M.2 is a type of solid-state drive (SSD) used in an internally mounted expansion board — a printed circuit board (PCB) inserted into the expansion slot on the computer’s motherboard. Unlike the 2.5-inch SSD wherein the storage media is inside a casing, M.2 SSDs are bare circuit boards that look like RAM, however, with varying dimensions.
M.2 SSDs can be connected to the computer through different types of interfaces, namely Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe), SATA, and USB 3.0. Further, M.2 storage media with PCI Express computer bus can be interfaced using Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) or Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) drivers.
M.2 devices are much faster than traditional SSDs. With NVMe, they can offer up to five times higher data transfer speed, through parallel processing.
Due to their small form factor, M.2 drives are primarily used in compact devices, such as ultrabooks and tablets. Like traditional SSDs, M.2 SSDs are sturdy and have a longer lifespan than hard disk drives. However, M.2 SSDs may fail due to reasons, like heating, wearing, firmware corruption, etc.
This blog outlines the methods to recover data from failed M.2 SSDs. However, before moving to the methods, let’s understand the crucial parameters that determine the failure rate and durability of M.2 SSDs.
M.2 SSD Failure Rate — Key Parameters
The failure rate of M.2 drives, like traditional SSDs, depend upon various factors or parameters. Knowing these factors is crucial to understand the mean life and underlying reasons for M.2 SSD failure.
- Quality of NAND flash memory
NAND flash chips are graded based on their material and build quality and assigned a numerical rating of 1, 2, 3, or 4 in descending order of quality. Higher-quality flash storage media can sustain larger read/write cycles and therefore last longer.
SSDs, including the M.2 SSD, with a built-in DRAM, allow the controller to perform faster read/write operations on the memory by buffering the data locations for faster access. In contrast, DRAM-less SSDs store the data map on the NAND chip, which takes longer to access, thereby reducing the SSD performance.
Storing data locations on the NAND memory, instead of the DRAM, results in faster wear and tear and shorter lifespan, causing chances of early failure of SSDs.
Another factor affecting the failure rate of M.2 SSDs is the underlying NAND cell technology, i.e., the type of memory cells used in the flash media. There are four types of NAND cell technologies, namely:
- Single Level Cell (SLC): In these SSDs, each cell can store one bit of data.
- Multi-Level Cell (MLC): Each cell can store two bits of data.
- Triple Level Cell (TLC): Each cell can hold up to three bits of data.
- Quad Level Cell (QLC): These can hold up to four bits of data.
The general thumb rule is SSDs (including M.2 drives) with lower bit counts per cell are faster and have a longer lifespan. So, SLCs have a lower failure rate than MLCs and so on, considering other parameters like working conditions, terabytes are written, and GB/day is the same.
Why Do M.2 SSDs Fail?
Here are some major reasons for the failure of an M.2 SSD:
M.2 NVMe drives are prone to overheating because of their high data transfer and read/write rates. For this issue, M.2 drives come equipped with temperature sensors and have throttling functionality to protect the hardware from excessive heating. Nonetheless, frequent usage at higher-than-normal temperatures can impact the performance of M.2 SSDs and ultimately lead to their failure.
Unlike HDDs, SSDs don’t have mechanical components and therefore have higher durability. However, SSDs, including the M.2 variety, have NAND cells with limited charge and discharge cycles. These cells wear off with repeated data storage and retrieval, resulting in degraded performance and ultimately failure of the M.2 SSD.
Also Read: Some Common Warning Signs Of SSD Failure
Firmware corruption is another reason for M.2 solid-state drives failure. However, it is more complex than other failure and data loss scenarios. Simply put, firmware is the operating system that boots and initializes the SSD controller to perform read/write operations. Therefore, its corruption can result in the total failure of the M.2 SSD, leading to permanent data loss. The SSD cannot function unless the firmware issue is rectified, which is an immensely complex task requiring specialized devices and expertise.
Methods to Recover Data from Failed M.2 Solid State Drive
Generally, M.2 SSDs are in-built within the computing device, such as an ultrabook or tablet. If you suspect that the M.2 drive is failed, you need to reach out to the device’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for replacement if the device is under warranty. However, your data will be lost, even if you get a new SSD because you need an expert to recover data from failed M.2 SSDs.
As a general measure, you can try restarting the computer to check the SSD status or try to access the drive through BIOS (if the system boots). However, M.2 SSDs are incredibly complex and more compact than typical SSDs. So, specialized equipment and expertise are minimum needs to access the failed M.2 memory and reacquire the data.
Be aware! You get only one chance. Any mistakes in using DIY methods, such as freezing the SSD, opening it up, connecting to a host machine through another interface, etc., could lead to permanent data loss. Seeking an expert’s help later after the fumbled attempts might not help.
Case Study: Recover Data From SSD Hard Drive
Client: Business Entity (Not Disclosed)
Client City: Kolkata
Goal: Recover data from Ransomware Encrypted SSD Hard Drive
Method: Recovered Data with the help of Stellar Data Recovery in Kolkata from Client SSD Drive.
- The client was having problems because the ransomware virus had encrypted all of his files.
- It was a 500GB SDD Hard Drive from Toshiba.
- All of the SSD’s contents, including Tally Data, were crucial and needed to be recovered.
Process of Stellar Data Recovery:
- The results of the initial investigation done by Stellar Data Recovery showed that the ransomware virus had encrypted every file.
- Then, by hand, Stellar Data Recovery manually scanned the SSD Drive’s internal structure to correctly decode each Tally file.
- Then, in accordance with the client’s request, we gave the client access to the data on a different drive so they could effectively examine or confirm the recovered data, regardless of any potential problems with the file structures or formats.
The client was extremely happy after getting his all Tally Data. This was possible with our superior quality and high caliber of services.
How Can a Professional Data Recovery Expert Help?
Firstly, a professional data recovery service provider ensures an accurate diagnosis of the root cause of M.2 SSD failure. The service provider can ascertain whether the drive had failed due to overheating, wear, and tear, or firmware corruption.
Further, the service provider can determine the right course of action to maximize data recovery, irrespective of the reason for failure. For example, if the drive appears to have failed due to overheating, the service consultant can do a lab analysis of the drive to determine the extent of damage and advice on recover data from failed M.2 SSDs.
For SSD with firmware corruption, a data recovery expert like Stellar performs elaborate laboratory procedures using proprietary tools and techniques to ensure up to 100% recovery of data.
Data Recovery from M.2 SSDs Having Firmware Corruption: Lab Approach
The data recovery approach for a failed M.2 SSD comprises the following steps:
- Switch over to factory access mode – this step requires a special NAND reader
- Read the firmware and system areas – this step involves the reconstruction of the firmware program
- Refresh the controller RAM with fresh code – involves uploading the microcode and other system information on the SSD controller RAM
- Create an image of M.2 SSD – imaging of the SSD using proprietary software to create a replica
- Recover data from the SSD image – scan the SSD image to retrieve the data
Case study – Stellar recovers data from a failed SSD having firmware corruption
Data recovery from failed M.2 SSDs can be extremely challenging considering their fundamental make and failure scenarios like firmware corruption. These compact storage media demand experienced technicians, superior technology, and specialized equipment to allow data recovery.