A Comparative Analysis of the Lifespans of Various Storage Media: Hard Drives, SSDs, and Flash Drives

There are various types of storage media that have become relatively mainstream over the years. These storage media have been developed to cater to different criteria and factors, such as: portability, performance, and capacity. As a result, you will most certainly be able to find a type of storage media that fits your specific needs. However, another factor that is often overlooked, or simply forgotten about, is the lifespan of these storage media or better yet, their reliability.

While it may be blatantly obvious that CDs and DVDs won’t be standing the test of time; can the same be said about solid state drives and hard drives? Will they be more reliable than DVDs? Just how reliable are they when it comes to preserving and safeguarding your data? Read on and we’ll answer those questions and more.

Hard Drives

You may not be aware of it but it has long been established that simply deleting data from a hard drive does not guarantee that it is irretrievable. Digital security experts, and even anyone with a little tech knowhow, can retrieve a considerable amount of data from an hard drive storageabandoned hard drive – unless its physical damaged, there is always a chance for recovery. However, this does not mean that hard drives are the most dependable storage devices. Hard drives are made up of numerous tiny moving parts and pieces, this means that will eventually break.

One of the most common physical defect that happens with hard drives is “head crash”. Head crash occurs when the head of the hard drive not only touches the disk, it also scrapes across its surface. Physical shock or power surges are usually the main causes of this; however, some hard disks may come with physical defects that can eventually lead to this as well.

Within the first two years of operation, over 5 percent of hard drives fall victim to physical defects. Likewise, after only 5 years, the percentage of hard drives that falls victim to physical defects is approximately 10 percent. This information relates to drives that are, to a certain extent, being used frequently – it is safe to say that hard drives that aren’t being used will obviously last longer.

Lastly, it should also be noted that data on hard drives is stored magnetically. This means that placing it in the close vicinity of a strong enough magnetic source will damage its stability. A hard drive’s magnetism is susceptible to long term diminishing as time passes; however, this can be rectified by regularly powering it on and writing or reading the data.

Solid State Drives

The sustainability of solid state drives over a prolonged period of time is more of a gray area when compared to hard drives.

When compared to a hard drive, the first thing that stands out is that certain key hard drive parts are absent. The magnetic head, the arm, and the physical disk are all omitted – flash chips are instead utilized. What this essentially means is that SSDs are not susceptible to head crashes like hard disks. On top of that, SSDs are much more durable and resilient once environmental exposure and shock are taken into account. Consequently, they are also not affected by magnetic forces. Nonetheless, they still share some parts with hard drives and they are exceedingly susceptible to data corruption as a result of power failures.

With solid state drives still being in their relative infancy, it will likely be a few more years before we get a true picture of how well they hold up to repeated use. The lifespan of each memory block in an SSD is limited to a certain number of write cycles i.e. the number of times a piece of data can be stored to it. Most modern SSDs are made with quite a few thousand write cycles

The number of cycles will only be a few thousand on most drives. This sounds alarmingly low, but is not really an issue in modern SSDs. Unlike hard drives, which write their data to the earliest free block, an SSD uses technique called wear-levelling to ensure that each memory block is used before the cycle begins again at the first block.

Unless you’re writing tens of gigabytes of data a day, every day for several years, you won’t get close to the limit on write cycles. Even if you did, the memory would become read-only, so your data would still be accessible. All of this means that, in the case of storage on a day-to-day basis SSDs are better that HDs

All this means that SSDs are a great choice for day-to-day storage over HDDs, so long as performance is bigger priority than capacity, given the relatively higher price of a solid state drive.

Flash Drives

SD cards and USB flash drives encounter problems similar to those faced by SSDs. While they have less moving parts they also do have a limited number of write cycles (anywhere from (3000 – 5000).

They are also usually cheaper in terms of pricing and memory storage flash drivesmodules, making them less reliable compared to SSDs. The fact of the matter is that flash drives are perfect for short term storage and movement of files from one location to another.

Sadly, all flash drives (especially cheap ones) are highly prone to physical damage that can be irreparable at times. The average data retention period of flash drives will usually never exceed 80 years (this is when it is stored under perfect factors, the actual number is far lower).


So what can you take from all of this? Well, first and foremost you should realize by now that no form of storage media will last until the end of time. Likewise, they are all susceptible to failure. A decade or two is the most you should reasonably hope for when using storage media for backing up data. Also, your drive should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that it is not damaged and that the stored data is still undamaged and accessible.

So what kind of storage media are you familiar with? How many backups of important data do you make? Feel free to share with us or ask questions!

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