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I'm currently thinking about buying a ThinkPad X201 and equip it with a SSD drive. Now, to protect my data I always used Linux with LUKS full disk encryption on my laptops. However, as stated in another SuperUser post, this would disable the support for TRIM - so that doesn't seem to be a good idea with a SSD drive.

I've read that SandForce-1200 based SSDs offer integrated AES encryption tied to the BIOS password. However I can't find proper documentation on this. Questions:

  • Any general drawbacks to this approach?
  • I suppose this would require BIOS support for the feature - how to find out if works on a X201?
  • Old BIOS versions only supported short (like 6 or 8 characters) passwords, has this situation improved to provide sufficient security for a disk encryption?

Update: This Source says you can't even set any password on these drives. Huh? That doesn't make sense, why would you even do the complicated AES operatins when you don't allow to use a key?

Thank you for any expert advice on the matter :)

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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Answering my own question, this is what I've found out after searching on the net for a couple of hours:

  • The SandForce devices have AES encryption turned on by default, but there are issues with this (see below)
  • If you zero out the drive using ATA Secure Delete, the key will be wiped and later regenerated and thus the old data will not be accessible anymore - making this an acceptable solution when you're about to sell or trash your SSD
  • It is, however, not possible to set a user password that would prevent someone who steals your laptop with an SandForce SSD from reading your data
  • The encryption key is not linked to the ATA security and/or BIOS
  • Setting a user password would be possible if there was a tool for this. OCZ promised a program called their "toolbox" that would allow this very often on their support forums, but when it was finally released in october 2010, it still didn't have the functionality (and still not today)
  • I guess even if you could set the password using the toolbox, it would not be possible to use the device as a boot device any more because you couldn't unlock it from the bios.
  • Using software full-disk-encryption on an SSD seriously impacts the performance of the drive - up to a point where it can be slower than a regular hard disk.

Source for some of this information.

Update: If you're interested, I wrote a little more about the issues in a dedicated blog post.

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The full-disk encryption slowdown only applies to Sandforce controllers which rely on compression for their speed. –  Zan Lynx Mar 24 '11 at 19:20
    
I am going through the same research now as I figure out what to do with my new HP Folio 13's onboard SSD. I really found your blogpost helpful - +1 on the answer you posted. Thanks! –  TARehman Jul 25 '12 at 18:22
    
You block requires a password. Does it then makes sense to advertise it here? –  maaartinus Apr 18 at 4:15
    
oops sorry about that, I somehow managed to set the wrong wordpress account to private while working on a different one ;) –  c089 Apr 19 at 17:31
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The disk encryption is for Sandforce, not for you. If your drive fails you have to use one of their "approved" vendors who they supply the keys to who charge $5-6k for data recovery. Also known as holding your data hostage to make a buck.

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Also, you can enable TRIM from within the LUKS container. See here for instructions: blog.christophersmart.com/2013/06/05/trim-on-lvm-on-luks-on-ssd –  Jimbo Jones Apr 15 at 20:42
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