3D TLC NAND is rated for about 10,000 program/erase cycles. SSD makers have to use very sophisticated controllers supporting these tricky coding and error correction algorithms to improve endurance at the device level.

By contrast, magnetic media (the coating on the platters) can be re-written practically without any limits (at least with no limits worth mentioning). But modern hard drives use high-precision mechanics and motors that spin at 5,000 – 7,200 RPM. While they are reliable, they are fragile and sometimes fail, which is why hard drive makers introduced workload ratings to their products several years ago.

HDDs and SSDs in data centers are used in tiered storage subsystems and in RAID mode to store data reliably. In any case, we cannot say that one type of storage device is more reliable than another — they all can fail and require safety measures to store data reliably.

But judging only by workload and TBW ratings, SSDs are at least as reliable as NAS-oriented WD Red Pro HDDs. Of course, datacenter-bound hard drives feature higher-endurance ratings and are for essentially 2,750 TBW over five years, but datacenter SSDs for write-intensive workloads can beat even them.

While HDDs and SSDs have pros and cons, it is essential not to rely on a single device to store your data. While workload, TBW, and DWPD ratings are crucial, you should not rely on just one metric for reliable storage, as you need more than one device to ensure the safety of your data.

Anton Shilov
Anton Shilov

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • basspig
    Mech hard drives have always been less reliable in my experience.

    Until 2015, when I converted dozens of drives over to SSD replacements, I was seeing HDD failures every few months. Drives would just drop off the bus and become invisible to BIOS for no apparent reason. I was sending in drives for warranty repair every 3-4 months.

    Since switching over to SSDs, I've had ZERO drive failures. Even the SSDs installed in 2015 are still flawless. I have scores of SSDs running across a half dozen workstations and servers. The other benefit is MUCH less heat and electric power consumption. My workstation idle consumption dropped from over 200W to 62W per machine, excepting the dual Xeon machines at 100W a piece.
    Reply
  • spongiemaster
    Mechanical hard drives idle at under 5W typically. Even if we assign a 0W idle for ssd's, a 140 W difference would still be over 25 hard drives idling. I have a file server at home with a 12 drive Unraid array, and there is no discernible heat exhausting from the system during typical usage. The only time it generates any heat is when the array is performing a parity check which involves all drives running full tilt for over a day. Either you have a really large array, or you measurements aren't accurate.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    This "Annual Workload Rating" sounds like little more than a marketing number than anything, to encourage companies to pay a big premium for "enterprise" drives that are likely not actually much better than the consumer models in terms of long-term durability.

    Seagate has an "Annualized Workload Rate" page which mentions that "Seagate reserves the right to limit warranty claims when drive usage exceeds specifications, as defined in the product manual." So, the drives may hold up far longer than the rating implies, but the manufacturer can deny warranty claims in heavy usage scenarios. So, it's very possible that the "180TB/year" models may have similar durability to the "550TB/year" ones, but they are giving them larger numbers to encourage companies to pay extra for them and ensure warranty coverage.

    The article probably shouldn't be making clickbait claims like "Some New Hard Drives Have Less Endurance Than SSDs" when it contains no evidence indicating that. I was expecting to be presented with the results of a study showing certain new drive technologies to have especially low endurance, but instead all it bases that heading on are "controversial workload ratings imposed by HDD makers to diversify their product portfolio".
    Reply
  • basspig
    My drives all idled at 40-42°C and drew 14 W a piece. They were too hot to comfortable touch. These were WD Caviar drives mostly, from pre 2008.
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