A lot has been said about illegally downloading music and movies using torrents. But, I’m not going to try to convince you that they’re wrong. I’ll let others fight that battle. But are peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and torrents damaging to your mini-PC?
I read a forum post about this that argued against torrents and P2P sharing from a hardware reliability point of view. HardwareGuru, the author, argued that because eMMC storage is much smaller than Solid State Drives (SSD) hard drives, they will fail much faster than SSD’s. He used some simple calculations to say that if an SSD is expected to last for ten years, an eMMC drive can last only one year.
In his example, if we compare a 160GB SSD to a 16GB eMMC – used for the same purpose (that’s the important part), then the 16GB eMMC will have ten times the number of writes as the SSD over the same amount of data.
As I said, the calculations were simple, but they got me thinking. So I did a little research. Here’s what I discovered.
In a nutshell, any kind of flash storage has a limited number of “writes” before it will start to fail. This includes SD cards, SSD drives, as well as the eMMC storage that’s in most Android mini-PCs. Think of it this way: Start writing on a piece of paper using a pencil. Then erase some of the words and write different words on top of them. Do that a few more times, over the same words. Pretty soon the paper will start to degrade and you won’t be able to read the words as clearly.
Now imagine that was your data – a photo, mp3 or a Word document. If the operating system can’t figure out what is written in a particular storage cell, then errors will start happening. Songs will skip. Movies will stutter. Documents won’t open (or save).
Normally, this is about 2000-3000 “cycles” through the data. This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t when you think of how much data we use on a daily basis. Stay with me and you’ll see why this may be a lot more than you think.
Data Leveling and Write Amplification
Most flash memory includes something called Data Leveling. This is a method of writing the data to the flash storage that spreads out these “writes” across the flash memory. This means that the memory controller is actively trying to spread out the data over the entire chip to prolong its life. This is one of the reasons that hard drives are less than their advertised capacity. Some of that space is taken up by the controller and isn’t accessible by the operating system. Data leveling greatly increases the lifespan of the drive.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that we’re using more data than we thought we were using. Up to 20 times more data!
One recent experiment showed common mobile apps like Facebook and Twitter, connected on a wireless network, and how much data they used over a two hour span. Even though the apps only downloaded 1.6 MB over that time period, they wrote over 30MB to storage. That’s over 18 times as much data written to the drive as it downloaded!
All that data can seriously shorten the lifespan of your drive.
Stop torrents damaging your device
Now think about downloading a movie from a torrent. To keep the math simple we’ll use an mkv file that’s an even 1GB. If the bits of that file get written, moved around, erased and re-written 18 times as in the previous example, you’ve almost cycled through a 16GB eMMC. And that’s just one movie! Even back in 2011, the average home broadband user downloaded 17GB per month.
Here’s some steps you can take to help:
- Stream more, Save less
- Streaming videos or web content only exists in memory, so it will never be saved to your storage.
- Use an external drive
- External hard drives are inexpensive per gigabyte. Plus, you can network the rest of your devices to it to share your files.
- Watch your settings
- Only use apps and addons that can be configured to save to an external hard drive or an SD card.
The bottom line is to be aware of how you set up your device and what you use it for. If you’re going to use any sort of peer-to-peer file sharing on an Android box, or even your smartphone, be careful!
Do you have any drive failure stories? Any apps that we should avoid? Leave a comment below and tell us.