Solid State Storage Drives Now Practical and Affordable

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Jane Taylor in Technology

Last updated: 14 January 2020, 07:46 GMT

A few years ago, it was not feasible for most users to upgrade to solid-state disk storage. A 1TB SSD was not usually reliable or affordable enough to warrant making the switch. All that has changed now as solid-state storage has come into its own and is becoming the logical choice for an increasing number of users.

It was not that long ago that the term “solid-state drive” still seemed mysterious to most of us. Internal Solid State Drives (SSD) remained in the realm of high-powered gamers and other power users, although solid-state flash drives became more commonplace.

The rest of the computer user world was often told that an SSD upgrade probably did not make sense for them. That scenario began to change a couple of years ago, and the improving technology and falling prices of SSDs continue to make them an attractive alternative for a growing number of computer users at all levels.

As the evolution of computing continues to unfold, it becomes harder to predict what will be useful or even necessary in the near future. However, understanding the immediate benefits and limitations of a given technology as it applies to your present computing needs can be helpful when making hardware-purchasing decisions.

As computer hardware changes, there always seems to be that “sweet spot” that balances the cost of the investment with the capabilities afforded by the technology. When these two factors come close to balancing out, it can be a beautiful thing.

This article will attempt to help you understand the benefits of SSD storage as it relates to how you use your computing devices. For some, the continued use of a traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) is more appropriate, and a move to SSD storage is not advisable at this time.

For a growing number of users, however, the time to upgrade to SSD is now. We spent some time researching and reviewing the state of Solid State Drives to be able to help you decide in which camp you belong to.

SSD Explained



A Solid State Drive (SSD) is a digital storage technology that does not require any moving parts to operate. This is different from HDD storage that uses a spinning magnetic disk to store your data. Solid-state technology is used in flash drives and external hard drives that plug into your computer’s USB port and provide you with some extra data storage, but in this article, we are referring primarily to internal SSDs that go inside your computer and replace your existing HDD. The primary purpose of an internal hard drive is to boot your system and store as well as access your applications and data files.

SSD uses an array of integrated circuit chips that store digital data similar to the way your computer’s memory stores it, but with one significant difference. When you remove power from your computer, whatever is in the memory is lost. However, in SSD storage, the memory is persistent and does not require the power to be present to retain the data stored on it. This ability gives SSD some benefits over the old HDD storage technology. Since SSD does not have moving parts, it boasts significantly quicker data access times, is not as vulnerable to physical shock and runs in almost complete silence.

As manufacturers offer more SSDs designed to fit directly into the form factor of existing desktop and laptop computers, users are discovering a new way to breathe life into their old machines. By upgrading to SSD, users are usually able to not only increase their storage capacity but also realize a considerable improvement in performance. SSD storage is starting to become the norm on newer machines as well. Users are also discovering the cost benefits of upgrading specific new computers with larger-capacity SSDs. With so many advantages becoming evident with SSD technology, one may wonder why users would even bother with HDD at all.

Out With the Old? Not so Fast

Traditional HDD has not been supplanted by SSD yet for several reasons. First, HDD is still a much more affordable means of storage than SSD. When comparing 1 Terabyte (TB) storage devices, HDD comes in for under a nickel per Gigabyte (GB), whereas SSD is around a quarter. As of this writing, the price of a 1TB SSD is still north of $250, and a comparable size in an HDD will run you between $40-$50. That represents a sizable enough difference to prevent many users from switching to the new technology just yet, but the price is not the only factor. 

Archiving digital data can be problematic on SSD devices. When an SSD device is not powered on for long periods of time, data leakage may occur. In fact, unlike HDD technology in which the number of read and write operations determine the life of the device, the failure rate of SSDs is more dependent on the device’s age. In applications where long-term storage of data is a concern, the solution to this shortcoming takes the form of hybrid solutions. By utilizing both the quick, reliable access capabilities of SSD and the practically permanent storage attribute of HDD, the best of both worlds can be realized.

Combination systems that use both HDD and SSD storage and take advantage of the best features of each are currently the best way to deal with each method’s limitations. For instance, users in the graphic arts, architectural engineering, video production and audio production sectors all share some standard requirements that may be met with hybrid solutions. All these users need the fastest data access possible with the capability to store large amounts of data indefinitely. Audio production users also benefit from SSDs silent operation, while all the groups mentioned usually run memory-intensive applications that can benefit from solid-state scratch disks. Currently, no single storage technology exists that meets both these needs.

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SSD Comes Into its Own

Computer users, as a general rule, usually require a compelling reason to upgrade their current hardware. Unless they can readily see a benefit, most users are content to stick with the status quo. This trend is especially true when the proposed benefit represents a significant monetary investment on their part. However, if they can readily see a boost in speed, reliability and overall efficiency, the price becomes less of a hindrance as long as it is not too steep.

On the other hand, the historical trend seems to follow a particular pattern. First, the “power-users” begin adopting new technology as manufacturers work out the bugs and make general improvements. As the price begins to come down, users with computing requirements that exceed the average begin to adopt a more “consumerized” version of the technology. Finally, the technology is refined and mass-produced to the point where it becomes the predominant method. Currently, SSD storage falls in line somewhere between the second and third stages.

Most reviewers who have upgraded their HDD to SSD recently rave about the improved performance they are seeing. It is not uncommon for these users to report that loading programs and other tasks that typically took several minutes are now taking seconds to complete. The reviews sometimes border on giddy as modest financial investments are returning to them as considerable gains inefficiency. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, the power-user crowd, the ones who, in all fairness, help manufacturers improve the technology, find areas about current SSD performance to criticize. As SSD storage continues to advance, both of these groups, as well as those somewhere in the middle, will undoubtedly push the technology toward continued improvements in performance and lower prices.

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Should You Upgrade?

Many of you reading this article are probably trying to determine if now is a good time to upgrade to SSD. The answer, albeit that it may be somewhat unsatisfactory, is, “it depends.” The ever-changing and varied habits of each computer user will always dictate the best storage medium to use. Right now, we are definitely in a transition time for storage media. The costs of SSD are slowly coming down while its performance steadily increases. At the same time, cloud storage is beginning to take hold as a normative and affordable selection. Users have more options for digital storage than ever before.

Many users can probably safely stay with HDD if that is what they currently have. For users on an especially tight budget, HDD is the way to go. The technology has been around long enough that the price is low and stable. If you typically download and archive large files, HDD is probably still best for your needs. Videographers, photographers, music producers, those in the engineering arts and similar professionals will keep HDD technology alive for the near future.

However, as many general users switch to so-called “thin” devices, primarily tablets and smartphones, their storage habits and needs are changing. Many of these users stream most of their data online and do not desire or need bulky HDD storage on their devices. They prefer the mobility of this type of computing and do not need to archive data since they let the cloud perform that task for them. Virtual office workers who are always on the go also benefit from SSD's robustness and ability to be handled more roughly than HDD-based devices.

How Much Will it Cost?

Depending on the type of computer you are planning to outfit with SSD, the capacity you desire and the level of performance you require, the price range is relatively broad. The current average cost for a 1TB SSD device that will work in machines that are between 2-3 years old is about $250. A 1TB SSD seems to be a good size where capacity and cost balance reasonably well. Some users prefer to go with the less-costly 500GB SSDs if they have lower storage capacity needs. However, capacity needs typically increase as users discover new uses for their computing devices. For newer systems that employ a faster interface and more storage capacity, expect to pay more.

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The Bottom Line


 

Traditional spinning HDDs probably will not be going away any time soon. Their low cost and storage abilities make them indispensable at the moment. SSD devices continue to creep in on HDD territory. Manufacturers continue to work on the storage problems that limit SSD usability. SSDs do continue to increase their superiority over HDD in greater data access speeds and lower power consumption. The hybrid solutions continue to be the best answer for users who require the best features of both types of storage mediums.

If designers can ever find a way to eliminate the data leakage problem of SSD technology and assuming the price continues to go down, it will eventually replace HDD. That is a big “if” since, as of this writing, the problem seems insurmountable. However, SSD does seem like it is a technology that is here to stay. It has too many advantages to abandon because of one significant disadvantage. Engineers will continue to work on solving archival ability issues, and, in the meantime, they will also continue to improve the technology’s speed, reliability and capacity levels.

Users considering an upgrade to SSD should keep a few things in mind. First, be sure that you know what type of interface and form factor your current HDD device uses. The most common is the 2.5-inch SATA, but there are other sizes and connection types depending on the age of your computer. Next, think carefully about how much capacity you need. If you are upgrading a machine, decide how long you plan to keep it before selecting the capacity of your new SSD. If you can get by with a smaller drive, you will save money by doing so. However, if you plan to keep the machine for a few more years, you would probably come out ahead by getting as much capacity as you can afford.

If you are like most users who decide to improve, you will notice enough substantial gains in performance to make the upgrade worthwhile. One way to enjoy the best that SSD and HDD have to offer is to use an installed SSD device to run programs and attach an external HDD device for storage. This simplified hybrid setup will keep costs down as much as possible while letting you enjoy speed and performance while keeping your data safe and secure. 




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