Solid State Drives: Are they worth it?

August 19, 2009

What are solid-state drives (SSDs)?  You may have heard of them.  You may have seen them and wondered why they are so much more expensive than traditional hard drives.  They have actually been around for quite a while.  They are essentially just like a USB-flash drive.  They have no moving parts, as opposed to traditional hard drives, which do have moving parts and can damage easier.  For example, if a laptop with a traditional hard drive is dropped, it can likely sustain damage because of the moving parts.  The same thing can happen if a computer is accidentally bumped or kicked.  Solid state drives do not have that problem as they have no moving parts, though that’s not to say they are by any means invincible.

So, what are so advantages of SSDs?  They have much, much faster access time for data that is already on them.  Think how quick it is when you are navigating around folders on a USB-flash drive, very quick, right?  The access to data seems almost instant.  Because SSDs don’t have moving parts, they generate a lot less heat so they are less likely to have issues due to getting too hot.  Additionally, they are very lightweight.  Think of all the current “netbooks” out there.  Many of them contain SSDs, and you will notice they aren’t very heavy.  Lastly, SSDs use less power than standard hard droves.  All of these advantages sound pretty great, but what are some disadvantages?

While SSDs have very quick access to data that is already written them, they have slower write times.  This has to do with the technical way the data is stored on them.  Copying larger amounts of data to SSDs takes longer than it would on a traditional hard drive.  They also have a much lower capacity.  For a user who has a large music or video collection, it would be tougher to fit them all onto a SSD.  If you did want to purchase a SSD with a high capacity, they are going to be very, very expensive.  For a 128gb SSD, prices are roughly $200-$300.  A standard drive of that size can be purchased for around $40.  On top of the high costs of SSDs, they also burn out quicker.  This is due to the limited number of “write cycles” on the drives.  In simple terms, every time a piece of data is written to a SSD it is known as a write cycle.  There is a limited number of times that a SSD can be written to.  Though it isn’t anything that would likely happen soon, if a SSD is being used for backups, for example, the large amount of data written to the drive over and over would cause it to burn out.  Manufacturers are and developers are working feverishly to overcome these shortfalls.

So, should you upgrade to a SSD?  With the high costs of SSDs right now, and the fact that such large standard drives can be purchased for so cheap, it is better to hold off for a while until they come down in cost.  They can be very useful in netbooks when there isn’t going to be a whole lot of data, because then a quicker drive makes more sense.  Overall, they are very powerful, but unless you have a lot of money you want to spend for a slightly better performance, you should hold off for the price to come down and the technology to improve.

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