Today gamers have largely adopted SSD products for gaming. Prices are lower which has allowed global adoption rates to grow.
Hybrid systems are common with a smaller SSD being supplemented by a hard disk. The studio gaming machine has dual M.2 SSD drives and it has 5 hard disk bays available. Intel’s Optane has not figured in gaming machines primarily due to the higher costs involved.
SSD products are often marketed by average speed ratings in addition to TB written endurance. SSD write endurance has improved as more work on the technology continues. Wear leveling has matured which takes advantage of the free space to move static data to heavily worn blocks.
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Steam is unnecessarily hard on SSD products. The preallocation write is not actually saving any game data, all it is doing is adding unnecessary wear and tear. All that is needed is to check the free space and if there is enough room then download it, otherwise select another storage volume.
Hard disks generally are rated by capacity as bulk storage. Cheaper disks tend to be slower 5400rpm while more expensive corporate disks tend to be 7200rpm. Cache sizes over time have grown as material costs have fallen. Recent high capacity hard disks now have 256MB or larger caches.
Hard disks generally are more durable for writing compared to a SSD. The low cost hard shingled disks used for game storage are rated at 50TB annual read/write. By comparison the WDC Gold and similar series are able to handle 500TB of read/write.
Shingled hard disks are very slow when copying large amounts of data. This is due to the disk controller being forced to overlay large numbers of tracks sequentially. The drive is unaware of the nature of the data so all it can do it hande the writes as best it can.
The low cost shingled disks in the studio machines are not used extensively. The system SSD is probably the most heavily used. The Intel 665p SSD has improved endurance which eliminates concerns over the service life of wearout. The old Intel 660p SSD is now in the M2_2 slot where the workload is minimal. TechReport tested SATA SSD in 2015 to failure and they found them to be substantially more durable than expected. For this reason Intel gives consumer SSD products a generous 5 year warranty.
SSD read endurance is usually very substantial. A modern SSD can outlast most hard disks easily due to the lack of moving parts. The capacity of SATA SSD have now reached 8TB but the cost is substantially more than an equivalent hard disk.
The Intel 660p 512GB at 11,520 operating hours has reduced the unit to 94% remaining. Extrapolating this suggests approximately 192,000 operating hours before the guaranteed service life is exhausted. The SSD will not stop working when the guaranteed service life is reached, the actual life may be substantially longer. Not bad for a QLC SSD, and some reviews hate QLC.
Price declines with SSD suggest that in 3-4 years the SATA SSD will start to move deeper into hard disk markets with lower costs. Hard disks have also seen price substantial price declines. Hard disks have new technologies which will keep them viable for several years to come.
Seagate long ago designed hard disks with a service life of 100,000 hours which seems to be in line with modern analysis. Backblaze reported that about 80% of their hard disks were functional after 48 months in service. The Backblaze chart shows a increase in drive failures after 36 months of service suggesting wearout may be a factor in drive endurance.
Backblaze operates disks continually which probably is beyond the design criteria is for consumer hard disks. Disks in the gaming rig tend to be idle as most of the time the SSD handles the work loads. Idle disks are spun down to save power as well as mechanical wear on the dive assembly.
Some data centers have discussed dark servers were the entire array of disks is idle. This type of approach probably could triple the service life of a server. Modern storages servers with 45 or 60 disks are usually organized into segments by the operating system for fault tolerance. When disks are replaced the server will need upwards of 24 hours to recover the redundancy.
One way to consider storage is to look at operating hours. One year is 8,760 hours. Many hard disks in the studio have exceeded 30,000 power on hours and they remain in service. SSD drives have not been in use as long so they have not accumulated nearly as many hours.
In statistics, when a disk is removed as obsolete before failure, the service life is called right censored as the remaining operating hours on the disk is unknown. Over time smaller hard disks have been replaced with larger capacity disks several times over. Older smaller capacity disks are generally still operational when retired.
In conclusion, obviously few operating disks are used to death. So the real question of endurance is hard to estimate. Redundant backups are low cost and give peace of mind when the fist backup fails.
A hard disk can set on a shelf for at least 18 months before it should be copied. Using two or three cold disks on a shelf are safer. Front panel docks are low cost for 2½” and 3½” format disks.
A low cost USB 3.0 cable can use bare SATA disks for backups. Old obsolete 2½” disks can be repurposed as backup media.
A PC Blu-Ray drive can be used for backups. Blank BD discs are now very low cost. Low cost 50GB BD disks can archive photos galore. BDXL media reaches 128GB but the top capacity is not in mass production yet. BD endurance is very high as demonstrated with years of experience. They can be stored in organized cases, spindles or binders where they can be safe.
Backup tape is expensive but it has better cold endurance for important backups. LTO-8 tape drives are $3000 and controller cards are $500. Tapes are 12TB and they cost about $200 each. The LTO roadmap suggests 400TB is possible in 6-8 years.