Layman’s Tech: Solid State Drives


Remember the bad old days when we used to go make a cup of coffee while waiting for the PC to boot up? Over the years things have improved dramatically with the introduction of faster and better dual and quad core processors, faster and better RAM (and lots more of it), but the traditional hard drive has remained pretty much as is, except for increasing capacity.

Years ago, nobody would have even mentioned the hard drive in terms of slowing things down but these days, in many cases, it’s not the processor or RAM that’s responsible for the performance bottleneck but the hard disk drive.

HDD vs SSD

hdd vd ssd

Conventional hard drives operate in much the same way as a phonograph, with a movable lever reading data from a spinning disc and then transferring that information to the computer. With Solid State Drives, everything is stored on microchips with no moving parts and zero friction, much like a flash drive only bigger and faster. No moving parts means that access time for SSDs is near enough to instantaneous.

Indeed, SSDs are extremely quick, achieving far greater speeds than the conventional hard drive could ever muster. Actual rates may vary depending on connection type and manufacturer but an SSD is capable of speeds more than 5 times faster than a traditional hard drive. One thing for certain – you will notice a big difference.

Reliability and Durability

ssd drives-endurance

With no mechanical parts to wear or fail, SSDs easily outperform HDDs in terms of reliability (this is not only logical but has also been confirmed via a study of comparable return rates). We all know, often from bitter experience, that hard disk drives can and do randomly fail – the average failure rate has been calculated at 6 years.

There has been been much conjecture over the probable lifespan of SSDs, largely due to the fact that flash-based SSDs are only capable of performing a finite number of write operations before they will fail. Original SSD models tended to break down comparatively early on, mainly due to faulty firmware/controllers and construction flaws. However, the technology has improved greatly since then and recent tests have shown that modern SSDs will far outlast their official endurance specifications.


If you are more technically minded and would like to view the results of in-depth SSD durability testing, I suggest you visit this excellent article here: The SSD Endurance Experiment. The results can be summed up in two succinct quotes from the article:

  • Over the past 18 months, we’ve watched modern SSDs easily write far more data than most consumers will ever need.
  • The important takeaway is that all of the drives wrote hundreds of terabytes without any problems. Their collective endurance is a meaningful result.

The Back Pocket

money-pile

Cost is one area where SSDs are still behind the eight ball – although, as the popularity and sales of SSDs increases, the differential in pricing is slowly narrowing.  As of today though, there remains quite a gap in the cost per gigabyte of storage and that’s why many people, myself included, tend to go for a hybrid approach; installing the operating system and applications on a lower capacity (less expensive) SSD while storing personal data such as photos, music, videos, etc on a secondary conventional HDD.

Thing is; once you’ve experienced the speed of an SSD, I seriously doubt you’ll ever want to go back.

FOOTNOTE:

I’ve made this point before but it’s germane to this topic and bears repeating: when I am looking at PCs for sale I can’t believe that manufacturers are still putting together these lovely high-end machines and then throwing in a conventional hard disk drive. Most situations are governed by the weakest link and PCs are no exception. Building a PC with a a nice Intel i5 or i7 CPU and 8GB fastest speed RAM and then creating a performance bottleneck by topping it off with a conventional hard drive only serves to defeat the purpose.


 

About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

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