Are Mac SSDs Wearing Out Faster Than Usual?

image credit: Longhorn @never_released

published by Chand Bellur
March 1, 2021 at 5:41 p.m.
  • Apple’s newest Macintosh computers use custom-made processors developed in-house.
  • The new M1 processor boasts ridiculously fast single-core speeds at low levels of power consumption.
  • Solid-state drives (SSDs) eventually lose capacity, with a finite number of writes before a storage cell wears out.
  • Reports from recent M1 and Intel Mac owners show that macOS is overusing the file system, resulting in higher than normal wear on the SSD.
  • The problem appears to be device-specific, as older Macs running the same macOS version don’t seem to experience the issue.
  • Experts believe a software defect causes the problem, which Apple can fix in a future update.

All SSDs Wear Out

Solid-state drives are a massive leap in storage technology. With no moving parts, SSDs are much smaller than their traditional platter-based predecessors. They’re also more resistant to shock and access data faster than conventional hard disk drives. Unfortunately, due to the laws of physics, SSDs don’t last forever.

Solid-state drives store data in cells. The most reliable SSDs store one bit of data in each cell. Nonetheless, the operating system can only write data to a cell a limited number of times. Eventually, the cell can no longer store data. The operating system marks the cell as used and blocks it from being used.

Overall, the lifespan of SSD drives is excellent. I still have an iPad 2 that doesn’t seem to have lost any storage space. It’s almost a decade old. I have an old iPhone 4 that’s in similar condition. I have yet to have a device that outlasts its SSD. The battery usually fails long before storage.

If you have an SSD drive, it will eventually lose capacity due to wear. This process commences from the first day you use your new computer, smartphone, or tablet. Disk diagnostic tools can analyze an SSD, showing how much the drive has deteriorated and how much usable storage remains. When run on newer Macs, these diagnostic tools demonstrate that Apple’s latest iconic computers are wearing out SSDs faster than other devices.

Mac SSDs Are Wearing Out Faster Than Expected

Recently, owners of new Macs started reporting surprising disk diagnostic results. After only a few months, tests show that newer Macs seem to permanently use up more SSD cells than older models. At the current rate of decay, many Mac owners fear their drives, which cannot be easily replaced, will run out of capacity within a few years.

It’s unclear why newer Macs experience this issue while older models running the same operating system do not. The problem is reproducible, with other Mac users seeing similar diagnostic results. Newer SSD systems in Macs may be flawed. They could also differ from SSDs found in older Macs and need some fine-tuning.

Most tech experts believe the problem is software-related. While this is possible, it doesn’t explain why older Macs running macOS Big Sur experience normal SSD wear while their younger siblings are shedding storage space at alarming rates. Both hardware and software are likely at play.

Newer Macs don’t use one brand of SSD storage. Some Macs use a Western Digital storage unit, while others use one manufactured by Kioxia. Perhaps the two components differ to the extent that one is less durable than the other. So far, reports from affected users don’t include the SSD brand.

As usual, Apple has been silent about the issue. If it’s a software issue, they’ll probably fix it in an upcoming patch. It’s impossible to fix fundamentally defective SSDs with software, and Apple tends to be unwilling to recall products. The Fusion drive, still available in the cheapest iMac, is one of the most unreliable storage devices ever, yet Apple refuses to recall it.

My 27″ iMac had Fusion drive failure, and the replacement drive was also defective. The Apple Store is on its second attempt to fix it, which has taken over two weeks so far. They will not replace this with an SSD-only model.

If there’s a flaw with some SSDs, Apple will only fix devices covered by warranty or AppleCare+. A recall is unlikely. They expect obedient Apple fans to buy new ones. Many of them will do just that.

Write Amplification Is Still Writing

Some tech writers feel that there’s nothing wrong with SSDs and that this is merely a reporting anomaly. Faster-than-normal SSD wear results from “write amplification“, where the operating system must execute multiple write operations to store data. Some tech writers misunderstand this, believing that write amplification is a reporting issue; therefore, Mac SSDs are not actually wearing out faster.

This theory’s problem is that disk monitoring tools are very mature, reliable and measure low-level statistics. Also, write amplification is a real thing, not a reporting irregularity. When the operating system writes data to a cell, it also needs to do this redundantly while recording metadata. The OS must mark old cells invalid while writing data to new cells. Write amplifications use the SSD and produce wear. They’re not virtual, and they’re necessary.

Furthermore, why does write amplification become a problem with newer Macs, regardless of their CPUs? New M1 and Intel-based Macs face this issue of increased SSD wear. Older Macs do not. Older Macs have entirely different architectures, with newer busses, storage controllers, and SSDs.

Even if this is a software defect, the operating system blocks cells in the SSD, preventing them from being used. The individual cells are “worn out” and can no longer be accessed. This is clearly happening in some newer Macs and not older ones. The deterioration occurs at alarming rates, with some users calculating their brand-new Mac’s SSD will fail in a little over three years. End-users cannot replace these components. Mac owners must take them to an authorized Apple repair shop for replacement.

How to Test Your Mac’s SSD for Wear

Checking your Mac for SSD wear is easy, and there’s a few different ways to do this. Third-party software makes it easier, but you’ll have to pay for the app after the trial expires. MacWorld created a complete guide on how to install and run smartmontools on a Mac. If you’re an experienced technologist, I suggest following these steps.

The easiest way to check if your Mac is losing SSD capacity is to install DriveDx. This handy, user-friendly application makes it easy to check for SSD wear on your Mac. After running DriveDx on your Mac, the report will clearly show how much SSD space is still usable. Tracking this data will help detect whether your Mac’s SSD will wear out in a few years or endure for its expected lifespan.

Will Apple Fix This?

So far, Apple has yet to acknowledge any problem with its newest Macs. The routine silence serves to suppress information about product flaws to project an image of perfection. Since so few people own Macs and tend to be the most dedicated Apple customers, the company can get away with defects that would otherwise hound the iPhone.

If this is a software issue, Apple will quietly fix it. The tech media will discover and report that Apple resolved the issue. Cupertino will handle a hardware issue differently. In this case, Apple will ignore the problem entirely, sending users to the Apple Store for help. Since the worst consequences of this defect won’t surface until the warranty expires, it’s essential to address the issue before time runs out.

If you recently purchased a Mac, you’ll want to run disk diagnostics often. Save reports and take screenshots of your drive’s status, including the percentage that’s no longer accessible due to wear. If your Mac’s SSD is wearing away rapidly, make sure to take it into the Apple Store before the warranty expires. Also, make sure to test the repair. The Apple Store covers repairs for 90 days.

Another Sign of Apple’s Quality Decline

Storage is a fundamental component of any computing system. Without storage, the system loses data when powered down. The fact that Apple is having severe problems with such a core area of computing is troubling. One has to wonder what happened to Apple’s once stellar product quality?

The iPhone’s tremendous success is partly to blame for the Mac’s failures. Most Apple customers own an iPhone and a Windows PC. Only die-hard Apple fanatics purchase a Mac. Realizing this, Apple prioritized the iPhone over everything else. They even pulled engineers from the OS X and Mac teams to work on the iPhone.

Reallocating internal resources made the iPhone one of the best smartphones on the planet. It also resulted in deteriorating quality for the Mac. The last two Macs I purchased both broke, for no reason, shortly after purchase. The Apple Store is now on its second attempt to fix a defective Fusion drive in my iMac. I’ve already purchased a replacement Windows machine, as I require a computer for work.

The latest Apple flaw should serve as notice to Apple fans. The Macintosh is no longer a quality computer. While you may see glowing evaluations from Consumer Reports and online reviewers, this may be due to Apple’s reality distortion field. It could be due to bribery, which Apple engaged in recently.

The general public so highly acclaims Apple products that no one wants to point out the naked emperor. The iPhone is good enough for most, and few Apple customers purchase a Mac. For most people, Apple products work well. If you’re looking for a reliable computer to accomplish real work, look elsewhere.

In my personal experience, I purchased a 2009 Mac Pro that still works. Based on that experience, I bought a MacBook Pro two years ago and an iMac about a year ago. Both machines broke for no reason. They were both treated with kid gloves. In fact, I didn’t even type on the MacBook Pro, well aware of how the butterfly keyboard mechanism could fail from a mere crumb. Nonetheless, the battery and power IC ultimately failed, necessitating a $700+ out-of-warranty repair. I left it at the Apple Store, and they eventually disposed of it.

I will never purchase another Mac. If I need to write an iOS app, I’ll use a cloud-based, virtual Mac. It’s sad to see such an iconic computer, almost 40 years old, succumb to such a tragic fate. I wonder what Steve Jobs would think about today’s Macintosh?

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