Solid State Drives (SSDs) have become much more common in recent years, and just this month prices have come down again, dramatically with prices starting at $59
If your computer has started to run sluggishly recently, or if you simply want to get a performance increase, going with an SSD is definitely the way to go. With startup times of around 15-30 seconds (depending on which ssd drive you get and what processor you have) and way faster overall performance it may be time to ditch your old drive. If you need more that 1TB of storage, you may want to consider adding a traditional spinning drive for additional storage and keep your SSD for your operating system, programs and primary data. Some programs, like AutoCad work better when the program and data files are on the same drive, so it is important that your primary SSD drive is large enough to hande both, keeping the spinning drive for archival purposes. The same goes for gaming.
Solid state is industry shorthand for an integrated circuit, and that’s the key difference between an SSD and a HDD: there are no moving parts inside an SSD. Rather than using disks, motors and read/write heads, SSDs use flash memory instead — that is, computer chips that retain their information even when the power is turned off.
SSDs work in principle the same way the storage on your smartphone or tablet works. But the SSDs you find in today’s Macs and PCs work faster than the storage in your mobile device.
The mechanical nature of HDDs limits their overall performance. Hard drive makers work tirelessly to improve data transfer speeds and reduce latency and idle time, but there’s a finite amount they can do. SSDs provide a huge performance advantage over hard drives — they’re faster to start up, faster to shut down, and faster to transfer data.
A Range of SSD Form Factors
SSDs can be made smaller and use less power than hard drives. They also don’t make noise, and can be more reliable because they’re not mechanical. As a result, computers designed to use SSDs can be smaller, thinner, lighter and last much longer on a single battery charge than computers that use hard drives.
Many SSD makers produce SSD mechanisms that are designed to be plug-and-play drop-in replacements for 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard disk drives because there are millions of existing computers (and many new computers still made with hard drives) that can benefit from the change. They’re equipped with the same SATA interface and power connector you might find on a hard drive.
SSD drive manufacturers also are chasing ways to store more data in ever smaller form factors and at greater speeds. The familiar SSD drive that looks like a 2.5” HDD drive is starting to become less common. Given the very high speeds that data can be read and copied to the memory chips inside SSDs, it’s natural that computer and storage designers want to take full advantage of that capability. Increasingly, storage is plugging directly into the computer’s system board, and in the process taking on new shapes.
A size comparison of an mSATA SSD (left) and an M.2 2242 SSD (right)
Laptop makers adopted the mSATA, and then the M.2 standard, which can be as small as a few squares of chocolate but have the same capacity as any 2.5” SATA SSD.
Another interface technology called NvM Express or NVMe may start to move from servers in the data center to consumer laptops in the next few years. NVMe will push storage speeds in laptops and workstations even higher.
SSDs Fail Too
Just like hard drives, SSDs can wear out, though for different reasons. With hard drives, it’s often just the mechanical reality of a spinning motor that wears down over time. Although there are no moving parts inside an SSD, each memory bank has a finite life expectancy — a limit on the number of times it can be written to and read from before it stops working. Logic built into the drives tries to dynamically manage these operations to minimize problems and extend its life.
For practical purposes, most of us don’t need to worry about SSD longevity. An SSD you put in your computer today will likely outlast the computer. But it’s sobering to remember that even though SSDs are inherently more rugged than hard drives, they’re still prone to the same laws of entropy as everything else in the universe.
Planning for the Future of Storage
If you’re still using a computer with a SATA hard drive, you can see a huge performance increase by switching to an SSD. What’s more, the cost of SSDs has dropped dramatically over the course of the past couple of years, so it’s less expensive than ever to do this sort of upgrade.