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.

17 Comments

  1. this is interesting. First, you got to remember, there are only 2 types of hard drives (conventional) – those that are dead and those that are about to be dead. 6 years is a good amount of time, and I try my best to replace mine every 5 years to be safe (I use 4 2TB’s and 1 TB for a total of 9TBs of storage. Movies and shows and music. And I use slower green HDs. Speed is not too important for my use. However, I do have a gaming machine and want to put in a SSD to replace my raptor. But, the cost that would be needed is too great right now. I need at least a 1TB.

    Have you written any instructions on how to install a SSD into a machine that will not require a complete re-install of the OS and games all ready on it? Or done more compares of brands of SSDs? Or point me in the direction of where to read?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Hello roo,

      The free version of Aomei Backupper includes a feature to migrate existing OS from HDD to SSD.

      Aomei Backupper Standard (free) home page: http://www.backup-utility.com/free-backup-software.html

      How to migrate HDD to SSD: http://www.backup-utility.com/features/system-clone.html

      Brand can be subjective and also dependent on budget restraints. The general consensus among most techies is that the Samsung range of SSDs are among the best. The Samsung 840 EVO series had some firmware issues but I believe the latest 850 EVOs are fine.

      I an running Windows 10 on a Samsung 240GB 850 EVO… all good.

      • Sorry for the late reply, been in the hospital 🙁 Thank you for the thoughtful response. I will go grab that software to have on hand and read that link 🙂

        • PS – lol, you are probably wondering about my nick that I go by. I was honorably given it by an Aussie soldier who was in my international unit in South Korea back in 1976. We patrol the DMZ and became friends. We also hit the bars and other places that I won’t mention, when one day after a fight, he said “you’re like a bloody kangaroo, mate. Jumping back in.” next thing I know I was being called “roo”. It stuck. Thanks again.

        • Actually, I assumed you must be an Aussie, same as me.

          Interesting story, thanks for sharing.

          Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2016.

          P.S. Hope you’re feeling better. 🙂

  2. I was surprised when I only had a 120GB herd drive on my Lenovo desktop two years ago but cost was a factor and it was a refurb i3…… 🙂

    The shock came when I experienced the speed of the computer. The SSD more than made up for the i3.

    With external drives running at sub 100GBP for 4TB now with USB3 speed there’s no real capacity problem.

    Transfering Data to the external or downloading direct to it is no real hastle.

    The cost is a factor for SSDs but if upgrading I would just buy a smaller SSD for OS and progs and use the mechanical monster for storage.

    The last time I checked (months ago) a combination of smaller SSD with large HDD worked out cheaper than a Hybrid drive but that could have changed.

    I wonder what the reliability factor is of a combined ‘risk’ of a hybrid compared with separate SSD and HDD?

    Thanks for the info yet again,

    Jon

    P.S. We have a ‘few’ computers ourselves and 7 grandkids with computerphobic parents so have decisions to make regularly. (We are in the UK and the grandkids all in Oregon so mistakes have to be sorted by phone…….)

    • A hybrid drive will have the reliability of its’ weakest link, which means it won’t be any more reliable than a conventional spinning drive at best. With the added complexity I tend to steer clear of hybrids, at least until I see some concrete reliability data.

  3. Jim,

    As usual superb coverage of a pertinent topic!

    I have been wanting to upgrade my W7 computer worrying that any of my 3 internal HDDs could fail and any time since there about 4-6 year old;
    unfortunately, I have been unable to find a way to reveal the actual age of each one.

    I wanted to try using a SSD but was unsure how to go about it.
    You sure helped point the way!
    I would get a new SSD and set it up like your system.

    However, being an intermediate user I still need a little help.
    I had created one new file when I set up W7 called MyDocuments that has ALL my data in it. I don’t use the User file but, it still is using 43.3Gb of space.

    So the question I have that I hope someone can answer:
    When installing the operating system and applications on the SSD:
    Besides the OS, and My Program Files, what exactly, if any thing else must be on the SSD to enable it to work correctly?
    Must all the User Data go there also?
    This is a view of the User File displayed in WinDirStat
    NAME % SIZE ITEMS
    Users 23.2% 43.4 GB 60,547
    Brian 99.7% 43.3 GB 59,839
    Administrator 0.2% 86.4 MB 412
    Public 0.1% 63.2 MB 177
    Default 0.0% 1.6 MB 109
    0.0% 174 Bytes 3

    Thanks for the great article and any help.

    Brian

    • Brian,

      You have got it in one – the system drive includes the operating system plus all installed programs and related data – that’s it. Almost everything else, including all personal files such as pics, docs, videos, etc. can be safely stored on a secondary data drive or partition. Portable programs can also be stored and run from the secondary location.

      It’s not too difficult to redirect personal files so they will be automatically stored on a secondary drive or partition: https://davescomputertips.com/how-to-move-user-folders-to-a-different-partitiondrive-in-windows-7/

      That said, much of the saving of personal files can be directed to the secondary drive anyway. In many cases, once you select a “save” location, Windows will remember your selection and save all subsequent files to the same location. Anything that slips through to the original personal folders (on the system drive) can easily be transferred across via simple drag and drop.

  4. 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.

    Jim or Dave: I’ve cut and pasted this excerpt from your recent newsletter (article), and I have a question [ if it’s not a National Security threat to provide the anwer(s), LoL. Here’s my question or request:

    I’m still running Win-7, and your recommendation (above) seems very logical to me. So… can you, would you… list some suggested SSDs (and even conventional drives) by make/model that I might choose from (prices are very welcome info, too) that I might purchase and swap out on my PC; AND… is that a fairly simple hardware swap procedure. BTW… most all my “data” is pictures (photos) and my music files, and a few Editing programs for each data folder.

    Thanks in advance. ~ Dane

    • Hi Dane – As I responded to “roo” in an earlier comment – SSD choices can be subjective and also dependent on budget restraints. The general consensus among most techies is that the Samsung range of SSDs are among the best. The Samsung 840 EVO series had some firmware issues but I believe the latest 850 EVOs are fine. However, they are generally a little more expensive than comparable brands.

      Providing actual pricing is tricky because it can differ quite dramatically depending on country of residence. For example; I’m in Australia and our Aussie dollar is doing very poorly at the moment so most things are more expensive here than say in the US. Just search online for brand and size and compare prices in your location. If you are in the US, this might help: http://www.amazon.com/b?node=1292116011

      I would suggest buying the largest SSD capacity that your budget will allow. Preferably nothing under 240-250GB.

      As far as HDDs go: personally, I’ve had good a run with Western Digital and tend to prefer their brand. I wouldn’t go for anything less than 1TB.

      As for swapping out: swapping out the actual hardware components is pretty straight forward. However, migrating over an existing OS requires a little bit of knowledge plus specialist software. Please refer to my reply to “roo” above.

  5. Jim, thx for the article. One thing not mentioned is physically installing the SSD, as motherboards have specific areas for mounting a couple of HDD’s but I have no idea where to install a SSD (or does it not even need to be mounted). Any help would be appreciated.

  6. Speaking of hard drives my old PC died and I wanted to get info off old hard drive,I used Sabrent hard drive adapter to hopefully retrieve photos and music files,but alas I could see hard drive on new PC which is a Win 10 and the hard drive was from a Win 7 pc all my files that I opened were all empty.Even though I could see the old hardd rive “REDLINED” out from being full.

    Don’t know if the two versions of Windows caused this.Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    • I don’t believe this would have anything to do with the different operating systems pine.

      Try this:

      Go to Control Panel and click File Explorer Options
      Click on the View tab (across the top)
      Under “Hidden files and folders” enable the the option to Show hidden files, folders and drives
      Click Apply then OK