Upgrade Your Hard Drive To SSD?
I've read that solid state hard drives (SSDs) are much faster, especially when starting up the computer. But other articles claim they are less reliable than traditional magnetic hard drives. Should I consider upgrading my system with an SSD? I'd appreciate your perspective, thanks.
Solid State Drives: Should You Upgrade?
Solid-state drives (SSDs) are the greatest thing in mass storage, we're told. Laptop users find the faster boot time and shock-resistance of SSDs especially appealing. (See my related article Solid State Hard Drives to learn more about SSD technology.) But before you upgrade your traditional hard drive to a SSD, there are some points you may want to consider. You didn't say whether you have a laptop or a desktop PC, so I'll try to cover both scenarios.
On the downside, SSDs are still very expensive, on a per-gigabyte basis, compared to traditional hard drives. A modest 240 GB SSD costs about $300 right now. But a traditional 500 GB drive sells for around $40. That makes solid state drives about 15 times more expensive. Available SSD capacities are relatively small, probably because larger ones would cost too much. A 1 Terabyte SSD (1000 GB) currently costs over $3,000.
If you run Windows XP, you won't get the best performance from a SSD. Vista and Windows 7 include a feature that helps you get the best from SSDs. So consider upgrading your operating system before buying an SSD.
The drive interface that your computer supports is also a factor. If you have an old computer with IDE or parallel ATA interface, it is not worthwhile to upgrade to SSD. The slow interface means you will not realize enough of the SSD's speed advantage to justify the investment. Make sure your computer supports a SATA drive connection before considering the purchase of an SSD.
The size of the drive matters, too. Desktop PCs typically have 3.5 inch drive bays, while laptops need 2.5 inch drives. Netbooks may use 2.5 or 1.8 inch drives. Adapters are available for loading a 2.5 inch drive into a 3.5 inch bay, but otherwise you need to match your SSD's size to the bay exactly.
Are SSDs Always Faster?
It's true that a system with an SSD will boot up a lot faster. But you may be surprised to learn that SSDs are not faster than traditional hard drives in all applications. SSDs excel at short, random write operations, but long writes of large data files can be slower than even a 5400 rpm hard drive. Thus, an SSD is not the best choice if your work involves large files, such as video recording and editing.
Battery life is a significant advantage for SSDs on laptops. Because they have no moving parts, SSDs use far less power than traditional hard drives. You could get an extra couple of hours from a battery charge.
How long an SSD will last is still a matter of controversy. Nearly all consumer-class SSDs use MLC (multi-level cell) technology that stores more than one bit on each memory cell. That makes MLC SSDs much cheaper than the enterprise-class SLC (single-level cell) SSDS. But MLC can take far fewer write cycles than SLC before wearing out. A newer technology called eMLC makes MLC SSDs last three times longer.
SSDs make the most sense for laptop owners. The ruggedness and battery efficiency of SSDs are ideal for mobile computing. All computers will boot and shut down faster with SSD. For rapid writing of small data blocks, SSD cannot be beaten. But for working with large files, the performance of SSDs may not be worth the cost.
For desktops, the relatively new hybrid hard drives are appealing to me. These drives combine traditional magnetic spinning platter technology with solid state storage. See my related article Hybrid Hard Drives to learn more about this alternative.
Bottom line, I think SSDs are great for laptops, as long as you can justify the higher cost and reduced storage capacity. But for desktops, where storage appetites are generally larger, I'd say it's better to wait, because of two factors. The technology and reliability will certainly improve over time, and the cost will go down as manufacturing volumes increase.
Do you have something to say about SSD hard drives? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 15 Sep 2011
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