• Shaun Prince

SSD Upgrades - 3x Faster Computer Performance

SSD Upgrades - 3x Faster Computer Performance

Until just a few years ago, PC buyers had little choice about what kind of storage to get in a laptop or desktop PC. If you bought an ultraportable anytime in the last few years, you very likely got a solid-state drive (SSD) as the primary boot drive. Larger laptops are increasingly moving to SSD boot drives, too, while budget machines still tend to favor hard disk drives (HDDs). The boot drives in desktop PCs, meanwhile, are a mishmosh of SSDs or HDDs; in some cases, a system comes with both, with the SSD as the boot drive and the HDD as a bigger-capacity storage supplement.

If you have to pick just one, though, how do you choose? Let's get into the differences between SSDs and HDDs, and walk you through the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you decide.

HDD and SSD Explained

The traditional spinning hard drive is the basic non-volatile storage on a computer. That is, information on it doesn't "go away" when you turn off the system, unlike data stored in RAM. A hard drive is essentially a metal platter with a magnetic coating that stores your data, whether weather reports from the last century, a high-definition copy of the original Star Wars trilogy, or your digital music collection. A read/write head on an arm accesses the data while the platters are spinning.

An SSD does functionally everything a hard drive does, but data is instead stored on interconnected flash-memory chips that retain the data even when there's no power present. These flash chips are of a different type than the kind used in USB thumb drives, and are typically faster and more reliable. SSDs are consequently more expensive than USB thumb drives of the same capacities. Like thumb drives, though, they're often much smaller than HDDs and therefore offer manufacturers more flexibility in designing a PC. While they can take the place of traditional 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch hard drive bays, they can also be installed in a PCI Express expansion slot or even be mounted directly on the motherboard, a configuration that's now common in high-end laptops and all-in-ones. (These board-mounted SSDs use a form factor known as M.2. See our picks for the best M.2 SSDs.)

Note: We'll be talking primarily about internal drives in this story, but almost everything applies to external hard drives as well. External drives come in both large desktop and compact portable form factors, and SSDs are gradually becoming a larger part of the external market.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Both SSDs and hard drives do the same job: They boot your system, and store your applications and personal files. But each type of storage has its own unique feature set. How do they differ, and why would you want to get one over the other?

Price: SSDs are more expensive than hard drives in terms of pound per gigabyte. A 1TB internal 2.5-inch hard drive costs between £30 and £50, but as of this writing, the very cheapest SSDs of the same capacity and form factor start at around £100. That translates into 3 to 5 pence per gigabyte for the hard drive versus 10 pence per gigabyte for the SSD. Since hard drives use older, more established technology, they will remain less expensive for the near future. Though the price gap is closing between hard drives and the very lowest-end SSDs, those extra bucks for the SSD may push your system price over budget.

Maximum and Common Capacity: Although consumer SSD units top out at 4TB, those are still uncommon and expensive. You're more likely to find 500GB to 1TB units as primary drives in systems. While 500GB is considered a "base" hard drive capacity in 2019, pricing concerns can push that down to 128GB or 250GB for lower-priced SSD-based systems. Users with big media collections or who work in content creation will require even more, with 1TB to 4TB drives common in high-end systems. Basically, the more storage capacity, the more stuff you can keep on your PC. Cloud-based (Internet) storage may be good for housing files you plan to share among your smartphone, tablet, and PC, but local storage is less expensive, and you have to buy it only once, not subscribe to it.

Speed: This is where SSDs shine. An SSD-equipped PC will boot in less than a minute, and often in just seconds. A hard drive requires time to speed up to operating specs, and it will continue to be slower than an SSD during normal use. A PC or Mac with an SSD boots faster, launches and runs apps faster, and transfers files faster. Whether you're using your computer for fun, school, or business, the extra speed may be the difference between finishing on time and failing.

Fragmentation: Because of their rotary recording surfaces, hard drives work best with larger files that are laid down in contiguous blocks. That way, the drive head can start and end its read in one continuous motion. When hard drives start to fill up, bits of large files end up scattered around the disk platter, causing the drive to suffer from what's called fragmentation. While read/write algorithms have improved to the point that the effect is minimized, hard drives can still become fragmented to the point of affecting performance. SSDs can't, however, because the lack of a physical read head means data can be stored anywhere without penalty. Thus, SSDs are inherently faster.

Durability: An SSD has no moving parts, so it is more likely to keep your data safe in the event you drop your laptop bag or your system gets shaken while it's operating. Most hard drives park their read/write heads when the system is off, but they are flying over the drive platter at a distance of a few nanometers when they are in operation. Besides, even parking brakes have limits. If you're rough on your equipment, an SSD is recommended.

Availability: Hard drives are more plentiful in budget and older systems, but SSDs are becoming the rule in high-end laptops like the Apple MacBook Pro, which does not offer a hard drive even as a configurable option. Desktops and cheaper laptops, on the other hand, will continue to offer HDDs, at least for the next few years.

Form Factors: Because hard drives rely on spinning platters, there is a limit to how small they can be manufactured. There was an initiative to make smaller 1.8-inch spinning hard drives, but that stalled at about 320GB, and smartphone manufacturers have settled on flash memory for their primary storage. SSDs have no such limitation, so they can continue to shrink as time goes on. SSDs are available in 2.5-inch laptop-drive-size boxes, but that's only for convenience in fitting within established drive bays.

Noise: Even the quietest hard drive will emit a bit of noise when it is in use. (The drive platters spin and the read arm ticks back and forth.) Faster hard drives will tend to make more noise than those that are slower. SSDs make no noise at all; they're non-mechanical.

Power: An SSD doesn't have to expend electricity spinning up a platter from a standstill. Consequently, none of the energy consumed by the SSD is wasted as friction or noise, rendering them more efficient. On a desktop or in a server, that will lead to a lower energy bill. On a laptop or tablet, you'll be able to eke out more minutes (or hours) of battery life.

Longevity: While it is true that SSDs wear out over time (each cell in a flash-memory bank can be written to and erased a limited number of times), thanks to TRIM command technology that dynamically optimizes these read/write cycles, you're more likely to discard the system for obsolescence (after six years or so) before you start running into read/write errors with an SSD. If you're really worried, several tools can let you know if you're approaching the drive's rated end of life. Eventually, hard drives will wear out from constant use, as well, since they use physical recording methods. Longevity is a wash when it's separated from travel and ruggedness concerns.

So, in conclusion...

Hard drives win on price and capacity. SSDs work best if speed, ruggedness, form factor, noise, or fragmentation (technically, a subset of speed) are important factors to you. If it weren't for the price and capacity issues, SSDs would be the hands-down winner.

For more information or advice, or to book an SSD Upgrade, please don't hesitate to contact me!

Original article link: https://uk.pcmag.com/ssd/8061/ssd-vs-hdd-whats-the-difference