Buggy SSD Hard Drives Could Self-Destruct in 3 Years

John Lister's picture

A hard drive manufacturer has warned its solid state drives could effectively self-destruct after a little less than four years of total operation. HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) says users need to apply a firmware fix immediately, while it's another reminder of the importance of backups.

20 different HPE models are affected, all in the SAS range, which are hard drives typically meant for enterprise. All are solid state drives, which have no moving parts. This makes them more expensive and much faster than traditional hard drives. (Source: hpe.com)

The problem isn't with the actual drives itself, but rather the firmware, which is a small program that allows the device to communicate with the computer. HPE says it has now discovered a bug that means the SSD will irretrievably fail after 32,768 total hours of operation (3 years, 270 days and eight hours.) Once the drive fails, the data can't be recovered.

Firmware Updates Coming in Two Stages

HPE is rolling out firmware updates for the 20 models, with some starting this week and others delayed until December 9, 2019. It says those models getting the later update were released recently enough that it's not possible for them to hit their inadvertent expiration date.

According to HPE, "By disregarding this notification and not performing the recommended resolution, the customer accepts the risk of incurring future related errors." Whether that's a legally valid disclaimer is open to debate.

Clock Runs Out Of Time

HPE hasn't explained exactly why the bug has occurred, but tech analysts believe the number is no coincidence. It appears almost certain that the firmware is using a short signed integer. That means one that can be expressed in binary code using only 16 characters (bits) and allows for both positive and negative numbers. (Source: mql4.com)

The lowest possible short signed integer is -32,768. That means the firmware would hit that limit if it was trying to track how many hours it had been operating and expressed it as "how many hours ago it started."

It's a similar problem to one that will hit 32-bit computers in 2038. That will be 2,147,483,647 seconds after 1 January 1970, the reference point for calculating date and time on such computers. The problem is that number is the biggest that can be stored in the space allotted for time, which means computers will begin reading the number as negative and screwing up the date calculation.

Fortunately, unlike with HEP's drives, there's enough time to mitigate the problem and it's likely most such computers will no longer be in use at that point.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you have an HPE drive? Are you surprised the firmware developers have made such an apparent error? Do you think HPE should be held responsible for any data loss?

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Comments

kitekrazy's picture

I'd never buy anything with the HP name on it unless it's a printer.

My first SSD was an Intel and had to be RMA's failing in year 3 of a 5 year warranty.

The prices are not low enough to where I would risk a SSD with a 3 yr. warranty.

Maybe I'm wrong but SMART doesn't seem to be effective with SSDs.

ronangel1's picture

Are any other manufactures SSD drives affected by this problem that we do not know about as many are from same manufacture in china and use same type of hardware and controling software? Another reason to back up freqently....

andrew_4498's picture

A few years ago I replaced my hard disc drive with an SSD, to speed up my laptop. I have no records now of who supplied and/or made my SSD, that works to my satisfaction.

Is there any way of "asking" my hard drive to declare who made it, to enable me to try to look for an updated firmware to it?

Added complication will be that I am almost comuter illiterate.

Would Dennis write on Infopackets some instructions to help me with this? I can not be the only two-left handed reader of his circulars.

Kind regards to all, Andrew.

Dennis Faas's picture

If you open Device Manager and expand Disks, then double click your SSD and go to the Details tab, then use the pull down menu for Hardware IDs, it will tell you the model # (and sometimes the brand) of the SSD. You can then search Google for the hardware ID, though you may need to modify the query. For example, if the hardware ID is SCSI\DiskNVMe____Samsung_SSD_970_EXP7, you would search for Samsung SSD 970.

swreynolds's picture

Preface: It was cute that I had trouble logging into this forum because my NVMe drive was so fast (unless the website has bugs).

I've had my Samsung 960 NVMe drive for over two years. It's up to 8.7TB total writes with a max of 400TBW. If the write leveling is working properly, this drive will never reach a full status. Oh, and I keep it less than half full (very important). Also, I have 32GB main RAM so the pagefile is used rarely.

I also have spinners with more than 15 years use on them, but the MVMe drive is so much faster that I'll never use them by choice as a boot drive.

Of course, if you have larger space needs, the spinners are still quite affordable for larger storage needs compared to the NVMe drives. My video storage drive is a spinner.

buzzallnight's picture

for malware?

PC version.

LouieLouEye's picture

andrew 4498 Just open device manager in Control Panel and click next to Disk Drives. You should see the model numbers of your drives. If you can't tell by that number, you could do an internet search for the model number. For example my TS480GSSD220S was sold by Transcend.

andrew_4498's picture

I had some very helpful responses to my query. I am thankful for them and will have learned a lot when I will try them out.

I am grateful to Dennis, and to the other reader (LouieLouEye) for their help.

Andrew.