Solid State Drives (SSD)

Background

You may have heard a lot these days about Solid State Drives or SSD’s as they are commonly referred to as. The interest has arisen as a result of the popularity of tablets and smart phones which invariably use these devices for storage. Many computer manufacturers are now incorporating them in their laptops to reduce their size and increase battery life, Apple was one of the first companies to make their use more widespread with the introduction of the MacBook Air in 2008.

SSD’s perform much the same function as traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD), one thing that they do not have in common with HDD’s is moving parts. Instead of storing data on spinning platters, a SSD reads and writes data to and from nonvolatile flash memory. As a result they are less susceptible to physical shock and are thus ideal for mobile computing devices. Other advantages are they are much quieter, consume less energy and have faster access times, in some cases up to 10 times faster. The one major disadvantage that keeps them from being used in all computing devices is their cost, they presently cost about 10 times as much as HDD’s of the same size. For example a good SSD with 256 GB of memory will cost about $200 – 250, while for this price you could probably buy a HDD with 2-3 TB of memory. This price difference will continue to narrow as they are being used in more and more devices, they are now close to 1/3 of the cost they were in 2009.

Making a decision on a new laptop

So should you get a SSD instead of a HDD? The answer to this question varies depending on a number of factors. If you are buying a laptop computer and want a super light computer and don’t need a lot of hard drive space then you should get a computer with a SDD, an ultra thin MacBook Air or a new HP or Dell Ultrabook. If you do need a lot of storage space and don’t care about the extra seconds it will take to boot, then you could probably save yourself some money a get a regular laptop with a conventional hard drive. Some manufacturers allow you to get the best of both worlds with hybrid drives that include a small SDD that has enough space for your operating system so that you can enjoy super fast boot and response times, and a HDD, to store all of your data.

Installing a SSD on a desktop computer

If you already have a desktop computer you can also enjoy the benefits of an SSD by installing one on your device, this is probably the most cost effective way of improving the performance of your computer. Before you go out and buy a SDD you should open up your computer and see if it can be added. The first thing you need to check is if there are extra bays, most computers have space so that additional hard drives can be installed. Regular HDD’s are 3.5 inches wide while SDD’s are 2.5 inches, there are conversion kits that can be purchased. The SDD will have to be connected to the computer motherboard, this is done through a SATA data connector, there are 3 versions, SATA 1, 2 or 3 which support transfer rates of 1.5, 3 or 6 Gbps respectively. If your computer is relatively new (i.e. 2 years or newer), you will likely have SATA 3 connectors, you can check the manual that came with your motherboard to check. If your computer only has SATA 1 or 2 connectors, you don’t need to worry as SSD’s are backwards compatible, you will just not be able to enjoy the faster speeds of the SATA 3 SSD’s. Finally the SSD needs power, there are usually extra power cables on your computer’s power supply.

If you have checked the interior of computer and have found that it can handle a SSD then go ahead and start shopping for one at your local computer or electronics store. The size that you ultimately purchase will likely depend on your budget since they are quite expensive, the current sweet spot 256 GB, there are 512 GB SSD’s available but they can run upwards of $500.

If you are able to afford a large enough SDD to store all of the data on your computer then the setup will involve a simple transfer or mirroring of your HDD onto to the SDD (some SDD’s include software to do this, Acronis True Image can also perform this function). If you have too much data on your existing HDD, you will have to install your OS on the SDD, your computer will then use the SDD to run Windows and it will access other applications and data from the HDD. Later if you want to increase the speed of your applications you would have to re-install them on the SDD. Once you have installed the OS on the SSD you will have to enter the Bios and make the SSD the main boot device. A detailed step by step guide to the installation of SSDś is described in the PC Advisor article sourced at the end of this blog.

Source: PC World, Computer World, Wikipedia, Storage Reviews, PC Advisor

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