If you asked me just one year ago if I would consider recommending SSDs, I’d quickly roll my eyes. From their uncomfortable price points, to higher than normal failure rates, SSDs (short for Solid State Disks) were up until recently an enthusiast’s toy. But the landscape has been rapidly shifting and the OEMs have been stuffing newer Windows 8 systems chock full of these puppies. Are they ready for primetime?
You bet. On storage capacities above 320GB, SSDs have a significant disadvantage to traditional hard drives in that they just can’t touch the low per-gb price levels we are used to. But this really isn’t a deciding factor like it was just a few years back. With the rise of cloud storage services like Google Drive and SkyDrive Pro, customers really aren’t clamoring to store every bit and byte of their life on their PCs anymore. Needs may vary, of course, but in general, I’m personally seeing a shift to the cloud in my company’s daily consulting.
Competition in the SSD market is not only bringing price points down, but it also is fostering increased quality and better selection by the day. In many ways, the choices for SSDs are more expansive then what we are used to even in the solid age-old hard drive market. More choice is always a good thing, and in the case of SSDs, its bringing about a faster technology adoption rate across the board. So much so that my own fears just one year ago have nearly been entirely wiped away.
I’m consistently recommending SSDs to customers now. Why? For many reasons. Their stability in modern laptops can’t be touched. Performance surpasses anything we’ve known in the traditional HDD space. And better battery life for laptops is always a welcome benefit. All around, I think SSDs are starting to enter their heyday.
4) No moving parts = no mechanical failure
I mentioned some of the positives behind SSDs already. But on most aspects aside from price, they are better than traditional hard drives in (nearly) every respect. They have a few downsides which I will touch on at the end of this article. Even the cost factor is starting to be less of an issue, namely due to heavy competition and adoption by the market at large over the last three years.
One of the greatest benefits that SSDs provide is complete lack of any moving, mechanical parts. Traditional hard drives employ platters that are spun and accessed by read/write heads, all powered by various motors within the casing. Modern hard disks are quite robust, but every link in the mechanical chain increases the possible points of failure that can take a drive down.
Laptop manufacturers like Lenovo have been using stop-gap technology to help reduce hard drive failures due to shock damage. Lenovo’s Active Protection software, for example, actively checks on the state of the laptop in real time and stops the read/write heads when shocks are noticed. The technology is great, but not perfect. SSDs can be knocked, dropped, and kicked in modern laptops without skipping a beat. For this reason, most mid-range to higher-end laptops I am recommending to clients almost always include SSDs over traditional HDDs.
3) Lower power consumption in contrast to HDDs
The earliest versions of SSDs had embarrassing first-generation issues with power efficiency. Tom’s Hardware did a good job highlighting these issues back in 2008. But flip over to 2013, and it’s a whole different ballgame. Through engineering improvements and firmware enhancements alike, manufacturers are pumping out high quality SSDs now that don’t suffer any of these mishaps.
While results vary of course, I personally switched my workhorse Thinkpad T410 laptop over from a 7200rpm Seagate drive to an OCZ Agility 4 series 256GB SSD, and in conjunction with a move to Windows 8 Pro I’ve pulled in another 50-60 mins of battery life. Pretty darn good if you ask me! Other websites have confirmed the same suspicions, such as this excellent head-to-head done by NotebookReview.
SSDs are fairly standard in Ultrabooks these days due to their reduced heat and power consumption. You can either scope out models with SSDs, or my favorite approach, which is to “bring your own SSD” and use quality units from makers like OCZ, Samsung, Kingston, etc.
2) SSDs are location-independent storage devices (no more defrag needed!)
Think about it: if you stock a large warehouse with items in all corners of the property, the time needed by one person to find and locate everything becomes more time consuming. Traditional hard drives suffer from the same problem to a great extent. Windows has included free defragmentation software for as long as I can remember, and it’s because all computers that rely on traditional HDDs are plagued by file fragmentation and non-sequential data storage over time.
SSDs have kissed this problem goodbye. Because a signal over a flash memory chip (the storage medium of an SSD) is near instant, there is no delay like when a read/write head has to scan the platters of a standard HDD. This leads to superior performance, and means SSDs can store data on whatever part of their memory they choose. Defrag, therefore, is honestly a thing of the past.
1) Overall performance in boot times, load times, and file transfer is superior
This goes without saying, but SSDs are as close to “disgustingly fast” as storage mediums come. And not only fast in one respect – these drives kick butt in every benchmark you can toss at them. Here’s a list of the most important areas that may win you over about SSD performance:
- Read Times: Lack of mechanical read/write heads leads to near instant file access and very consistent read performance in everyday tasks.
- Startup (spin-up) Time: Next to zero. The term “spin-up” comes from the need for a mechnical drive to get its motors running and platters spinning, which all involve time, no matter how many seconds you count them in. SSDs are either on or off.
- Data Transfer: Again, a lack of mechanical parts brings out the best in SSDs for this respect. Moving data in and out of the device is super fast, and most benchmarks against traditional disks (even fast 10K or 15K enterprise disks) puts HDDs to shame.
If you want to see some unbiased numbers, I’ll point you back to the NotebookReview SSD/HDD comparison as well as Tom’s Hardware that concluded everyone should be considering SSDs in some form for their next PC.
Hard Drives still have their place
This doesn’t mean HDDs don’t have their place still. While I’ve personally been moving customers to sole SSDs on laptops, for desktop machines, I’m generally using SSDs for the Windows installation, and leaving the traditional drive for storage space. This is a great combination setup which provides the best of both worlds. Customers have been very happy with this approach, and with prices falling, getting such a hybrid going is become cheaper every week.
While I generally talk highly of SSDs these days, they still have some hanging chads that prevent them from taking over HDDs completely. For one, most SSDs which are not based on the newer DRAM technology (read: a majority of SSDs you see for sale) have a limited number of writes before they fail. This fact stirs up some debate off and on, but as a rule of thumb, most SSDs will die due to becoming outdated before they suffer electrical failure.
Finally, no discussion about SSDs vs HDDs is complete without making reference to the vast difference in cost per gigabyte. Right now, the latest numbers pit SSDs at about $0.60-0.80USD per GB, while traditional hard drives have been bottoming out at about $0.05-0.10USD per GB. The disparity will continue to drop as more competition enters the market, consumers keep preferring SSDs over HDDs, and capacities rise on the whole.
Once you go SSD, you never go back
I thought my old 10K rpm Western Digital Raptor drive was fast, but my first experience with SSDs proved that entirely untrue. If you’re consulting your customers on an HDD-only basis still, it’s time to truly wake up and smell the coffee. SSDs are notching up performance levels like never seen before, and they can offer a bevy of benefits to even the most lightweight computer users.