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TechTip 162

Battle of the Drives: Solid State Drives vs.
Normal Hard Drives

By Staff Writer - Sunday, March 30, 2008

PullQuoteThe hard disk drive has been with us for over 50 years now. From the first time it made its appearance in an IBM computer in 1956, it fought its way into our computers, to the point where it became the main location for users' photos, documents, music files, and videos - in other words, it became the most treasured piece of equipment in the computer. A failing hard drive can easily mean losing that all important video of your daughter's first steps or your son’s Little League All-Star game. But, now, there's a new kid on the block: solid state hard drives. They promise a more reliable storage location and better IMage_1performance. This article will detail the advantages and disadvantages of solid state drives compared to 'normal' hard disk drives.



The first and foremost advantage of a solid state drive has to do with reliability of the hardware itself. A normal hard drive is full of moving parts and other delicate technology. It consists of a series of constantly-spinning 'platters,' which are read (and written to) by several read/write “heads” mounted on moving arms. Despite enormous improvements in reliability of hard drives, they are still built using these highly delicate components that are prone to error. Imagine one of the arms breaking, and scraping the delicate surface of one of the platters - rendering it unreadable, and the data stored on it, lost.

IMAGE_2Solid state drives solve this problem by not having any moving parts at all. In fact, a solid state drive is nothing more than a very large flash memory card (similar to what is being used in many digital cameras) with integrated software that controls it. Just as there are no delicate, moving parts in your digital camera, you won't find them in a solid state drive either.

A second important advantage is improved random read speed. Solid state drives do not have to “fire up”, since they contain no moving parts; this means random read speeds are close to zero.

Apart from the above, not having any moving parts also delivers a few other advantages. First and foremost, it reduces noise. A hard drive can be fairly noisy, especially during heavy read/write action, which can be perceived as annoying (imagine a loud hard drive while watching a movie). A solid state drive is completely silent. Second of all, solid state hard drives consumes less power than a normal hard drive, which might not be a very big concern for a desktop computer, but can be a huge deal for a laptop computer where its battery's IMAGE-3power is finite. Third and finally, they also produce less heat, which is favorable in laptops since many people find the hot underbellies of laptops uncomfortable.



Solid state drives do have some limitations, however. They have three important disadvantages.

Firstly, they have limited storage capacity when compared to normal hard drives. Where normal hard drives of 500GB and more are no longer a rarity, you'll be hard-pressed to find a solid state drive with a storage capacity much higher than 128GB.

Secondly, random write speeds of solid state drives can be up to four times slower when compared to normal hard drives. So, while random read speeds can be much higher than on normal hard drives, it pays a penalty on the writing end of the spectrum. This limitation will surely rear its ugly head during, for instance, encoding of video files, which is a write-intensive procedure.

The third, and most important downside of the solid state drive is its, as of now, excessive price point. In general, whereas, 1 GB of storage costs about $0.25 on normal new desktop hard drives, that same GB on a solid state drive costs about $50. Compared to normal hard drives, solid state technology is relatively new, and as such, they are still expensive. Prices will come down with time.



Whether or not to buy a solid state drive has to be a well thought-out decision, at this point in time. If you find reliability of your data to be of the utmost importance, a solid state drive might be a very wise investment. Other good reasons are to save battery power, which might be very important if you spend a lot of time on the road. In other words, for laptops, solid state drives make sense - as long as you're willing to pay the hefty price.

When it comes to desktop computers, solid state drives make little sense at this point. They offer too few advantages to justify their hefty price tag.

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