SSD 101

Oct 17, 2011

If the initials SSD fail to make your heart beat faster, you haven't been following the latest technology news. SSD stands for "Solid-State Drive," an electronic reinvention of the hard drive. And your PC wants one.

No Moving Parts

Machines with moving parts eventually break down; it's a law of nature. Old-fashioned hard drives, with spinning platters, moving read-write heads, and fragile magnetic media are a perfect example. That's why the latest electronic technology is aimed at replacing those clunky hard drives with sleek SSDs—solid-state drives that use non-volatile NAND flash memory. Dropping an SSD into your PC is easy, especially if you choose a vendor that designs its SSDs to use the same interface as a standard hard disk drive and with the same physical dimensions.

Fast is Good

SSDs access data a lot faster than standard hard drives. For office staffers or students working on a netbook or laptop, that means less time waiting for the computer to boot up or for data to become available. And laptop warriors will be pleased to note that SSDs use far fewer amps than hard drives. Install an SSD, and your laptop battery may last several hours longer—long enough for you to finish that report before the plane lands.

Fail-Safe Storage

Because SSDs have no moving parts, they have a huge edge over regular drives. For one thing, SSDs are more resistant to shock and vibration than hard-disk drives, with fewer potential points of mechanical failure. Also, SSDs are silent, which makes them great for PCs in living areas. Finally, they use less power and generate less heat, so they don't require fans.

The Trade-Offs

Of course, SSDs are still more expensive, gigabyte for gigabyte, than standard hard drives. And while a new SSD may offer blazing speed, over time its performance may degrade depending on how you use the drive and how your operating system manages memory writes. Also, cheaper models are significantly slower than top-of-the-line SSD devices. And for the most part, SSDs limit you to much smaller storage capacity than do conventional hard drives – at least for now.

Bottom Line

Prices on SSDs are dropping fast as new operating systems (particularly Windows 7) take advantage of their potentially higher speeds. That means the best time to consider sliding one into your computer is right now.