Tesla’s Flash Memory Failure: Reminding Us Computer Parts Wear Out, Eventually

What is a Flash Memory Failure?

Electric car giant Tesla has issued a recall for some 135,000 vehicles, according to the  opens in a new windowWall Street Journal, due to a flash memory failure in the touchscreen panels. A lot of data is logged to the internal flash. Given enough time those memory cells wear out, resulting in a broken chip. In this case, the failure results in loss of the rearview/backup camera and loss of HVAC for defogging and defrosting the windscreen. It also has an adverse impact on the Autopilot advanced driver assistance system.

tesla's flash memory failure

All Flash memory has a limited number of write/erase cycles. From an SD card in your phone to your USB thumb drive, to the storage in your smart phone, to the SSD in your desktop. They’ll all go bad eventually, the only question is when.

While a single memory cell in a Flash chip may be put out of commission, most computers and other consumer electronics use many techniques that help alleviate the problem.  Wear leveling, over provisioning, and other technologies built into the memory controllers help to reduce the long term effects of using your storage devices.  But as they are written to, there will always be wear from normal use.  There’s always a limit, though, and Tesla’s computers hit that limit.

How long will flash memory last?

Experts say flash drives can last up to ten years, but as mentioned on NYTimes.com, flash memory doesn’t usually degrade because of its age, but rather because of the number of write cycles, which means the more you delete and write new information, the more quickly the memory in the device will start to degrade.

The best possible way to avoid disaster from a flash memory failure is to frequently backup all important data. Without a verified backup, a single point of failure can lead to data loss. While the problem with Tesla’s flash drive failure has been addressed, it is a fantastic example of why you need to think about the lifetime of your electronics.

flash memory failure

How can I fix my flash memory?

In many cases, you can not fix it.  Thumb drives tend to use inexpensive memory and memory controllers unlike something like an SSD in your computer.  The best you can do is to not keep vital files on thumb drives.  But if you have to, then make sure it is backed up somewhere.  If you do lose your data, then there is the possibility to recover it through a reputable recovery service.  But it is better not to be in that position in the first place.

What is flash media? 

Flash memory is computer storage memory that can be electrically erased and re-written. Flash is used as storage in a number of devices, including cellular phones, digital cameras and MP3 players, in addition to USB flash drives. 

How flash media works 

Flash media has no moving parts, operates silently, quickly, and is smaller in size than most other types of storage media.  The memory that stores your data is a chip much like your computer’s processor.  When information is written to the chip, electrocity is applied to areas of the chip to create a zero or one.  Those zero’s and one’s can then be read by the memory controller and attached devices.

Why does flash memory wear out? 

One of the most frequent reasons for USB flash drive data loss is removing the media from the computer or other device incorrectly. Never unplug a USB flash drive while it is reading or writing information. Condensation from high temperatures or high humidity can also cause the shorting of circuit board or corrosion of contacts. In much the same way that a rechargeable battery loses its charge after several hundred cycles, NAND flash components can also lose their ability to retain data after thousands of write/erase cycles. Essentially, the older your flash drive gets, the less reliable it becomes. This gradual degradation doesn’t require any extreme environmental situation or physical damage to occur either. 

For assistance with flash memory failure, data recovery, data backup and other computer repair issues, give ClickAway a call at 800-960-9030. Our free diagnosis applies to flash memory and nearly all electronic components.