Counterfeit products have likely been a problem for about as long as humans have existed, with an incredible number of believable products being recycled and reused, or straight-up faked, hitting markets every day. The issue is especially bad in China, which is home to a countless number of counterfeiting stories – we’ve all heard about people buying storage drives with misrepresented density information.
Thanks to the effort of researchers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, we may soon be able to tell whether or not we were sold bunk product. Or, more importantly, the companies that are selling us these products will be able to detect bunk product.
Memory such as DDR and GDDR are designed to last well beyond an expected life cycle, as they need to endure an obscene number of reads and writes over the course of their existence. Flash chips are not quite as durable, with an average shelf life of about 10 years – but good luck ever getting there.
If you buy used DRAM, you’re probably safe from near-term failure if it was well cared for, but with flash, there’s absolutely a top-limit to its life, so if someone recycles a chip and sells it as new, the new owner receives what’s essentially a death sentence for their storage. Two years of use won’t matter if it’s expected to last 10 years, but 2-year-old flash is not going to perform as well as new product.
The reason the problem exists at all is due to the constant flipping of bits, degradation to the oxide can occur, causing voltage to leak through and get stuck in the floating gate. This is an inevitable physics problem with current (no pun) technologies, and affects SD cards just as well as our SSDs. Because of this continued degradation, the researchers were able to figure out a software solution which could gauge lost write performance, and then work its math magic to figure out how much overall life has been used.
At least to me, this sounds like a type of technology that would be really hit or miss, but according to the engineers, their solution can detect as little as 3% usage with 100% confidence. Note that I did not say “up to 100%”. Better still, because this is a software algorithm, it could exist as an application on our smartphones or PCs.
It should be noted that legitimate storage will probably have ways of allowing you to see a drive’s life. On the SSD side, many toolboxes released by respective vendors will show you the total amount of data written to the drive, in addition to other data. But we’re talking counterfeit here… faked from the ground up. It wouldn’t be hard to spoof SMART information if these folks are managing to counterfeit entire products to begin with.
You may “know” that the counterfeiting issue is bad, but I’d recommend looking over this PDF (via reddit) to get a true idea of what’s going on over in countries like China. If you look through and are not blown away, chances are you fully understood the problem already.