Monday, October 24, 2016

Browsers churn disc drives

A researcher discovered that browsers might churn disc drives - to the extent of writing gigabytes of redundant data per day.

Steve Gibson, using Sysinternals tools discovered that the Firefox web browser was rewriting a snapshot of its current contents to the default disc every 15 seconds. If you habitually leave your browser with many tabs open all the time, this could amount to a huge amount of data over the course of the day. Also, if you are leaving tabs open, it's writing the same data every time. (Gibson admits to keeping hundreds of tabs open.)

While writing unnecessary redundant data to the disc may have had a minor impact on overall computer performance a decade ago; this could seriously degrade the life of modern Solid State Drives.

All chip-based memory devices from a $5 flash drive to the industrial-grade system storage in servers can have information written to a given cell a only finite number of times before the reliability starts to deteriorate. Under normal use, the SSD that helps your laptop run cooler and have a longer battery life will probably outlive your desire for a faster computer or larger screen. But there is no need to put this extraordinary stress on the system and reduce its life by possibly as much as half.

SSDs are also appearing in higher-end consumer and business desktop computers or are being retrofitted by hobbyists. End-market devices marketed at a lower price point may be even more prone to early failure under this load. They might have a lower redundancy and not be able to survive as many write cycles as those sold for use in internet servers.

A similar issue of heavy disc usage also exists in Google's Chrome browser. Hopefully publicity will encourage the browser publishers to revise this procedure. Unfortunately, not being a security issue, it probably will not get a high priority for correction.

Gibson has determined a tweak to Firefox that allows the user to reduce the churn that is excerpted at Or listen to the podcast at (you can jump forward to about 1:05).

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