A solid state drive provides tremendous performance improvement, particularly when it comes to loading times and boot times. However, many people fail to recognize their advantages because they consider them to be a storage upgrade rather than a performance one. This article explains in detail how SSDs work and the benefits that they offer.
A solid state drive (SSD) is, technically speaking, a completely different kind of technology to the traditional hard drive which still ships with most new computers. While the traditional hard drive consists of several rotating magnetic platters for storing data such as your programs, documents, and music and video collections, an SSD contains no moving parts and instead functions in a similar way to the RAM inside your computer. The lack of moving parts has a hugely positive impact on startup times and performance, hence installing a solid state drive in your computer is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to boost its performance.
While many newbies seem to think that they can cheaply boost performance simply by adding more and more RAM to their computers, this is not the case, and if you already have between four and eight gigabytes of RAM, you won’t see any performance benefit at all in almost all applications and games by adding more memory. If you’re looking for a good performance boost which won’t cost you a fortune, you should know that a solid state drive is now a must have for all but the cheapest and most basic of modern computers.
Why Aren’t They Catching On?
Actually, in the last couple of years, SSDs have come down a lot in price, and although the average new computer often doesn’t ship with one installed, this is rapidly changing. What holds many people back from buying a solid state drive is the high price tags. They are still vastly more expensive per gigabyte of storage than their counterparts, but this should not be such a problem considering the unique role that an SSD should play in a modern computer rig.
What Are the Benefits of a Solid State Drive?
We already know that SSDs are faster than their mechanical counterparts, but just how beneficial are they in practical terms? For a start, if you have Windows installed on a solid state drive, boot times will only be a fraction of what they were before. Any other applications or video games installed on your SSD will load extremely quickly, and in many situations, loading screens will virtually become a thing of the past. In a typical scenario, the amount of time it will take to start up a computer, open a browser window and a few other applications will take about a fifth of the amount of time it would take if you were only using a standard hard drive.
Speed is not the only benefit of having a solid state drive. Because they contain no moving parts, SSDs are less prone to failure, and they are much more durable than mechanical drives. They do have a theoretical number of maximum rewrites, but you are never likely to approach these through normal use. Maintenance is also less complicated, since you do not have to defragment the disk in order to store all data contiguously to keep performance up to scratch. For laptop computers in particular, solid state drives are ideal, since they consume far less power making them better suited to running off a battery.
You Will Still Need a Mechanical Drive
SSDs are still too low in capacity to serve as mass storage devices unless you have a fairly small inventory of programs and games and little or no multimedia content such as video and music collections. Data storage is just as essential as ever, and many people find that they fill up a one terabyte hard drive without too much trouble. For this reason, you will typically still need to have a mechanical drive for storing things like video, music and programs and games which you don’t use so often.
The most important thing to store on a solid state drive is Windows itself, since this will greatly improve overall performance and boot times. The higher your budget, the larger the SSD you will be able to afford, and the more space you have, the more programs and games you can install on it while using a traditional hard drive for storing everything else. You should ultimately consider an SSD to be a performance upgrade rather than a storage upgrade.
SSHDs and Caching
Another alternative, particularly in the case of laptop computers where physical space for upgrades is limited, is a solid state hybrid drive (SSHD). These drives combine an SSD with a mechanical hard drive for mass storage. Typically, the SSD portion of the drive offers a capacity of 8 to 32 gigabytes, and they are steadily becoming popular in mid- to high-end laptop computers. With an SSHD installed, the drive shows up as one drive in Windows File Explorer with the SSD portion of the drive being hidden. The SSD portion is utilized by a smart caching program which automatically copies the most frequently accessed data onto it based on your typical usage habits. An alternative to having an SSHD is to have a dual-drive system with caching enabled, but this is not as efficient and versatile as having a larger SSD and a separate mechanical drive for mass storage. Such setups may use a software solution such as Intel Smart Response Technology.
How Much Should It Cost?
As of August, 2014, the smallest SSDs tend to offer capacities of 32 to 64 gigabytes, and they can be found for around $30 to $45 respectively, and these are large enough to store a full installation of Windows, but drives of this size are generally best off used as a cache as mentioned previously. A 240 gigabyte drive can cost as little as $130, and should provide enough storage for Windows and all of the software and any video games which you run regularly. Drives of 120 gigabyte and upwards should not be used with caching software. The largest SSDs currently available are around one terabyte, but they typically cost upwards of $1000. At the highest end of the spectrum are the extremely fast SSDs which use the PCI-E interface rather than the SATA-III interface used by regular SSDs and mechanical drives. However, in conclusion, a rig comprising a 240 gigabyte SSD and a mechanical hard drive of 1-2 terabytes should be ample for most.