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While SSDs are at a premium compared to mechanical drives, it seems to me that with no moving parts, these drives should practically last forever, if they are rarely written to.

On the other hand, SSDs aren't very mature. And while, in theory, they should last a very long time, there may be other technical defects that could cause premature failure.

So, I've got two lines of thought, leading to contrasting conclusions:

  • pro: no moving part;
  • cons: not as mature as other solutions, which is a point for something which must be relied upon as a backup drive.

I am thinking about purchasing a 128GB HDD and putting it into an external enclosure to backup important data, but I am unable to assess the relative merits of the two.

Am I missing something else which could tip the balance towards one choice or the other? Is my reasoning flawed in some way?

Other possible caveats:

  1. Is S.M.A.R.T. available over USB (3 or 2). [I do have eSata, so this isn't all that important]
  2. Can you TRIM over USB (3 or 2)? If not, is there a way to optimize the drive after the fact?
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1) You have eSATA. A SSD is likely able to use all that extra speed. I would strongly prefer that over any USB connection. 2) If you just use is as a backup drive then you will not miss TRIM. 3) No idea about the actual question. Personally I use old tech for backups. 3B) If you do go for a SSD look for reliable ones (e.g. intel postville's) rather than the latest and newest on the market. –  Hennes Jul 30 '12 at 16:58

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Would an SSD be a good option as a backup drive?

There are two ways to interpret, approach, and answer this question:

  1. Are SSDs good for backups?
  2. Are backups a good use for SSDs?

Question 1 The first question asks about reliability of SSDs for long-term storage. The fact is that SSDs just have not been around long enough for sufficient data to be accumulated and analyzed to provide accurate statistics on how long they last. Moreover, they have change quite a bit and very fast since they became popular, so what may be true for one drive, may not be true for an even moderately newer drive.

There is no single, universal answer to question one. It depends on the age, make, and model of the drive in question. One drive may be terrific and reliable while another is not. Your best bet would be to find some reviews for the drive you are considering purchasing and see what others who have used it have to say. If it has a lot of negative reviews, find another one. If it has mostly good reviews, take a quick look at the bad ones to see what specifically was the problem (they may only be about speed, or compatibility or something as opposed to failure).

Question 2 The second question does have a single, universal, definitive answer: YES. SSDs are basically just large flash drives and as such their cells can only be written a limited (albeit large) number of times before they break down. This means that they are no good for things like temp-directories or page-files which have lots of writes, but backups by their nature are written very infrequently (basically only one write per file per backup interval period).

Because backup drives have very few writes, it makes backups the perfect (even ideal) use for SSDs.

Is S.M.A.R.T. available over USB (3 or 2). [I do have eSata, so this isn't all that important]

I’ve seen this question a lot over the past few years. As Sergey pointed out, it should be possible with the right combination of hardware and software. I have seen some programs purport to be able to read SMART data from USB devices and even RAID drives, but I have not personally seen one that works yet.

Can you TRIM over USB (3 or 2)? If not, is there a way to optimize the drive after the fact?

It doesn’t seem to be [1][2][3][4], but would you even need to for a backup drive?

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While this is good information, what is the benefit to paying the extra price for an SSD over a HDD? If it's just going to be used for backups, why would one even require the speed? It seems much more cost-efficient to backup data with HDDs, especially a large amount. –  Huskehn Jul 30 '12 at 17:16
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If that’ your concern, then you can indeed get a larger HD for the same price. Another thing to consider is whether it will be compatible in the future. IDE drives are already not compatible with newer systems that only have SATRA, and SSDs are poised to replace mechanical drives. So you have to consider how long you intend to keep the drive and its data. Also, consider the environment in which the drive will be stored. Mechanical drives and SSD are susceptible to different temperatures, humidity, and pressure. Finally, where will it be used? SSDs are much better for laptops that move a lot. –  Synetech Jul 30 '12 at 17:23
    
@Huskehn, I've had external hard drives just up and die on me. The capacity of the drive is useless if you can't access it anymore. If SSD's aren't going to do this, they would be ideal. –  user606723 Jul 30 '12 at 17:29
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@martineau, maybe not at this time, but once the cost comes down (which it already is and will continue to do), they can be useful for backups, especially since they are smaller and lighter than mechanical drives, so they can be stacked into shelves similar much more efficiently similar to how replacing VHS with DVD was an effective move. –  Synetech Jul 30 '12 at 18:54
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I agree with you on everything, except that "they are no good for things like temp-directories or page-files." They are excellent for page files and temp files. The ability to quickly read the data back into memory increases system performance dramatically. –  Keltari May 26 '13 at 15:52

I would not recommend this. I had several failed SSDs by now. The difference to a spinning drive is that the SSDs suddenly stopped working, from one second to the next (at least in my systems). I had no chance to access the data in any way.

In contrast to failing hard drives, which generally let you know several weeks or hours or minutes before they die (either they make noise or the SMART values kick-off an alarm). I rarely had a failing hard drive which was unable to recover at least some of the data.

The extra money you spend on an SSD I would invest in a second hard drive as a backup for the backup drive.

Additional note: SSDs are super-fast, that's why you need to connect via USB 3.0 or eSATA to get the speed advantage they provide.

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This is the kind of answer I was hoping for. What has caused your SSD to fail? I, on the other hand, have had mechanical drives fail without warning or any recover plenty of times. (Usually have 6+ years though) –  user606723 Jul 30 '12 at 17:04
    
Quality SSDs don't fail. To my knowledge every external SSD on the market is lousy, though, so you'd want to use a good internal one on an enclosure. (It makes more sense to me to use slower media as your backup, though. I'd use an Intel SSD internally and then any old hard drive, internal or external, for backup.) –  Shinrai Jul 30 '12 at 17:07
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+1 Two HDDs are almost certainly more reliable than a single SSD. –  Dennis Jul 30 '12 at 17:34
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I guess it was the controller that failed, but I don't know. I sent it in and got a replacement. And of course, also quality SSDs fail, it's just less likely. On the other hand consumer-grade SSDs are already expensive, investing an enterprise SSD for a consumer backup solution is definitely the wrong way (at least if you do it for data security reasons). –  Marco Jul 30 '12 at 17:38
    
@Marco I read that when SSD drive fails, it just stops writing to itself but you can still read from it. That's what seemed as better solution for data recovery than HDD. –  Boris_yo May 15 '13 at 16:58

With 1tb SSD drives for around 600 usd just around the corner the answer to this question is a even bigger yes. My reasons are as following: for really important data costs should matter much less, and cost is the main obstacle for now, secondly, backup speed is much higher compared to a hdd (from an ssd at least), this time alone is worth something, thirdly, failure rates of hdds have been increasing a lot in recent years because were are getting close to physical limitations for mechanical disks whereas ssds can still improve a lot. Of course, nobody should rely just on one backup media but spread it locally and on different media. Just one side note: for unimportant and cloud accessible data like programs, games and system I would never even think about ssd, hdd is enough as a convenience backup.

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