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Originally published Friday, March 28, 2014 at 4:29 PM

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The pros, cons and cost of new SSD products

SSDs are relatively new and they haven’t been in widespread use, so I haven’t been able to find reliable data on failure rates.


Special to The Seattle Times

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SSD's are more useful for booting your OS and your applications. I would not trust them... MORE
Ken, while the SSD as drive D: will allow fast writes for your scenario, it may not be ... MORE

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Q: This question is related to the current solid-state drive (SSD) products now hitting the market.

In the past I had configured my computer with a two hard-drive RAID configuration to handle the high data flow from a movie film digital transfer system. When I finally got around to doing the transfers one of my hard drives had given up the ghost.

I know that the speed requirement can be handled by a SSD so I have been watching for the price to drop and the size to increase, and I am impressed with Samsung leading the field. Now that they are in the 250/500/750 GB range and about 60 cents per GB, I am considering updating my drive system with the new technology.

The questions are as follows:

1. What is the expected lifetime of the SSD, as they do not have mechanical parts?

2. Is infant mortality the biggest threat or are there hidden solid-state failure modes?

3. Can you keep the current C: hard drive and run the SSD as a D: with a high hard- working program installed and still experience the speed of the SSD (for example, a high-calculation program)?

I remember in the old DOS days I could configure solid-state memory as a virtual disk to increase the computer speed and would think item 3 above would be a benefit.

— Ken Friddell

A: Samsung recently brought to market a 1 terabyte SSD with a street price on Amazon.com of $505.99, or just a little over 50 cents per gigabyte. At the same time, however, a Western Digital 1 terabyte internal drive is $69.99, so SSDs are still more than seven times as expensive.

I’ll answer your other three questions in reverse order, since they require progressively more explanation.

First, yes, you can run the SSD as a separate drive from your boot drive. But since SSDs have a limited number of write operations in them, you may not want to use them for computation-heavy operations unless the speed of those operations is worth the cost of wearing out the drives. SSDs are most efficient for storing data for fast retrieval.

Because SSDs have no moving parts, they also have the advantage of ruggedness over conventional hard drives. But SSDs can fail, generally as a result of power faults, and the failures are generally catastrophic.

You won’t get warnings of bad sectors as you may with a conventional hard drive. And since SSDs are constantly moving data to even up the write operations across the drive — a technique called “wear leveling” — they are more prone to data loss through bugs in their firmware than are conventional drives.

SSDs are relatively new and they haven’t been in widespread use, so I haven’t been able to find reliable data on failure rates. The figure I’ve seen most is that an estimated 1.5 percent of SSDs fail while under warranty, a rate several times lower than that of conventional hard drives.

So, assuming no outright failure, how long can you expect your SSD to last? It depends on the number of write operations made to the drive. If you are a heavy writer — that is, if you regularly do operations that require writing to the SSD — your drive may reach its end in 10 years. Average users can expect about 20 years of life.

Remember, read operations are essentially free. If you store content on the drive that doesn’t need to be rewritten — such as movies or photographs — viewing them won’t wear the drive down.

Q: I have an AMD Athlon processor running Windows 7. Recently, whenever I boot the system the following message comes up: “There is a problem starting C:\Users\Edmund & Liz\AppData\Conduit\BackgroundContainer\BackgroundContainer.dll The specified module could not be found.”

It doesn’t seem to create a problem, I just delete the message and continue on. I tried to find where this background container thing is without success. I tried a system restore without success. Any thoughts?

— Ed Wells, Mill Creek

A: Conduit is a piece of malware, though not a particularly malicious one. While it redirects ads to you, it doesn’t actually harm your computer.

It would seem, however, that some program has removed part, but not all, of it. I suspect you’ll find an entry in the Startup folder.

To access the Startup folder, open a DOS window and type “msconfig.exe”. When the utility opens, click on the Startup tab. Look for anything referring to Conduit and disable it.

I also recommend that you try Malwarebytes AntiMalware to remove it and many other potential pieces of malware. You can download a free version of AntiMalware at www.malwarebytes.org.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.



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