First of all, what are solid-state drives?
Whether you know the answer or not, chances are you’re looking to upgrade your computer storage.
Read this article to find out if you should consider buying an SSD.
Solid-state drives are a type of data storage device that can be used as an alternative to hard drive disks (HDD). They can also be used alongside them.
If you own an ultrabook or ultraportable, most probably you already have an SSD unit as the primary drive.
On the other hand, laptop and PC owners will probably have an HDD unit for storage. Make sure that you know what kind of storage device you have before considering buying a new one or upgrading.
If you’re a PC owner, press the Windows button with the “S” key and select or type “Defragment and Optimize your Drives.” A screen will open stating what kind of drive is used for your Windows (C:) drive.
On a Mac, you can open the Apple menu, then choose “About this Mac”, and click “System Report.” When the new screen opens, look at the left-side menu. Select “SATA/SATA Express” to know the type and model of your storage device.
Traditionally, computer users would store all their data on a hard disk drive (HDD). These drives use magnetism to store data on a spinning metal platter. Solid state drives were developed to solve some of HDDs’ shortcomings.
Solid state drives are basically large, technologically sophisticated USB memory sticks. Since data is stored on microchips, it allows for easy and fast retrieval. In order to have a better understanding of what SSDs are and their true value, let’s compare them to HDDs.
HDDs store data on a rotating platter.
Whenever you need to get data from an HDD, the platter spins. The head, or the needle, moves on the surface of the platter to find the data and retrieve it.
In the performance criteria, SSDs win the battle due to their data storage method.
SSDs store data in blocks and since SSDs are non-volatile (no moving parts) the process is quieter and simpler. Your PC just fetches the data from the microchip, which is much faster and consumes less energy.
In addition, SSDs can increase your computer speed compared to HDDs.
SSDs decrease your computer boot time, launch applications faster, and speed up the process of copying and duplicating files. SSDs’ average speed is 500 MB/s (MB per second) while for HDDs it’s 100 MB/s.
Due to the fact that SSDs and HDDs work in completely different ways, it’s hard to judge if one is more reliable than the other.
Since SSDs don’t have any moving parts and they store data in flash-chips, they can be more reliable than HDDs. This is because they are less susceptible to damage. However, HDDs can have a longer lifespan since SSDs have a limit to the number of writes they can handle.
Keep in mind that most computer users won’t be impacted by the SSDs’ limited lifespan. This limit can be up to 700 terabytes, which is in fact a huge number of writes.
If you’re a professional user on the other hand, this limit might matter more. If you will be storing large files, or frequently reading/writing data, SSDs might not be a good option for you.
Another point to keep in mind is that SSDs have a higher bit error rate than HDDs. Also, an SSD can lose data if left unpowered for a long time, or if stored in a cold area.
When it comes to capacity, there’s no way SSDs can beat the storage size of HDDs. If you have an SSD as your primary drive, you might need to buy an external drive to store extra data.
If you mainly use your computer for web browsing and writing Word documents, an SSD will be perfect for you.
However, if you need to store large files such as music and videos, then SSDs might not have enough capacity. You can buy a large capacity SSD, but these tend to be extremely expensive.
You can also use online cloud storage to store these kinds of files, but that this is generally limited unless you pay for a premium account.
Price is another category that is won by HDDs. SSDs have a relatively higher price, especially if you need a high capacity storage drive. For the same capacity, an SSD can cost more than double the price of an HDD. As an example, you can pay $160 for an SSD with the same capacity as a $65-dollar HDD.
Like all computer parts, as SSDs become more technologically advanced and are used more, the relatively less expensive they will become. In the immediate future, however, HDDs will still be cheaper than SSDs.
Thus, when it comes to capacity and price, HDDs win the battle of storage devices. On the other hand, SSDs have better performance and speed, and make less noise than HDDs.
Make a decision based on your budget and the capacity you require. Then you can choose which type of storage drive suits you best.
Let’s assume you have made the decision to buy an SSD for your computer.
Now, how can you determine which SSD will best serve your purpose? There are a number of factors you need to take into consideration while making your choice.
Most of the time, SSDs have a SATA interface.
This refers to the type of cable and connection that transmits data. To get the highest performance out of your SSD, look for a 6Gbps rated SATA interface.
There are three models of SATA: SATA I, SATA II, and SATA III. The fastest model is SATA III, reaching 6Gbps. NVMe via PCI Express is the most advanced interface for desktops, and M.2 is for laptops. The M.2 interface can use both SATA 3 and NVMe depending on your laptop, but mostly only high end laptops carry the NVMe PCI Express M2 slots.
As we mentioned before, SSDs can store less data than HDDs; the typical range for SSDs is 64GB to 4TB. Capacity is also linked to performance.
Since data is stored in chips, a large capacity SSD will have more chips than a lower capacity one. This means that data will be spread over a larger number of chips making data retrieval more efficient and faster.
This is probably the most important factor you should consider, since most people buy SSDs for their fast performance.
Make sure that you check read and write speed for the two different types of read/write operations. The sequential read and write speed reads large data blocks. Random read and write speed reads smaller fragments of data.
You should be aware that SSDs have a limited number of erase cycles which determine the lifetime of the drive.
If you are an average computer user your rate of erasing data won’t be very high. This means that the life of your SSD can be very long. However, if your work includes lots of editing, this might decrease your SSD lifespan.
Therefore, you should check the writing cycle rates which can extend from 3000 to 5000 cycles. Choose according to what your usage will be.
It’s very important to check the firmware that is installed on the SSD. Firmware, in addition to controllers, can determine the level of performance of your SSD.
Firmware determines data management on the SSD, which affects how quickly your drive will be able to retrieve data.
Controllers affect your SSD’s capacity since they handle data management, determined by how many channels there are for chips.
There are different models of controllers, including those made by Intel, Samsung, SandForce, Silicon Motion, and Toshiba for example. Make sure you buy an SSD with the latest version of controllers to guarantee high performance and maximum capacity.
The process of TRIM enables your drive to clean up data that isn’t in use. This occurs during the garbage collection process, when the drive cleans itself regularly.
While it can produce a better performance, it might wear out some of the erase cycles and decrease the drive’s lifespan.
Most of the time, If you are adding extra storage, buying just the drive is enough.
However, if you’re upgrading to an SSD from an HDD, then you will need to buy the whole kit.
To wrap it up, should you buy an SSD or should you stick with your HDD?
The answer depends on your needs and usage, the type and size of data you want to store, and your budget.
If you are an average computer consumer and need fast performance, then SSDs are a suitable solution.
This is especially the case if you don’t care about the price. However, if you need to store large amounts of data on a tight budget, then you should go for an HDD.
There is a third option you could go for, if you have the capacity within your computer. That is to install an SSD for booting your system, and then use an HDD for your storage.
Hopefully you now have a better idea about SSDs and whether it is worth investing in one.
Marcus has a graduate degree in computer engineering and has many years of experience in cutting-edge technology research and development in both startups and Fortune 500 corporations. In his free time, he enjoys RTS gaming.
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