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Why Some Types of Flash Media Become Less Reliable Over Time

Flash memory is common now a days but just a few years ago it was considered a luxury. So just how reliable are they?


Once an expensive luxury: flash drives and camera cards are now everywhere. Most smartphones use NAND flash memory, and all camera cards use some type of flash technology to store data. The cost of flash media has dropped regularly over the past decade, and it is now one of the most affordable mediums for long-term storage.

Many computer users see flash memory as the logical successor to hard disk drive technology. Flash media is fast and dependable, but it is important to note the potential rawbacks of modern flash technologies. For example, flash drives and memory cards can become less reliable over time due to the way that the devices store information.

NAND and NOR Flash Media Technologies

When referring to flash media, manufacturers usually indicate one of two technologies: NAND and NOR. NAND writes data at a block level and allows page access, while NOR offers random access. NAND is less expensive than NOR, but NOR sometimes offer better write endurance. Most current manufacturers use NAND technologies for consumer devices and memory cards.

Write endurance is the number of program-erase cycles, more commonly referred to as P/E cycles, that flash media can endure before oxide begins to wear off. When oxide wears off, the flash drive becomes less stable and may lose data.

As a flash drive starts to wear out, it will also become much slower and much less reliable. Computer users may see "file not found" or "file corrupt" errors.

Avoiding Memory Wear on Modern Flash Devices

The good news is that there are a few different ways to maximize write endurance. Manufacturers can use high-quality materials and manufacturing techniques. Many companies program their NAND flash devices to detect and avoid bad blocks. Some flash drives also spread out their read/write processes evenly over all of the accessible blocks, which prevent wear in a particular part of a disk.

With this being said, usage habits can affect flash drive wear considerably. If a computer user attempts to move a large number of files on and off of a flash drive, the media may become less stable and reliable.

The current industry standard for NAND flash media is roughly 100,000 P/E cycles per unity of flash NAND memory. While this is substantial, a flash drive or camera card might reach its P/ E limit after several years of consistent use.

Memory Wear and Data Loss on a Flash Drive

As your flash media starts to wear out, you may notice slow operation. Many users immediately back up their files when they notice slow reading and writing, but some do not notice a significant difference or attribute the slower speeds to other computer-related issues.

We recommend backing up your flash media regularly. Keep at least two backups of all of your important files and try to minimize wear by avoiding unnecessarily reading or writing to your flash drive. Avoid editing any files directly on your flash drive; move them to your desktop or another folder to minimize wear.

Memory wear can affect any flash device, including smart phones, tablets and computers with solid-state drives (SSD). If you cannot open files on your flash media for any reason, contact an experienced data recovery company as quickly as possible.

Our engineers use low-level access to recover damaged or corrupted files from NAND flash memory, and because Secure Data Recovery Services laboratories have advanced equipment and a Class 10 ISO 4 Cleanroom, we offer high recovery success rates for NAND and NOR flash media. Call 1-800-388-1266 if you need to explore recovery options for your flash card or device.

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