Solid State 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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 5 Jan 2009
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Solid State Hard Drives (Posted: 5 Jan 2009)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved