Is it a good time to buy an SSD (solid state drive)?

I’ve been writing a lot about my recent experiences with buying a laptop. Well, here’s another article based on that experience.

Solid State Drives – is it a good time to buy those, or not yet?

First – what are they?

SSD’s are hard drive equivalents, usually in 2.5″ form factor (for laptops, but can be adapted to desktop PC’s as well), that do not have any moving parts in them.

The “standard” drives are basically metallic plates spinning around, with magnetic heads moving over them and reading and writing data. These are characterized by the speed of the rotation: the faster the disk rotates – the speedier is the information transfer. There are two standards: slower 5400 RPM’s (rotations per minute) drives, and faster (and more expensive) 7200 RPM’s drives.

SSD’s don’t have moving parts – they don’t have metallic plates (the actual physical disks), they don’t have magnetic heads, instead they have whole bunch of memory chips similar to those in your cellular phone, camera or other devices. SSD’s have multiple benefits over the traditional magnetic drives:

1. They are usually significantly faster that the traditional magnetic disks (even the 7200 RPM ones). Booting Windows 7 on my laptop with SSD as the system drive takes under 20 seconds from powering on the laptop till Firefox up and running.

2. They’re much more quiet. Silent, actually, as there’s nothing that can make noise in them. If you’re used for your laptop to sound like a broken truck – you won’t have that with an SSD, by definition.

3. They don’t have mechanical malfunctions. With a magnetic drive, a piece of dust stuck inside your drive can ruin the whole thing (rare, but happens). Putting a strong magnet (like an unshielded speaker) next to it can ruin the data, dropping it can harm the engine that spins the disk, or the reading heads, etc. Of course, if you hit the SSD with a hammer it will break, but it’s not as easy as with a magnetic drive that can be harmed by just moving it abruptly while it is operating (more expensive modern drives have protection against such cases, but it happens a lot with laptops, I had a drive destroyed on my older laptop one in such a manner already).

4. SSD’s don’t use as much power as the mechanical drives – they don’t have engines that have to move heads or rotate plates, so the power consumption is much lower.

However, SSD’s also have some disadvantages:

1. They cost much more. You can get a 1TB hard drive for less than $100 (less than $0.01 per 1GB), while SSD’s are priced around $1+ per 1GB for older models, newer models are $2 per 1GB.

2. They’re more reliable and have less possible malfunctions. However, if they do malfunction – it happens abruptly and the data cannot be recovered in most cases. SSD’s usually have very extensive warranty (5 years seems to be common), but the data loss is a problem on its own. This can be overcome by regular backups, which should also be done with a regular drive as well, but are less critical.

3. The capacity of SSD”s is much lower than of a traditional mechanical drive. While 1TB desktop and 750GB laptop drives are becoming standard, for SSD you’ll have to settle for 256GB at most as a consumer, larger drives are available but cost more than the whole PC you’re going to put them in.

So given all this, is this the time for SSD?

I think not. I bought one (80GB older generation Intel drive that was on sale), as a luxury, but I could live without it. If you have the money to spend – it is a luxury, the quality of life will be much higher with an SSD. But if you’re a student on a budget – SSD is something you can save on.

If you need a fast drive – choose a 7200RPM magnetic hard drive, and if you can add some (not much) more – consider a hybrid drive. What is a hybrid drive? Its a regular 7200 RPM drive, which also have a small SSD section attached to it. The drive identifies the data being accessed the most, and moves that data to the SSD portion, leaving all the rest on the much larger magnetic storage. With such a drive, the programs you access most frequently (such as your Windows or other operating system, if you use it as a system drive) will load as if they’re on an SSD, but the price you’ll pay would be as if it’s a regular drive – benefiting from both of the worlds.

An example for a hybrid drive can be found here – that’s the drive I bough as my secondary drive on the laptop.

So make your considerations, and enjoy your shopping.

Your Little Advisor.

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