Solid State of Mind

You may have notice a new technology which has emerged over the past couple of years called “Solid State Drives” or SSDs.

What are they?

SSDs are the most advanced form of storage media which we use in computers to replace traditional Hard Disk Drives, or HDDs.

What’s the difference?

Quite a bit, on an engineering level.  However, for the layperson, the key things to remember about SSDs are:

Unlike traditional Hard Disk Drives, with their platters and actuator arms, Solid State Drives have no moving parts. They are not actually ‘disks’ as they have no spinning platter but are comprised of memory chips, like the ones we use for RAM, SD cards, etc. As they have no moving parts which can break, that clicking you hear when your hard drive won’t work any more is a thing of the past. This makes them more resilient than HDDs and therefore an excellent choice for a laptop which may get jostled a lot.

They are faster than HDDs because the need to physically move drive heads to read data is eliminated. This makes them ideal for any system where reading from the hard disk drive is a bottleneck for the system’s performance.

They tend to have smaller amounts of storage.  This is due to the relative newness of the technology. Just as Hard Disk Drives started out storing 20 Megabytes of data (or less) it will take a couple of years before SSDs can compete with or surpass HDDs which can store up to 3 Terabytes or more.

They are expensive, which is another aspect of any new technology. Until all the R&D investment has been recouped, expect to pay a premium for less storage. For instance, for $200 CAD you can expect to buy an SSD with 256 GB of storage, or just enough to run Windows with some software.

Why should you care?

I would give it a few years but you can expect that whatever digital device you are using to have one of these devices. As the cost comes down, the storage goes up and the demand for SSDs in every mainstream laptop, tablet or ultra-notebook will eventually make these devices the new normal, relegating magnetic platter HDDs to large scale RAID storage in data centers

Currently, for the power user, a combined use of SDDs and HDDs may provide excellent benefit.  Utilizing the SSD for the operating system (either Windows or OS X) and having a second HDD for storage of media, such as music, picture or video.  The computer would benefit from the speed increase of the SSD and the greater storage capacity of the HDD will easily hold even the most extensive media collection.