Why is SSD firmware super-important to running of your disk?
The host system does not directly interface with the NAND containing your data. Instead, it interfaces with the firmware directly. The firmware holds the File Translation Layer which maps physical blocks to logical blocks. The firmware also performs crucial tasks like data scrambling, bad block management, interleaving, wear levelling and TRIM.
Isn’t firmware the code that’s also used in personal printers, toasters and fitness monitors right?
Yes, but in storage devices such as HDDs and SSDs it tends to more multi-faceted and much more complex. For example, Travis Goodspeed giving his talk “Implementation and implications of a stealth hard-drive backdoor” at Sec-T (2014) revealed how it took him “10 man months” to reverse engineer a Seagate Barracuda hard disk. He and his team also had to “kill” 15 hard disks in the process. So yes, the firmware found in your HDD or SSD is in a different ballpark than the firmware found in your Fitbit.
So, why bother updating the firmware on your SSD?
Well, if a potential problem is discovered it can often be remedied by a pre-emptive firmware update. Now you might be thinking that it’s the disk manufacturers themselves who discover these faults, right? Well, in most cases, it’s usually their customers such as gamers, PC enthusiasts and sys admins who discover them. Such problems could be related TRIM, ECC, bad block management or write amplification. When a problem is discovered, and assuming the disk model in question has a sufficiently large user base, it kind of expected that the manufacturer will release a firmware update to remedy the issue.
Could a firmware update for my SSD brick my drive?
Quite frankly, yes. This is why you should avoid the temptation of hastily applying recently released firmware updates from manufacturers. Because it’s not unknown for a vendor to release a firmware update which can provoke undesirable side-effects (such as dramatic slow-downs of the disk) or in worst case scenarios turning your SSD into a doorstop. This can happen if, for example, if the PMIC (power management IC) or file translation lay (FTL) gets corrupted. Of course, you’re also looking at potential data loss. This is why you should always perform complete disk backup before attempting any firmware update on your SSD.
So, I’ve backed up my data. Now, I can’t apply the firmware update using the manufacturer’s SSD utility (such as Samsung Magician, Crucial Storage Executive, Kingston SSD Manager etc.). What now?
Ok, truth be told. Updating your SSD’s firmware, even with the manufacturers dedicated utility software is rarely a click-and-go process. Some questions to ask before even starting include: are you using the latest version of the utility? Are you running the tool as an administrator? Have you performed a re-boot of your system after installing the SSD utility for the first time? Have you tried disabling your anti-virus or other end-point security software? Is your disk attached directly to your motherboard via a S-ATA or M.2 connection?
I’ve tried all of the above but still can’t apply the firmware update to my SSD. What do I do now?
If all of the above suggestions fail, you may need to create a bootable ISO tool provided by your manufacturer. Such a tool can avoid the layers of abstraction presented by an operating system such Windows. It can also make the firmware update process run more smoothly. So, after you’ve downloaded the ISO file, you need to make it bootable. You can do this using a tool such as the excellent Rufus USB creator. Once your bootable USB SSD utility has been created, boot up your system with it. It should allow you to update your disk’s firmware without the operating system getting in the way.
I think my SSD is failing, will a firmware update fix it?
Applying a firmware update to a failing SSD might actually exacerbate your problem. Writing new firmware to a disk often means that the existing firmware gets wiped. However, if your disk is failing and the new firmware module is unable to be written (to your SSD) – this leaves you in a sort of firmware no man’s land and potentially irreversible data loss. Professional data recovery companies such as Drive Rescue circumvent this problem by using a firmware “loader”. This basically means that the new firmware is loaded onto one of our host systems first and this is then used a “translator” to read the NAND whilst leaving the original firmware intact.
Drive Rescue, Dublin offer a complete data recovery service for faulty or inaccessible SSDs. Popular models we recover from include SK Hynix PC300, PC401 PC601, PC711, Micron 1100 M.2, Micron 1100 S-ATA, Micron 2200, Micron 2300, Samsung Mzvlb256hbhq-000l7, Mzvlb256hbhq-000l7, Mzvlb512hajq, Mzvlb512hajq, PM853T, PM871, PM883, PM991, Kingston A400, Kingston SSDnow SV300, SSDNow V300 and Toshiba Thnsnk256gvn8.