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Solid-state drives vs. hard disk drives: Why SSDs reign supreme

You’ve probably been wondering what all the hype is when it comes to solid-state drives – not to mention what the heck they are exactly. These magnificent devices could make you love your computer more than you ever thought possible, especially if you’re the impatient type. Solid-state drives not only significantly reduce boot times and make your system feel much quicker, they also make app launching and file copying lightning fast. 

If the thought of having a snappier machine sounds appealing, read on to learn more about one of the coolest developments in computing.

Solid-state drives vs. hard disk drives

Installing a solid-state drive (SSD), also known as a solid-state disk, into your machine can radically ramp up its speed and reliability. What makes an SSD superior to a regular hard disk drive (HDD) is its memory. In an HDD, there are constantly spinning discs that read and write data magnetically. In an SSD, however, the memory doesn’t move. SSDs, instead, use a motionless technology called NAND flash memory to read and write. Notably, a computer takes a lot less time to hunt and gather data from an SSD because it’s able to find data just as quickly, no matter where it is in the memory. Meanwhile, a machine must search everywhere in an HDD to find a specific block of information, as the data block’s fragments may be spread across different locations. In fact, an SSD purposefully stores data in different spots to cleverly avoid wear and tear – but this never affects efficiency.

Another way to use an SSD is as an external hard drive, merely to store your data. Of course, this option would not optimize your computer’s performance in any way.

Price trend

Let’s get this out of the way: SSDs are expensive. The good news is that although they have always been and continue to be costlier than HDDs, prices have been consistently dropping for more than a year on the most common drives that have data capacities of 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB. That being said, SSDs touting as much as 1TB of storage and costing thousands of dollars also exist. Specifically, while an HDD might cost 24 cents per gigabyte of space, an SSD could cost $2 more per gigabyte – a hefty difference. Still, a small-capacity drive (think 128GB) working together with a spacious HDD would give the average user a fantastic performance upgrade, and the amount of space in the SSD won’t matter if you have enough storage capacity already installed.

Pros and cons of SSDs

As we’ve already discussed, SSDs take a fraction of the time to find data compared to an HDD. This means that when you boot up, search for a file, install and open a program – when you carry out just about any task with an SSD-equipped computer – you won’t be left twiddling your thumbs and wondering what’s taking so long. Brilliantly, the SSD’s immobility makes it shock-proof, lighter (both especially convenient benefits for consumers who lug around their laptops), and more durable than an HDD. The lack of moving parts also lengthens the life of your computer and requires less energy to run – which means it will generate less heat, causing your fan to spin less, remain quiet, and ultimately prevent overheating. If you pride yourself on being efficient, upgrading your computer with an SSD may be the logical next step for you.

Another plus is if you choose to use an SSD as an internal, rather than external, drive (the one method that imparts your machine with all the aforementioned perks), you can easily install the device inside your machine yourself with a simple upgrade kit and avoid extra labor expenses. Of course, we only recommend this for people who feel comfortable unscrewing the screws of their desktop or laptop and getting into the gritty side of things. 

On the downside, an SSD can become slower as time progresses, but this flaw should be negligible for most consumers, as a recently manufactured SSD should last as long as (if not longer than) an HDD. Several performance assessments have determined that a current-generation consumer SSD should function perfectly for at least five years before it starts to slow down. 

How to choose an SSD

Before you go out and snag one, you’ll want to examine the following points:

First, why do you want an SSD? Are you mainly interested in boosting your computer’s performance, or do you primarily want to increase your storage space? The answer will help you decide how big the device’s storage capacity should be, and what kind of drive to buy. Remember that the more space you want, the more you’ll have to pay, so if you’re looking for extra storage, you may want to explore external hard drives instead. If your goal is to accelerate performance, good news: more space does not equal more speed, and even the weakest SSD will knock the socks off an above-average HDD.

Second, there are numerous types of SSDs, so you need to figure out which one is the best for your particular machine. To do this, check out Crucial or Kingston Technology, two websites that will walk you through the painless process.

Third, given the steep price you may pay for this drive, an extended warranty could provide peace of mind. Peruse your options before you commit to make sure you get what you think you’re paying for.

Lastly, don’t forget to get an upgrade kit so you can install the SSD at home (no experience necessary!). The kit will often be delivered to you along with the drive. Also, a note about defragmenting your drive. If you have a computer with an HDD and an SSD, you may want to defragment everything except the SSD. Defragmentation is negligible for SSDs and often destructive: it can cause excessive wear as it makes added writes. SSDs have a limited lifespan (don’t worry, they’ll most likely last as long as you’ll need them), so any additional writing and reading will shorten the drive’s lifespan. 

We hope you take a solid-state drive into consideration when upgrading or buying a new computer. Though it will definitely cost you a pretty penny, the experience is worth the investment. 

[Image via Simon Wüllhorst/Flickr]