Troubleshooting Tips for SSDs

By | January 26th, 2017

Need help troubleshooting a problematic SSD (Solid State Drive)? Here’s a list of problems SSD users commonly run into, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.

SSD Failure

Let’s go over some of the warning signs of a potential SSD failure. Any of these could be indications that an SSD is on its way out.

  • Files can’t be read from or written to the drive.
  • The computer runs excessively slow.
  • The computer won’t boot, you get a flashing question mark (on Mac) or “No boot device” error (on Windows).
  • Frequent Blue Screen of Death/Black Screen of Death errors.
  • Apps freeze or crash.
  • Your drive becomes read-only.

Troubleshooting Your Solid State Drive

The following issues can explain some of these failures, so feel free to use this as a troubleshooting guide to help isolate and correct the problem.

Hardware Issues

Let’s start with the basics: Turn the computer off then turn it back on again. If you can directly observe the SSD (if, for example, it’s a replacement for a spinning hard drive), look for any sign of activity, such as a data transfer or power LED. If the SSD is powering up, the problem may be with a software misconfiguration or a setup issue. Let’s assume for the moment that there’s no sign of activity. What should you do next?

Power down the computer and unplug it. If it’s a laptop, remove the battery if possible. An SSD replacement for a spinning hard drive uses the same physical connections for data and power. Check those cables to make sure they’re in place.

Also consider peripheral connections. Have problems cropped up since installing a new external device? It’s possible an external device might be contributing to the issue, so remove any peripheral that isn’t necessary to the computer’s basic operation and see if that fixes the problem.

Software and File System Issues

It may not be the hardware to blame at all – instead, a rogue app may be to blame. To troubleshoot, restart the computer in Safe Mode and see if the problems continue. Safe Mode operates with minimal drivers, and can be a useful way to see if software is making your computer malfunction.

To enable Safe Mode on the Mac
Restart holding down either Shift key on the keyboard.
To enable Safe Mode on a Windows PC
Press F4 while starting the computer.

Make sure the core operating system, mission-critical software and drivers are up to date. Run your computer’s built-in system software update tools. That’s done through the Mac App Store on Mac computers, or through Windows Update on Windows PCs.

File system damage or corruption can also contribute to storage system instability. Run your favorite disk utility software to assess the health of the file system installed on that SSD and see if it picks up any problems that need to be addressed.

The third piece of the software puzzle is the operating system itself. You can try reinstalling the OS through its built-in restore and recovery tools to see if that fixes your SSD instability.

SMART Failures

SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology; It’s self-diagnosis technology built into hard drives and SSDs which can be used to identify potential problems. SMART status is reported by SSDs as well. That information can be collected by disk utilities and operating systems, which will report SMART issues when they arise.

Just like with spinning hard drives, having an SSD throw a SMART failure isn’t a surefire indication that it’s about to die. It’s all about understanding which particular error is being reported and what that means. For example, has the drive simply exceeded a threshold operational value? Is it a consistently repeatable problem?

Reading and interpreting SMART status information from a drive can be tricky, because the information reported from one device to another varies. How various disk utilities interpret that information is also important. Regardless, repeated warnings certainly merit further analysis.

Find out more about how Backblaze uses SMART stats to troubleshoot the tens of thousands of hard drives we use our own Storage Pods in this analysis.

Out of date SSD firmware or motherboard BIOS

Cursor freezing? Getting the Blue Screen of Death on Windows, or the Black Screen of Death on the Mac? It’s possible the SSD is acting up because its firmware is out of date. Firmware problems on SSDs often mimic outright hardware failures.

If you’ve installed a third-party SSD in your computer, check with the SSD maker to make sure your firmware is up to date. Intel, Samsung, SanDisk and others make updater apps available for download from their web site. Apple distributes firmware updates to its own factory-installed SSDs through the Mac App Store, but check with individual SSD makers if you’ve upgraded your Mac with an aftermarket model. If an update is available, make sure to install it, restart your computer, and see if that fixes the problem.

While you’re at it, if you’re troubleshooting a PC with an SSD, make sure its main logic board BIOS or EFI firmware is up to date. There’s no one-size-fits-all method for checking, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions. And proceed with extreme caution. Applying the wrong BIOS firmware or doing it incorrectly can brick your computer.

Call In The Cavalry

If these tips haven’t helped you diagnose or solve your SSD issues, don’t panic. The next step is to have someone else take a look. Bring your computer to a technician or service you trust and have them try to troubleshoot the problem. With the growth in solid state drives over the past few years finding an experienced tech to help you shouldn’t be a problem.

If you’re interested in upgrading oyur computer with an SSD, read this SSD Upgrade Guide for more details.

Peter Cohen
Peter will never give you up, never let you down, never run around or desert you. He also manages the Backblaze blog.

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  • If you have an SSD with SandForce firmware, as the drive ages the firmware can deteriorate and if this happens, the drive works perfectly until you power cycle it, when it comes back up in a special recovery mode where the model number simply reads “SandForce{200026BB}” and the disk is only 32kB. If this happens not even data recovery companies can restore the data thanks to SandForce encrypting the data before writing it to the storage flash chips.

    This happened to me recently and while it was a long shot, I put the SSD in the freezer thinking that perhaps cooler temperatures could help read out the weakening charge in the controller’s flash memory just long enough for it to load the firmware. To my surprise this actually worked, although the window between the drive powering up successfully and it warming up enough that the firmware couldn’t be read was about 15 seconds after removing it from the freezer – so no time to deal with condensation! (Mind you it’s summer at 33C/91F here.) Once the drive had powered up it would work fine at any temperature until it lost power again, which gave me time to make hasty backups.

    I had the manufacturer’s firmware update tool ready, so after copying all my files off (and another trip into the freezer) I was able to reflash the SandForce controller with newer firmware and sure enough this refresh of the controller’s internal flash memory fixed the drive and it’s now working fine at room temperature again. The moral of the story? I was only able to repair the SSD because I had *not* updated the firmware to the latest version. Had I done so, the manufacturer’s utility would have refused to reflash the failing firmware as it was already at the latest version (although presumably the contents of the flash would not have deteriorated so soon if I had previously upgraded it.) That, and never underestimate the power of the freezer!

    • Great tip! I might add that sudden SSD failure is a strong incentive to make sure you have a good backup strategy in place. ;)

    • Júnior

      Where did you learn that? I am in the same situation here. There is any step by step guide?

      • It was all trial and error. Happy to report that seven months later the same SSD is still working fine, although I have a heck of a lot more backups in place now!

        See if you can get the drive working after leaving it in the freezer for a while, but make sure you have a system ready so you can power up the drive within 10-15 seconds of removing it from the freezer. If that works, copy everything off before you try anything else just in case you can’t reflash it!

        • Júnior

          Gotcha, thank you for the quick reply! Of course I am going to try that! If works should de a great history to share with my friends…lol
          Maybe 08 hours be so much for this procedure? I am going to leave it overnight, let’s see what happens…

          • I left mine overnight the first few times but I worked out that it only took maybe an hour or so in the freezer to get the drive’s firmware to boot, possibly less – by that time I’d reflashed the drive’s firmware and it was working again. The difficult part for me was getting access to a machine with an mSATA port running Windows natively so I could run the program to reflash the drive’s firmware!