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Test your (EEPROM) memory with the Flash Destroyer
flash_destroyer_circuit.jpg

Re-writable solid state memory may be the best thing since diced wafers, allowing us to re-program our microcontrollers and store tons of music on our cell phones, but it isn’t without it’s faults. Though (mostly) immune to the bumps and jolts that would trash a comparable hard drive, Flash and Electrically-Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory (EEPROM) memory does suffer from one issue. They only are only rated to stand a limited number of writes before they stop working.

Fortunately, this number is in the millions or tens of millions, so you can continue to safely flash the latest programs into your Arduino for the foreseeable future, however if you plan to use your EEPROM to continuously record sensor data, you might find yourself running up against the limits of your hardware. The folks at Dangerous Prototypes decided to take things into their own hands, and built the Flash Destroyer project to test just how long it would take to drive a Microchip 24AA01-I/P to failure. Source code, schematic, and kit are available at their website. Note that they are aware of the fact that they are testing an EEPROM, not a Flash device, but that ‘Flash Destroyer’ just had a cooler ring to it.

To add to the gratuitous drama of the experiment, they are live-streaming the whole endeavor. Anyone want to take a bet at how long the poor memory chip will survive? [via Hacked Gadgets]

6 thoughts on “Test your (EEPROM) memory with the Flash Destroyer

  1. Since nobody else seems to want to mention it; checking the memory seconds after you write it doesn’t prove it hasn’t been damaged by excess writes, after a few million cycles, let’s see if it can read back data a week or two after it was written.

    Also the project is overkill for what it does; someone did the same thing in a few minutes on the arduino forum ages ago on a breadboard and simply had it write to the serial port every so many cycles. Why go to all this trouble?

    And what is the point of building a kit to do this? You have the result from the first few times it was done, why build your own kit? And don’t say make is about doing and learning on your own; building someone else’s project and pressing go is not doing and learning on your own.

    All that said, it’s physically a nice looking piece of hardware and I’d love to see it put to a better use with a different program; for the price I’m pretty tempted to buy one to repurpose.

  2. You raise an interesting technical point, however please watch your tone- we have a “be nice” commenting policy here.

    It’s possible we don’t understand the phenomenon well enough to know that you might have to wait extra time to tell if the memory is damaged. The only memory testing I’ve done is post-failure analysis, where we were trying to determine if a customer’s programming circuit was causing the memory to fail.

    I think you answered your other questions. Designing a kit like this is fun, has a cool aesthetic, and can be re-purposed to perform other tests.

  3. Hey Jason – Thanks for the comments. We did the Flash Destroyer just for fun. We joked about this project for a long time, and eventually knocked up a PCB and wrote some code. You’re absolutely right that the same thing could be done with an Arduino or any dev board or uC, but we wanted something a little more permanent and artsy to keep on a bookshelf.

    The main goal of the writeup is to provide a step-by-step example of I2C communications and EEPROM write/read operations – and maybe get someone interested in microcontrollers with a little wanton destruction.

    The write-verify routine uses an alternating pattern of 1s and 0s, so hopefully a gate will degrade and give incorrect values eventually. You raise an really interesting point – without a significant down-time it may take much longer to see errors. Some references are Microchip app notes 01019A and 00537. Witnessing these phenomenon first-hand was part of the fun of setting this device in motion, we’re really interested to see what will happen (and how long it takes).

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