How much difference can a SSD really make

Solid State Drive (SSD) is the single biggest innovation in storage and computer memory technology since the first Hard Disk Drives (HDD) were introduced by IBM way back in 1956. While the technology itself dates back to the late 50s, it wasn’t until a few years back that it became affordable enough for the consumer market. With major computer manufacturers such as Apple and Dell switching to SSD on their computers, it’s time to ask if switching over to SSD from HDD is actually worth the money and hassle.

On that note, let’s consider some advantages (and disadvantages) of SSD over HDD:

SSD drive benefits1. Technology

While Solid state and regular HDDs were developed around the same time, SSD drives were frightfully expensive for regular use. Some SSDs were employed in supercomputers in the 80s, but they were soon abandoned for their high cost.

SSDs are more expensive than HDDs because of a fundamental difference in their technology: solid state drives do not have any moving parts. All data is stored on integrated circuits (hence the name ‘solid state’). Conventional HDDs store data on rotating discs. This technological difference makes them more expensive, and simultaneously, much more efficient and reliable.

hdd driveThe conventional HDD is a mechanical device. Its storage disc rotates, spins and moves constantly the whole time a computer is running (hence the audible whirring sound on most comptuers). It’s a decidedly low-tech solution, which also helps make it much more affordable.

SSD, on the other hand, is a purely electronic device. Everything is stored on integrated circuit boards. You can even make a SSD drive out of the memory units used in RAM. Most SSD drives sold today utilize NAND flash memory (the same memory used in USB thumb drives). It’s a high tech approach to data storage, and the difference between the two drive formats is palpable.

Winner: SSD, which utilizes superior technology to deliver better performance.

2. Cost

Cost is the biggest deterrent to large scale uptake of SSD is its high cost. Flash memory is expensive to manufacture as it utilizes complex integrated circuits, whereas conventional HDDs use largely mechanical parts to run, cutting manufacturing costs.

Today, you can buy a 1TB HDD for under $100. A 512GB SSD drive, on the other hand, will set you back by as much as $400. HDDs are almost 1/8th the price of SSD drives, which has kept this technology out of consumer reach.

However, SSD prices are dropping at a rapid pace. Until 2009, both HDD and SSD prices per GB of storage space were dropping by 50 percent annually. That pace has accelerated in the past two years as companies have invested heavily in the technology. The price for a 120GB Intel 510 Series SSD dropped by almost $100 between May 2011 and May 2012.

SSD drives are projected to be much more affordable in a couple of years. As HDD prices bottom-out, it will be far more economically feasible to switch over to SSD.

Winner: HDD. Mechanical technology ensures lower costs.

3. Reliability

HDDs are mechanical devices. The rotating disc of the drive is in constant motion as long as the computer is running. This constant motion causes the drive to wear out over time. HDDs have a limited life span. Most HDDs will wear out in a few years of heavy use, putting your data at risk.

SSD drives, on the other hand, are all-electronic with no mechanical parts. This keeps wear and tear to a minimum. SSDs also produce less heat than HDDs, which not only keeps your computer temperature lower, but also helps reduce heat related wear.

On average, a SSD drive can be expected to last up to 20 years. It is especially appropriate for highly sensitive data that may be put at risk in a HDD.

Winner: SSD. Low wear and tear give it phenomenal reliability over several years.

4. Performance

This is where SSD really shines. The performance of the HDD is limited by the spin of the rotating disc. The drive needs to rotate to specific spots on the disc to read data. Even at the relatively high speed of 7200 RPM (standard speed for most drives on the market), the performance is woefully inadequate compared with SSD drives. Data transfer rate for HDDs is approximately between 80-100MB/second, while that for SSD is up to 500MB/second.

Tests indicate that Windows 7 loads up almost twice as fast on a SSD PC than a HDD PC. This difference in performance is visible across most resource intensive software such as Photoshop, games, etc.

Performance reliant industries such as cloud storage and web hosting have also turned to SSDs to provide a better, faster user experience. Low access time and faster speeds improve I/O time and are ideal for servers that see heavy use. For instance, cloud hosting provider ElasticHosts recently added SSDs to its high performance servers to improve heavy database performance. The net result is a noticeable reduction in access time and database speed.

Winner: SSD, with speeds twice as fast as a regular hard drive.

Conclusion

SSD drives are reliable, fast and long-lasting. Many computers utilize SSD drive as the primary storage device for accessing essential computer files, with an additional HDD drive for storing documents, files, movies and music. This arrangement gives the user the best of both worlds: cheap storage through HDD, speed and reliability for key files through SSD, at an affordable price point.

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