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Apple M1 Mac may be writing more data than necessary

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Reports from Apple M1 Mac users have surfaced in the last few days as different people compare notes about how often the system writes to disk. Some comparisons show stunning levels of drive writes, especially given how long some of these systems have been in use. However, there is limited evidence of truly systematic problems. And I don’t know how reliable some of the counters people are using to report data.

Topline results are a bit alarming. Users like @David_Rysk report that a system with 16GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD has already performed over 150TB of drive writes within two months.

2TB 16GB model. Use 3%.

In other words, for the 256GB model, you can expect up to 30% usage in proportion.

If this is accurate, some of these machines will not last 100% in half a year.

And it’s a 16GB model. 8GB should be worse.

Sacred shit. https://t.co/9HcmaYgJPT

— Hector Martin (@ marcan42) February 15, 2021

So … it’s a lot. Burning 3% of “utilization” in two months does not imply that these drives will last longer. Here’s how to define the SMART attribute according to Kingston:

Utilization: Includes a vendor-specific percentage of spent NVM subsystem lifetime estimates based on actual usage and manufacturer’s NVM lifetime estimates. A value of 100 indicates that the estimated durability of the NVM in the NVM subsystem has been consumed, but may not indicate a failure of the NVM subsystem. The value can exceed 100. Percentages above 254 are represented as 255. This value is updated once every power-on time (if the controller is not in sleep).

There are many subsequent reports from these numbers. However, the amount of data written to these drives is not very consistent due to the time the power was turned on. We collected data from multiple tweets and compared the total amount of data written to the drive to the time the system was powered on, but could not establish a clear trend.

Dividing the total amount of written data by the total number of hours at power up, the range of values ​​ranges from a minimum of 21.5GB / hour to a maximum of 347GB / hour. The last figure is quoted above. It is also an extreme outlier. Of the 10 reports, only 3 exceeded 100GB / hour, and the other two were 109GB / hour and 118GB / hour, respectively. Five systems reported in the range of 20-40GB / hour.

This makes perfect sense if the high reporting machine has the least RAM, or if the high reporting machine always has the heaviest workload, but user reports show that this is not the case. Some users claim that they are using their system only for lightweight activities. There is no obvious rhyme or reason for these reports. SSD write amplification is a possible cause.

What is iosnoop saying? There is always a process of writing to 4kb chunks using O_DIRECT, which can cause SSD write amplification effect. (50 writes per second, a complete rewrite of 512KB of SSD block every 4kb in size, 50 512KB per second can easily be 2211GB / day)

— HMage (@hmage) February 23, 2021

In a system that loses 3% of NAND that works every two months, 90% of NAND will be exhausted within five years, assuming a linear progression rate. Many SSDs can run well beyond their lifespan, but many are angry at the risk of reaching the limits specified by the manufacturer. The fact that these SSDs are soldered and virtually impossible to replace is also relevant to some people. Some argue that this issue affects both x86 and ARM, started after Catalina (rather than Big Sur), or affects x86, but to a lesser extent. At least one user claims that the power-on time is incorrect. If the value is inaccurate, the basis for comparison on these systems will be lost.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent explanation of what’s happening here, and you may be concerned about some of the changes Apple has made to the M1 storage system. The M1 Mac, unlike the x86 Mac, cannot boot from the external storage if the internal storage fails completely. This is a problem that needs more attention in our eyes than it has been obtained. SSDs fail for reasons other than reaching write limits.

It is possible that some tools are reporting incorrect values ​​for certain fields. It’s also possible that Apple has a low-level storage bug that has significantly increased drive writes. There are no signs that this is a short-term problem. This is to support use for more than 5 years, even the most aggressive usage we have shown. However, people have kept their laptops longer than before, and Apple has been actively exchanging M1 ideas as a step up from Intel in every respect. For now, we’re still looking for the cause, whether Apple is considering this standard operating procedure, and what the long-term life-related implications are.

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