Solid State Hard Drives

Category: Hard-Drives

I'm checking out laptops, and some say they have a solid state hard drive. Is this a good thing? How does a solid state hard drive compare to a regular hard drive?

What is a Solid State Drive?

Solid state hard drives were introduced to the public at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A solid state hard drive, or SSD, is the next revolution in computer hard drive technology. It was designed using the same technology as USB flash drives, and it is intended to eventually replace the standard hard drive that uses a spindle and platter. While there are several significant advantages to using a solid state drive with no moving parts, price is currently keeping the SSD from taking over the hard drive market for laptop and desktop computers.

As mentioned previously the solid state hard drive has no moving parts. Instead of using a storage medium that is magnetic or optical, an SSD is made entirely of semiconductors and typically uses the nonvolatile NAND Flash technology, which gives you nearly immediate access to data in the SSD.
Solid State Hard Drive

There are several obvious advantages to using a solid state hard drive. The first advantage is that there are no moving parts. This means that SSDs are not susceptible to data corruption or operation failures caused by debris or movement. In other words, they tolerate the Two D's (dust and dropping) better than a traditional hard drive. Have you ever bumped into a turntable while a record is playing? The same type of damage to a hard drive platter can occur when the read head gouges the surface. A solid state drive has no moving parts, so there's no chance the "needle" can scratch the "record".

Another advantage is that they can access data stored in their memory nearly instantaneously, even when data is fragmented. Access time can be orders of magnitude faster than with a disk, because the data can be accessed randomly -- there's no need to synchronize the read/write head with a rotating disk.

Also, the solid state hard drive uses about 50% less energy (important for laptops running on battery power), makes no noise, and is generally more stable. The solid state hard drive has a longer anticipated lifespan when compared to traditional hard drives, as it doesn't have the moving parts and magnetic surfaces that are eventually going to wear out or malfunction.

Some people may warn you that the flash chips used in SSD's can also wear out, because they have a limited number of write cycles. But manufacturers have found various ways to increase the longevity of these drives. A "wear-leveling" algorithm will monitor how many times a block of data has been written, and when the maximum threshold is near, the data in that block can be swapped with another block of data that has been used in a mostly "read-only" manner.

My rule of thumb for a traditional hard drive is to expect about 5 years of service with 8 hours per day of use. Some makers of solid state drives are claiming life expectancy of over 100 years!

Comparing Solid State to a Traditional Hard Drive

When compared to a traditional hard drive the SSD seems to be a clear winner in terms of speed, reliability and energy efficiency. But even though the SSD has many valuable advantages, there are two factors that will keep it from taking over the market in the near term: price and capacity.

Vendors such as SanDisk, Imation and MTron offer 32 GB Solid State Drives for around US$200. Compare that to the cost of a traditional hard drive, where you can get 1000 GB (one terabyte) for about $100 now. But capacity is still an issue, since solid state drives currently max out at 128GB. (Actually you can buy 256GB SSD's but they are *very* expensive. A quick price check showed prices range from $4000 to $15000.) As solid state hard drive technology matures and becomes more popular, the price will inevitably come down, and capacity will improve, making it more competitive.

There seems to be no doubt that Solid State Hard Drives will eventually replace the traditional hard drives that consumers have been using for years. However, price and capacity issues must be resolved before that can happen. Since traditional hard drives are much more affordable than SSDs, this makes them more attractive to consumers and computer manufacturers at the moment.

Do you have a computer with a solid state hard drive? Do you find it noticeably faster? Post your comments about solid state hard drives below...

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Most recent comments on "Solid State Hard Drives"

Posted by:

06 Jan 2009

according to this article,1955.html SSHDs may actually consume more power - the article does say that power saving mechanisms have not been built into the SSHD as yet - so that may change. Do you have any further information on this?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's another article which may help to clartify:

Posted by:

06 Jan 2009

128-GB SSDsare currently available from CDW and others...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thanks, I missed that. But $1900 for 128 gigs? I also found some 256GB SSD's for $4000 and higher. Ouch!!

Posted by:

06 Jan 2009

Is there a USB drive that uses A "wear-leveling" algorithm? I have heard that there is but no info on who makes it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I think it's pretty common. A google search turned quite a few hits on various mfr's.

Posted by:

06 Jan 2009

How long does the average computer last? I had a laptop become irrepairable in three years. A hundred year guarantied hard drive would not add to the longevity of a computer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, but it sure would be nice to have a digital storage medium that's readable 50 years later. Family photos on CD's may last only 5-10 years.

Posted by:

Zeke Krahlin
07 Jan 2009

When researching towards my goal of buying the Asus eee PC 1000 netbook, I learned a lot about solid state drives. And what I learned steered me away from the SSD option; instead I got an Asus netbook with a standard hard drive "turntable".

As it turns out, these SSD's being sold for netbooks are not good quality; they are actually slower than today's hard drives, and prone to glitches. IOW: they are made very cheaply. Or, more accurately, reviewers claim that the 4 or 8 gigabyted SSD that comes with the netbook is pretty good...but the SSD's sold for expanding the drive (8, 16, 32 gigs) are cheaply made.

I also understand that SSD's have slower write speeds. From the Wikepedia page on "solid-state drives":

"Slower write speeds: As erase blocks on flash-based SSDs generally are quite large (e.g. 0.5 - 1 megabyte)[9], they are far slower than conventional disks during small writes and can suffer from write fragmentation,[28] and in some cases for sequential writes.[15] SSDs based on DRAM do not suffer from this problem. It should also be noted the smaller the blocks being written the more pronounced the problem becomes."

SSDs are also more susceptible to static, moisture, magnetism, and other nano issues that do not affect the standard hard drive. I also suspect that, due to their extreme sensitivity to super tiny particles, they may also be affected by telepathic waves and other psychic phenomena! (Just kidding.) :/

Posted by:

09 Jan 2009

Apple has been careful to state that the SSD in the MacBook Air will *not* recover data notably faster than the standard 5400rpm hard drives, and reviews by MacWorld report only modest speed increases.

Nonethless my MacBook Air reboots in about one quarter the time of our standard MacBook. That alone seems worth having.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2009

Is there a minimum O.S. configuration that you can use with SSD's? Such as, does it have to be NT based O.S. or can you use it with an O.S. such as 98SE or does it not matter? I have an old Inspiron 3800 of which the 4Gb harddrive just gave up the ghost but I utilize a 4Gb SD card with it and it is still perfectly functional. And now, very quiet! That old Travel Star hard drive that was in there made you feel like some one was pulling the base note wire from a concert grand piano through your head after about an hour of work!

EDITOR'S NOTE: I think it's more a matter of whether the motherboard has an SSD-style connector.

Posted by:

25 Feb 2009

I don't understand why my usb flash (rated at 133x) is so much slower than a clunky mechanical disk. Surely (as in Moore's law) in the not too distant future they will be as fast as current volatile RAM and as cheap as current rust coated disks. SO for now I opted for the Asus eee 1000 with a 160 gb HD. It's not really so much a net book but a really portable PC. More portable and less sexy than a MAC air but very functional. I use it for showing movies to my students, Power Point. And it's also my portable office and entertainment system. My laptop is now a permanent fixture on my desk. (sorry, this seems a bit off topic, but I wanted to bring out the current shortcomings of SSD)

Posted by:

25 Feb 2009

I wonder if we won't see "hybrid" notebooks (and desktops) in the near future, utilizing SSD's for booting the OS, and then a cheaper "traditional" drive for storage. Seems as though that would be the best of both worlds, without breaking the bank.

I have wondered about heat issues with the SSDs - for sustained use, wouldn't they require significant mechanical cooling of some sort?

Posted by:

Bill Rubin
26 Feb 2009

"There seems to be no doubt that Solid State Hard Drives will eventually replace the traditional hard drives ..."

As I see it, there's considerable doubt. Capacity of reasonably-priced SSDs is still 1.5 orders of magnitude less than disks, according to your article. And disk capacity has been increasing faster than Moore's law in recent years. I don't see SSDs catching up to disk capacity in the foreseeable future.

Hawkers of new technology often make the mistake of saying, "We're only a factor of n worse than the old technology, and we know we can improve by a factor of n in a few years." But the old technology may also improve by a factor of n in that time.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Very true, Bill. Like the song says: "You may be right... I may be crazy!" But if SSD does catch up (or comes reasonably close) on price and capacity, then I think the other benefits would make it a more attractive option than platter-based drives. My gut feeling is that advances in electronics will eventually trump advances in mechanical.

Posted by:

27 Feb 2009

I don't understand why the technology can't be used NOW. 64 Gigabyte USB thumb drives are available fairly cheap and that's more capacity than most people need. Why not just make one of those the primary hard drive in a system rather than the old style hard drives..

EDITOR'S NOTE: It is being done. It's just that SSD are a lot more expensive than traditional drives, for the same amount of storage.

Posted by:

21 Mar 2009

1996...yes sir can I help you? I am looking for a computer. What do you need it for? Oh I want to edit my home videos Hollywood style. Then you will need our latest generation Pc.s We have a mind blowing 228 mx processor with a massive 6.4 hard drive, and it will only set you back £1400 ($2800) Fantastic.. I'll take one. How times have changed and ten years from now the only hard drives wil be solid state.

By the way.. Great site

Posted by:

The Dude
06 Sep 2009

I've been using an 8 gig SSD as a 3rd HD for over 2 years now for faster access to about 2 gigs of data in a bunch of tables. The processing time decreased significantly compared to even high performance sata drives. We had been looking at maxing out our RAM and going with RAM drives for the tables but the cost was quite a bit higher for 1/2 the capacity plus the added complexity of RAM drive software etc. For the cost, I wouldn't want to use one as the primary drive, but as a working drive for things that require faster drive access, they work like a charm.

Posted by:

22 Oct 2009

hi. Was thinking of getting a SSD 64gig drive. BUT! will stickin on a standard ATA or raid drives on the machine, slow the SSD drive? so say u can have windows running from SSD and say your top programs your use most. And stick other stuff like pics, movies on standard hard drive. or would u have to dissconnect the standard HD to get max performance ? matt. thanks.

Posted by:

17 Mar 2011

I have an SSD and yes I have noticed a tremendis increase in speed, most notable the time it takes for my PC to boot up. My old PC with an HDD took 2-5 mins to boot up where as this one with a SSD boots up in a min or less. I have noticed that everything else boots up faster too, it's not just because it's a new PC w/ 16GB of RAM but the fact that SSD does access the data of programs & Apps faster than a HDD. Even games play better, especially the ones that don't run off a disk because they are restained to the speed of the CD/DVD componet, SATA 3.0 will help that.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2012

SSD's are now less than $.50/Gb on sale with SATA or SATA II. What are the considerations for file management when replacing a disk drive with a SSD? Can the C-H-S (cylinder-head, sector) file system be changed to something more efficient when swapping a disk drive for a SSD?

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