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I have seen many discussions describing SSD as fail-prone. I have read Jeff Atwood's warnings. Portman Wills' experiment looks alarming:

  • Super Talent 32 GB SSD, failed after 137 days
  • OCZ Vertex 1 250 GB SSD, failed after 512 days
  • G.Skill 64 GB SSD, failed after 251 days
  • G.Skill 64 GB SSD, failed after 276 days
  • Crucial 64 GB SSD, failed after 350 days
  • OCZ Agility 60 GB SSD, failed after 72 days
  • Intel X25-M 80 GB SSD, failed after 15 days
  • Intel X25-M 80 GB SSD, failed after 206 days

Further research yields that a rule of thumb makes an SSD cell with more than 100,000 writes practically unusable.

While not being specific, Wikipedia warns against Flash SSDs. DROM SSDs, on the other hand, are safe, according to them.

What type of SSD are MacBook Airs built upon? Are they fail-safe? What is the typical lifespan one can expect?

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It's hard to tell without some access to broad numbers. It's like hanging outside the morgue or the emergency room and drawing statistics. You are selecting heavily for bad events. I've turned your question around and every time I buy a SSD or mac with SSD - can I afford to replace this each year? Are there insurance or warranties that shift that risk to someone else at a cost I feel makes me happy? Get your SSD, get backups, and have FUN! –  bmike Jul 29 '11 at 17:30
    
Can we replace only the SSD in a MacBook Air, though? I think I've recently come across a post somewhere - can't find it, sorry - which described the situation (considered exceptional by Apple Support) of a failing SSD, and the price for a replacement was roughly $800. The fact that backups become necessary nonetheless makes the price go up. On the other hand, I have no idea what warranty can cover, since I don't know whether the person in the blog post had that covered. –  Thaddee Tyl Jul 29 '11 at 17:37
    
It's not user replaceable according to Apple's user manual - but the guides in iFixit.com will let you know if you want to risk it. SSD prices are falling rapidly - who knows what the out of warranty cost will be in a year. You can price AppleCare since it's a fixed sunk cost. You can choose to buy that up to the day before you bought your mac a year later. –  bmike Jul 29 '11 at 17:44
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As to the $800 repair - that would mean the logic board failed due to user damage. Anything wrong with an Air is repairable for $280 or less in the absence of physical damage. Talk to any apple tech and they'll explain the flat rate repair options. –  bmike Jul 29 '11 at 18:11
    
What is a DROM? –  Brian Carlton Nov 29 '12 at 17:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

MacBook Airs ship with either Toshiba or Samsung MLC SSD drives.

No SSD drives are fail-safe.

Lifespan of an SSD drive depends on what wear levelling techniques are employed by the manufacturer and the operating system and what exactly a user does with his/her computer. There is no reliable figure.

My own view with SSDs (as it has been with hard drives) is prepare for the worst and backup regularly. Take advantage of the manufacturer's warranty should a drive fail.

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Thanks for the clarification. You don't know anyone that has had an SSD failure on a Mac, do you? –  Thaddee Tyl Jul 29 '11 at 14:11
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I've supported nearly 75 MacBook Airs all the way from the very first models through to the newly released models. In that time I have yet to see a MacBook Air SSD drive fail. –  Asinine Monkey Jul 29 '11 at 14:15
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In my experience the Apple SSD are failing less than Apple HDD. The third party SSD are failing faster than third party HDD or any Apple storage. It's too soon to really know - my evidence is from hundreds to thousands of macs - not millions where you can get a good population to sample. –  bmike Jul 29 '11 at 17:32

I used to build all my PCs myself for the past 20 years and tried many brands of every computer part possible, all price range (from cheapest to hardcore gaming rigs) and my experience with hard drives in general is that some brands just DO fail much more than others. Back in the days, i had horrible experience with Western digital, IBM, Maxtor (was the worst), etc. The really good ones i had were all Seagate.

So when i saw that SDD came in an acceptable price range and apparently "more reliable", i decided to give them a try. Not wanting to waste any time with unreliable parts, i went for the more expansive, usually never-break brand "Intel" and bought a 128 gb intel SSD. It lasted exactly 2 weeks before dying without giving me ANY chance to see it coming or do a backup (usually, you can hear HDD fail weeks before they give up because they do a clicking noise). I was really pissed, since they were still expensive.

3 years ago, i started using PCs + Macs and i bought a macbook air 11" 2011. I've had many friends and "friends of friends" that had problems with their Mac laptop saying the motherboard or hard drive failed often, mostly JUST out of warranty so i was really worried about them dying on me. But i still chose to buy one since Mac laptop are just so much superior to PCs laptops (internet, trackpad, battery, mostly). And honestly i loved the thing. Until the SSD died 12 months, 15 days after i bought it, or 15 days out of warranty. I was pissed. Exactly what i feared happened had happened.

The thing is they really insist on you buying (expensive) extended warranties for mac and i always found that really fishy. But anyway, i got used to working with the thing so i updated it for a macbook air 2012 model, 13" this time.

And..... just this morning, it happened again. After only 10 months of use, the SSD died on me, again. This time in warranty. So this is 3 on 3 SSD that died before 1 year and i'm getting pretty pissed about it.

The thing is, SSD are the future, they'll fix the reliability issues and they are so much snapier and faster than normal HDD that you should still buy one.

So here's my recommendation: if you have a Mac, get yourself a TimeMAchine & Dropbox software. It's the single best invention in the world. Timemachine will back up your computer every hour automatically on a remote HDD. So when i got my SSD replaced this morning, i came back home and just restored from timemachine backup and im back running like nothing else happened.

hope this help

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Do you have the same problems with HDDs dying on you, or just SDDs? I had a 2009 MBA/SSD and it didn't have problems until late last year when the logic board died. –  Alan Shutko Jul 30 '13 at 1:56
    
Well on my main Windows PC (a custom tower) i do a lot of work with the hard drives so they used to fail often (i changed HDD once or twice every year) but like i said, when i started buying the 5 year warrantied Seagate drives, i never got a failure after that. But like i said, i can consider myself a power user, not typical. HDD in laptop are much more prone to failure, mostly because ppl misuse them, knock, bang, etc. As for SSD i just think they are not reliable under heavy use, ie movie editing, database handling, web servers, etc unless you buy the enterprise grade ones. –  Joel Jul 30 '13 at 2:38
    
That makes sense. Movie editing, database, etc all have a heavy amount of writes, and SSDs have a limited number of writes, so I can see how you might run out of writes. –  Alan Shutko Jul 30 '13 at 14:21

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