What to do When Your Crucial SSD Suddenly Stops Working and Disappears

***  This article relates to my specific SSD (Crucial 256 GB m4 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive SATA 6Gb/s CT256M4SSD2).  If you are looking for general information on SSD’s, how to set them up, and why they are great, go to this article.  ***

Well today I had a real pants-pooper scare.  Fired up the computer and it jumped to life as it now does with the new SSD.  Login.  Something funny is happening.  I’m not able to start any programs or even bring up the Task Manager to see what is running.  Force the computer to shut down by holding down the power button.  Start up again.  Computer hangs when Windows is supposed to load.  Pop in Windows 7 CD to see if there is a quick fix it can do.  Can’t do anything.  Check BIOS.  Doesn’t even show the SSD exists.  Uh-oh…

It appears I had a cascading Lemony Snicket series of events.  I think it was some random weird thing that caused Windows to hang (it seems to happen once in a blue moon), I forced it to shut down when I couldn’t get anything to respond, and my particular SSD’s particular version of its driver was susceptible to failure due to sudden power loss.

Needless to say, all of this happened exactly 6 days after my 30-day money-back guarantee expired.  I thought I was going to be without a computer for several weeks as I battled to get a replacement drive for this new brick. What would happen to the partial data still on the old drive I’d have to return but couldn’t access to save and then completely erase?

Luckily I had access to an old laptop that can still function as a web browser so I was able to go to the manufacturer’s website and find a solution.  Here is the convoluted process I had to follow.  Maybe it will help you too.

Read and follow this article to allow your SSD to be seen by your system again.  It tells you to disconnect your SSD from your motherboard but leave the power attached.  Then you go through a series of power ups, rest for 20 minutes, power down, etc.  I’m absolutely serious about this.  I’d never seen anything like it.  For extra insurance I made sure as I was starting up to go into the BIOS and let it sit there rather than some random screen.  It was weird and time consuming but it worked!  Now my computer could see my SSD again.  In fact, no damage appeared to be done and all my files were still accessible.  Boy am I glad that the Windows 7 disk didn’t work before or I would have lost about a week’s worth of work by reverting to my last backup.

Back up all files and create a new system image.  I did all this and changed my auto backup to happen daily now instead of weekly.  I really never want to lose a day’s worth of work but a week’s worth is unacceptable.  I don’t know why I didn’t think to do this before.  If you don’t know how to do this stuff, Windows 7 will walk you through it.  Just click on the start button in the lower left and type “backup” then select “Backup and Restore” and follow the prompts.  You can create a system image here too.  It will be an option on the left-hand side of the Backup and Restore window.

Check to see if the SSD is physically damaged with chkdsk.  I’m certainly not an expert on this but a quick way that seems to be accurate is to run the command chkdsk.  To do this you click the start button, type cmd and press ctrl+shift+enter to get to the command line in administrator mode, and finally type chkdsk (assuming your SSD is your primary drive, if not, you’ll have to specify the drive before running chkdsk – more info here).  When you press enter you see a laundry list of details about the particular drive including how many bad sectors it has.  Mine had 0 so yea!

Check to see the newest version of the drivers.  Follow the link to an official forum thread that details all of the driver updates.  BONUS:  They provide instructions in the first message on how to subscribe to this thread so you are always in the know if new drivers become available.

Check to see which version of the drivers is installed on your SSD.  This might be a little confusing because the link takes you to instructions for a particular program.  Just skip to the part entitled “Validating the Current Firmware Revision” and follow only those instructions.  That is the only part we care about right now.  I have a brand new drive (purchased April 2012) and my drivers were out of date so chances are yours are too.

Update drivers.  So it seems that all of my problems stemmed from drivers that couldn’t handle sudden power loss very well (although the drive has done just fine when we’ve lost power before).  At the time of this writing version 000F is the newest and supposedly fixes this problem along with two others.  If you follow the link above it does a good job detailing the steps you will need to take.  Simply select your type of drive from the drop down menu and then pick either the automatic or manual install.  Read and follow the instructions that go with your preferred installation method.  NOTE:  I could not get the auto installer to work (I think because I use 64-bit Win 7) so I had to do it manually.  I opted to create a bootable USB flash drive with the driver update software on it as detailed in the instructions and it worked flawlessly.

Enjoy functional computer.  Change shorts (The scare is over?).  Hopefully my system is fully operational once again.  So far so good…

***  For more information on SSD’s, see this article.  ***

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Why You Need a Solid State Hard Drive

***  UPDATE 6/7/12 – See how I corrected a fairly major problem with my particular SSD in this article. ***

I recently upgraded my computer because it was beyond showing its age and was getting to the point that it couldn’t even complete certain tasks anymore.  The component I was looking forward to most was the new hard drive.  Isn’t a hard drive just a hard drive?  Don’t you always get so much more space than you’ll ever use?  Why care about that so much?

TL;DR:  I bought an SSD.  It sped up my computer a lot.  I think everyone would love one and should buy one.

For years I’ve dreamt of the day when really fast hard drives would be commonplace.  Sure, having a multi-core CPU and a killer video card are great, but think about what you wait on most of the time:  stuff loading, saving, and copying.  I imagine a time when the computer truly is just an appliance like TV.  You push a button and it is on and ready to go.  This requires some type of ultra-fast storage.  Enter the solid state drive.

You can think of a solid state drive (SSD) like a USB flash/thumb drive with much higher capacity and a much faster transfer rate.  There are no moving parts.  They are silent (obviously).  Theoretically, they will last longer and are more rugged than standard hard drives.  They use less power and, most importantly for me, they are much much faster.  Although this article at Tom’s Hardware is getting a little long in the tooth, I think it gives a pretty good idea of the typical hard drive vs solid state hard drive speed.  In particular the video on this page gives a good impression of the differences.

Why doesn’t every computer ship with an SSD?  The only reason I can come up with is cost.  When I purchased mine, it cost me about $280 for 256GB.  Ouch!  It was by far the most expensive component of my upgrade.  When I went back to check on the shipment of my order the next day, the price had dropped $50.  A few days after that when a friend asked what I ordered and I went to grab the URL, the price had dropped by $80.  At the time of this writing, the price is back up to $250 so I guess there was a temporary price war with someone.  You can check the current price by clicking here.

You can see that I decided to buy this component from Amazon.  I preferred their return policy on SSD’s over NewEgg’s.  Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t offer a price matching guarantee, but overall I’m happy purchasing the drive through them.

IDIOSYNCRASIES
SSD’s do have a few unusual things that should be taken in to account:
1.  You should never sleep or hibernate an SSD.  In certain cases with certain drives in certain configurations, this can mess them up.  I haven’t read anything about the percentages here, but I gather that it is a small number but large enough to pay attention to.  Besides, SSD’s use so little power when idle, there is much less need to sleep them so why take the risk.

2.  You must never defrag an SSD.  I noticed when I installed Win 7 on my SSD, it automatically turned off defragging on this drive.  Apparently, defragging an SSD can cause it to become non-functional and at the very least puts unnecessary wear on it.  It wouldn’t speed up the operation of it anyway.  Don’t worry, you can reclaim the unused space by…

3.  Do use TRIM.  This is a process that goes in and reclaims the unused space on your SSD once a file is deleted.  If you are running Windows 7, when you install your SSD, it should automatically detect what kind of drive it is and start running TRIM on it.  You can check to see if TRIM is running by doing the following:  1. Open Command Prompt with Administrative privileges (“Run as administrator” when you right-click the command prompt icon is one way)  2. Enter the following command “fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify”  3.  If the result is ‘0’ TRIM is enabled.  I didn’t have to do anything special.  Win 7 detected the SSD and, when I checked, it was running TRIM.  If you don’t run some sort of reclamation software like this, the performance of the drive will degrade the more you use it.  If you don’t run software like this I imagine you’d have to eventually reformat the drive to get it back to a useful speed.  Why not run TRIM though?  It only operates when your computer is idle and it maintains its performance.

4.  Do set your mode to AHCI (or RAID if you are setting up a RAID array) before you install Windows on it.  I ended up having to install Win 7 twice because the first time I didn’t do this properly.  Win 7 still worked but I wasn’t getting all the speed out of the drive that I could.  I honestly don’t know the details, but AHCI works with SSD’s better.  You can see how to set it up in this video (at the 12:00 minute mark) and by following the instructions that came with your motherboard.  NOTE:  I set the BIOS to AHCI for the SSD, but I missed the step to load the AHCI driver before installing Win 7.  Basically, when you insert the CD and start the installation process, you will get to a point where it asks you which drive to install Win 7 on.  Notice down in the lower left-hand corner the button labeled “load driver.”  Now is the time to load the ACHI driver – before Win 7 is installed.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS
Yes, an SSD is a noticeable speed increase.  It isn’t the instant-on for everything that I was hoping for but it is so much faster than a standard hard drive.  Google Chrome loads about a nanosecond after you click on the icon.  Other programs take a little longer.  Windows 7 takes about one minute to be operational from the moment you press the start button (about half the time is the BIOS POST’ing and about half is Win 7 loading from the SSD).  It took about ten minutes to install Win 7 on this drive instead of the suggested 30 minutes for a normal hard drive.

Since SSD’s are silent, I notice the fans in my computer much more now.  What I always used to assume was the sound of the hard drive as a program loaded I now know is the CPU heatsink fan spinning up.

The SSD I have has not made me think of my computer as an appliance just yet, but it has reduced my wait times to almost nothing.  If I had it to do over, I would purchase the exact same SSD and be very happy that I did.  I cannot imagine a situation where a computer user would NOT appreciate the performance boost of an SSD.

Please note that most SSD’s are sized to fit in laptops (2.5” bay) instead of desktops (3.5” bay).  I thought I already had an adapter bracket or that I’d be able to buy one locally.  I was wrong.  Don’t fret.  Every SSD I looked at had a version with a bracket and one without.  Just remember to order the one you need or plan to order the bracket separately as I had to do.  Some of these stand-alone brackets even allow you the option of stacking two SSD’s in a single hard drive bay.  If only I had the money for two SSD’s so I could put them in a RAID array…  There is always something better and faster.