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Advantages of solid state drives

For the last two decades personal computers have used mechanical hard disks as their primary method of long term memory, and they've worked well enough. Even if you're not sure what a hard disk is, you undoubtedly have one if you use a computer, and you probably don't have any specific complaints to lodge against it unless it is almost full and you need to buy another one. But even that is hardly worthy of complaint today because mechanical hard disks have become one of the most inexpensive components in a modern computer.
It is hard to imagine, then, that a new type of product could sweep in and compete with the mechanical hard disks that have served us so well for so long. But that is exactly what is happening. Solid state drives, once virtually non-existent in personal computers, have become a hot trend. But why? What is it about these new solid state drives which makes them so appealing?
The Performance Problem You've Learned to Accept
While most people don't complain about the speed of their mechanical hard drive it can in fact be a limiting factor on the speed of your computer. The problem with a mechanical hard drive is the way information is stored. Let's say that you decide to download some music from iTunes. In order to write that information to the disk the hard disk must move a mechanical read/write head to an open area of the disk and the write the information to the drive. When you play the music later in the day the head must again move to and then read the information.
This is known as seeking, and it is the reason why programs which use minimal system resources sometimes take a long time to load. It is also the reason why most computers are not responsive immediately after being started. Computers need to load drivers and programs when they start, and a mechanical hard drive sends the read/write head out on a journey to collect all the information. If you want to bring up your web browser, well, you're just going to have to wait until the read/write head has a spare moment to go retrieve data about your web browser.
The Solid State Advantage
While a solid state drive is used for the same purpose as a mechanical hard drive their lineage is more closely associated with another component in your computer, Random Access Memory. RAM is a place where computers store information which is in immediate use or may soon be used because RAM is faster than a hard disk. There is no read/write head. Data is requested and received instantly. The only problem with RAM is that it doesn't store data if no electrical charge is being applied to it. Turn of your computer and your RAM becomes a blank slate.
Modern solid state drives, however, use a type of memory called NAND flash memory. It works in much the same way as RAM, but the data stored on it doesn't become lost if there is no electrical charge. This means it can be used just like a mechanical hard disk for the long term storage of information, allowing for near-instantaneous retrieval of information kept on the solid state drive. Better yet, with a solid state drive it is no longer necessary to wait for a hard disk to complete its current task before any other information can be retrieved.
Practical Results and the Cost Question
Solid state drives virtually always outperform mechanical hard drives in every hard drive benchmark known. The best solid state drives are hundreds of times better at accessing data requested in a random pattern and are two or three times better at delivering a constant stream of information. The practical result of this is that a computer with a solid state drive feels quicker than one without. Programs load almost instantly, even immediately after a computer is started.
Unfortunately, there is a downside. Mechanical hard drives have become incredibly cheap to produce. Solid state drives, however, are not. A mechanical drive with one terabyte of space and a solid state drive with sixty gigabytes of space cost about the same despite the fact that the mechanical drive can hold sixteen times more information.
This is the cost of performance. It is also a cost that is worthwhile. Solid state drives are not inexpensive enough to be used as the only form of storage in a computer, but they can be used as a primary drive while mechanical drives hold larger files which are not accessed every day, such as games, movies, and music. If you're considering a solid state drive, go for it. The advantages of a solid state drive make it worth the money.


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