Solid State Disks

October 14, 2011

The performance you get on a computer is constrained by the slowest part of the computer. For most of today’s computers, that part is the hard drive. While processors, memory, and video cards have gotten faster and bigger, hard drives on the other hand, have only gotten bigger. Hard drive speed hasn’t really changed that much in recent years.

The most common hard drives we see in computers today are the same type of hard drive that have been around since the 1980’s. Today’s hard drives are bigger and faster, but the use the same basic technology. The have spinning platters inside. There is an arm that moves back and forth and reads the data stored on the platters. Data on the platters is stored magnetically.

A solid state disk (SSD) is a hard drive that uses the same technology as a flash drive or the memory card in your camera. This technology has several advantages over the old style hard drives. The biggest advantage is speed. They are MUCH faster. The second biggest advantage is reliability. SSD’s have no moving parts and are, therefore, much less likely to fail. The fact that they have no moving parts is also the main reason they are faster than traditional hard drives. In addition, SSD’s don’t need to be defragmented. Since there are no moving parts, fragmentation doesn’t slow down an SSD. Less maintenance is always a good thing.

You are probably thinking, “If SSD’s are so great, why don’t all new computers have them?”

Good question. Many laptops now have an option for SSD, but very few desktops do. There are two problems that are holding SSD’s back and they are also the two drawbacks to SSD’s. The biggest reason is cost. SSD’s cost MUCH more than traditional hard drives. For example, a $500GB traditional hard drive costs around $60. A 500GB SSD costs around $800. That’s a substantial difference in cost per GB. However, a smaller SSD will be much cheaper. For example, a 120GB SSD can be found for $175. But what if you need more space than that? Don’t worry. There are lots of options.

One option is to use something called RAID. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. There are different forms of RAID. One type of RAID you may be familiar with is called mirroring. You put two identical drives in a system. One drive is the main drive and the other drive is an exact copy, or a mirror, of the main hard drive. If your main hard drive fails, you can start using the mirror without skipping a beat.

The type of RAID I am referring to, however, allows you to put several hard drives together in a way so that Windows sees the hard drives as one large hard drive. So 2 or 3 hard drives could be combined in a RAID configuration to create one bigger drive. Three 120GB SSD drives would cost around $525 and would give you 360GB of storage when installed in this type of RAID configuration. But most systems don’t support RAID and it’s not something your average person can go and install. You can add RAID support to a desktop but it’s not cheap.

A more workable and cheaper alternative is to combine the speed of an SSD with the storage capacity of a traditional hard drive. In this scenario, you would have an SSD as your primary boot drive with Windows installed on it. Then you would have a second traditional hard drive installed as well for storage.

So let’s say you put the $175 120GB SSD as your main hard drive (drive C) and a 500GB traditional hard drive as drive D. They all you need to do is tweak a few Windows settings so that it stores all of your documents, Music, Pictures, etc. on drive D instead of drive C. If you have a lot of programs, you can even install programs on drive D instead of drive C to save space on drive C.

Since Windows is running on the fast SSD, the system will boot up very quickly and anything Windows related will run MUCH faster. Loading files from drive D won’t be any faster, but the bulk of the performance issues coming from hard drives is not from these types of files, but from Windows. Since Windows is running off of the SSD, your system will, overall, be much faster.

So what situations does it make sense, at today’s prices and sizes, to get an SSD?

They make sense in laptops as long as you don’t need a lot of storage space on your laptop. You can even convert an older laptop to SSD, provided the laptop isn’t too old.

SSD’s combined with traditional hard drives as described above make sense on desktop systems for someone who needs or wants great performance.

If you are interested in converting your laptop or desktop to SSD, give us a call and we’ll get you a quote on the cost.

One Response to “Solid State Disks”

  1. […] October of 2011, we told you about Solid State Drives (SSD) in this article. Then in March 2012 in an article about computer performance, we once again talked about SSD’s […]

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