Storage Salvation: Solid State Drives
Solid state drives are gaining popularity in the computer industry for many reasons. They deliver a number of benefits over different types of storage media. They started out quite pricey, but they are quickly dropping in price, which means they’re quickly entering into the realm of affordability for the masses. Let’s take a look at these devices and talk about why they’re becoming so popular. I’m also going to talk about some of the other types of storage media that we have available.
Solid State Drives: What Are They?
Standard hard drives are rather bulky devices that make use of extremely sensitive spinning platters to store your data. These drives are very susceptible to shock damage by jarring them when they’re reading or writing data or from being dropped. They also generate quite a bit of heat, which, if they’re not properly ventilated and cooled, can cause them to die early.
Rotating platter hard drives typically last for somewhere between three and seven years, and are rated by the number of hours of operation they will last for. This rating is known as mean time between failures (MTBF). Some people call it mean time before failure.
Thumbdrives, pen drives and SD cards are a type of solid-state storage media that many people use as portable storage. SD cards are also used in a variety of different devices, such as cameras, media players, and phones, to store data such as movies, pictures, and music.
However, nobody has found a way to connect these storage types to a computer and use them as the primary storage media. Yes, you can make a thumbdrive bootable, and you can even use them as the primary storage media for your computer, but they’re rather limited in their capacity. They’re not really fast enough to be acceptable as the primary storage media for your computer, either.
Like thumbdrives and SD cards, solid state drives (SSDs) use memory chips to store data, instead of rotating platters. There are external SSDs and internal SSDs. The internal drives utilize the same communications bus as normal hard drives, while external ones make use of Firewire (IEEE 1394) or USB ports. Although, since they are new, there are no hard and fast numbers as to how long these drives will last, some of them are projected to be “forever” devices.
Manufacturers such as Intel, Corsair Memory, and Crucial Technology have packaged these devices in such a way that they can be used in notebooks/ultrabooks, desktop computers, and tablets. Currently, there are solid state drives that connect to the computer via SCSI (Small computer system interface), IDE (Integrated device electronics), and SATA (Serial AT Attachment), PCI, and a number of interface standards.
How They Compare to Hard Drives
Besides their durability and expected lifespans, solid state drives are a little better than regular hard drives in a number of ways. One of the ways that drives are rated is in access speed, which is how fast the drive can find the data you’re looking for. Regular hard drives have to spin the platters to do this, whereas SSDs don’t. Because of this, SSDs have a better access time/speed rating than regular hard drives. Seek/access times of regular hard drives are measured and rated in milliseconds, at best, whereas SSDs are rated in the microsecond range.
Seek time is another area where SSDs beat regular hard drives hands down. This is for two reasons. The first reason is the fact that an SSD doesn’t have to spin up a disc in order to begin the read operation. The second reason is that the computer is able to go immediately to the storage location/address with an SSD, whereas with a hard drive, the drive has to move the reader
arm to the proper location on the disc, after the location is looked up.
Unlike regular hard drives, SSDs aren’t susceptible to failure when dropped, either. While I wouldn’t recommend dropping them regularly, doing so isn’t going to do much more than cause cosmetic damage to the case. Drop a regular hard drive and, depending on how far it dropped, you may as well toss it on the garbage and go get a new one.
Currently, SSDs don’t compare very favorably with regular hard drives. They’re still a bit more expensive. However, the technology is still somewhat new. Give it a couple more years and I’d say that the price for SSDs will be the same as for regular hard drives, or maybe, at most, five- to 10-percent higher. Personally, for the added reliability, I’d pay that extra percentage for solid state drives.
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