What Is a Solid State Drive? Should I Buy One?

If you’ve been keeping tabs on the computing world lately, you may have seen a strange new storage medium appear, the “SSD” storage. Usually, if a computer has one of these SSDs, it either has only an SSD or is coupled up with a standard HDD like the following.

solid-state-combo-example

But what are “SSDs” and why have they suddenly started appearing in computers? Let’s take a look.

First of all, let’s decrypt what SSD stands for. It means “Solid State Drive,” and they’re a little different from their brothers, the Hard Disk Drive.

A Hard Disk Drive is comprised of a spinning disk and an arm that reads off this disk. When you save to the disk, little magnetic charges on the disk are set to on or off, which translates into the 1s and 0s you see in binary.

Solid State Drives, however, work much differently. You can tell from the name alone that there’s no disk anymore! They instead use what’s called “flash memory” chips. If this sounds a little too complicated, don’t worry too much. There’s a good chance you’re already using a device with flash memory in it! Cameras, MP3 players, even USB sticks – all of these devices store data yet don’t have small spinning disks within them to store it.

So why are we bothering making these flash memory drives? What is it that they can do that the spinning disk drives can’t?

For one, SSDs are much quicker than HDDs at reading data. HDDs need to read data off of a spinning platter using a head, while SSDs simply grab the data from the flash memory. Imagine if you wanted to play a song, and you had two options; the first was loading it up on your portable MP3 player, and the second was to play the song on vinyl, having to place the reader head on the record and set the table going. The MP3 would take much less fuss and time to start playing, and it’s a somewhat similar situation with SSD vs. HDD.

LaptopMag did a test of SSD vs. HDD for opening load-heavy software, and the results they got saw two to three times faster load speeds.

solid-state-opening-times

Also, by ditching mechanical disks and reader-heads, you can’t “head crash” an SSD like you can a HDD. This makes SSDs resistant to being dropped, as there’s no head to crash onto the disk platter.

You may have noticed that SSDs are usually paired with HDDs in computers. This is due to one of the SSD’s current flaws: they’re a newer technology than HDDs, so they cost more per GB of storage. You’ll find yourself paying about two to four times the price of an HDD for an SSD of the same volume. To keep computer prices low while also taking advantage of SSD drives, some users and manufacturers use both. The idea is that you load all your loading-intensive data (operating system, programs) onto the SSD for faster load times, while the rest of your data (documents, pictures) goes onto the HDD.

Due to their mechanical nature, HDDs can monitor their own health and relay it back to the computer. This is known as the S.M.A.R.T. monitoring system. If a hard disk drive is coming to the end of its life, your computer can inform you so you can back up your data. SSDs don’t have the same privilege as yet, so they can die with very little warning. Make sure you keep those backups handy!

If you’re very tech-savvy, you may have noticed another storage drive emerge recently the “SSHD” or “Solid State Hybrid Drive”. It’s a drive that brings the best of both worlds, as it’s an HDD unit with an SSD alongside it. The SSD is placed alongside the HDD, like the following.

solid-state-hybrid-drive

Having the best of both worlds, it seems the obvious best choice at first. However, the general consensus is that SSHDs are only recommended if your machine has room for only one disk drive. Users report that the SSHD’s ability to predict if data should be on the SSD or HDD sometimes goes awry, and you’ll have some program stuck in a slow loading on the HDD portion. If you can, it’d be better to just have two separate drives so you can manage each one individually, else a SSHD is your best choice.

The question remains, however; should you buy an SSD drive? Would you be better off with one?

Let’s clear up one thing first: do you need an SSD in order to keep up to date? If the answer to this is “no,” it’s not essential to buy one to stay on top of technology. There’s not going to be software that can only operate if it’s installed on an SSD. It’s just that any software that is installed on one will run faster. If you want to stick with an HDD, you can safely do so without worrying about it becoming redundant.

But should you buy one? This is down to whether or not you appreciate a faster computer for a little additional cost and setup. If the idea of a slow boot and software taking a while to load drives you insane, an SSD might just be what you need to have a happier time with your computer. If you’re fine with the way your computer is, however, an SSD is more additional expenditure and hassle than you really need.

With how fast technology can go, it’s not surprising to hear that some people don’t know what a solid state drive is or why people buy them. Hopefully, now you’ll better understand what they are, what they do best, and if you want one for your own computer.

Do you get a lot of usage from SSDs? If you don’t own one, are you considering it, or would it be a waste of money? Let us know in the comments.

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