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Introduction To The SSD

WHAT IS A SOLID STATE DRIVE?

To start, lets tackle the question of exactly what is an SSD and what are the benefits. The easiest way to describe this is as an SSD being an array of flash memory modules similar to a flash drive which are controlled in such a way that, once the computer is shut off, it retains its memory unlike normal RAM. The SSD is totally different than RAM, in that it is made of flash memory rather than volative memory, thus bringing into existance the term ‘solid state memory’.

HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM A HARD DRIVE?

There are no moving parts within a solid state drive which is the critical difference between that and the hard drive which must rely on mechanical operation to store and retrieve data. In order to access or store data, the HD relies on a metal disk to spin at a speed of up to 7200 revolutions per minute and an arm that extracts or places the information on the disk.

WHAT ARE ITS ADVANTAGES?

The advantages of a SSD are numerous. First and foremost the sheer speed of the SSD is the most obvious and overpowering feature. It’s reasoning is simple. There is no requirement for the disk to spin and the arm to find the exact position of the information it is retrieving. Lets think of the SSD as a book. One simply has to look at the index and then retrieve the information knowing the proper chapter and page. This alone will allow much quicker boot and access times as shown in this YouTube Video taken at CES 2007.

My startup time is steady around 27 seconds, this being on a Dell M1330 with a 2Ghz C2D processor, 4Gb RAM, Sandisk 32Gb SSD and running Vista Ultimate 64 bit. I determine my test results from the push of the button until the internet connection is confirmed and all activity has stopped on my desktop. It is a very healthy jump over my former times of well over a minute as this includes an array of software to start during startup as well.

Initial performance results of the SSD were very good, however, tests conducted by websites such as Tomshardware.com showed the SSD to be lacking in write speeds, some being as low as 14mb/s. Technological advance is already showing companies like Mtron, whos original SSD blew away the competition at 100 MB/s read and 80 MB/s write, to be raving about their new ASIC line which now boasts speeds of 120 MB/s read, 90MB/s write with a burst speed of 150MB/s and quicker access time of .1mb/s. This writer hopes to be testing the validity of these claims soon enough with the expected release date of their newest 32Gb ASIC SATA SSD set to be released in November. These claims are presently being questioned by Engadget, one of the more reputed sources for digital technology on the web.

Also a definite advantage is the sheer silence and lack of heat created through the SSD. I find myself, at times, waiting for the laptop to react, only to find its task complete and staring me in the face. We must also realize that, since there are no moving parts such as the hard disk spinning and being accessed, there is little to no heat generated by the SSD. This also now reduces the amount of time the fan is in use which, on my system, is virtually never. Again another bi-product of these positive attributes is the increased battery life gained through the lower power consumption of the drive long with the lack of fan use. Initial estimates thought these differences would be negligible but a quick glance at my first NBR article will surprise you I think.

HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?

With respect to lifespan of the ssd, the common belief is simply that the mlc ssd may last 10 years or so for the typical to active user but, to this point, no physical confirmation of this exists. Retail ssds have not been around long enough and consumer use is so varied. The key issue is exactly what happens as the product reaches ‘end of life’ in comparison to a hard drive which typically crashes losing its data. The ssd simply cannot write further but the information on it is still intact and accessible for years to come. One need not fear the loss of data from the ssd because its ‘end of life’ characteristics are in no way similar to the hard drive and leave the consumer in a much more secure position.

WHAT ARE ITS DISADVANTAGES?

Presently, there are three glaring disadvantages to the SSD, these being price, storage capacity and availability.

While we see prices dropping rapidly, one can still expect to pay upwards around $6-700 for the 32Gb Sandisk if its purchased on its own. You will find this easily doubled for the new Samsung 64Gb SSD and prices havent been released for the fastest SSD on the planet as claimed by Mtron , but its present 32Gb SSD (which is still well ahead of the pack) can be had for $1500US.

Size is then another consideration. We can run out and grab a 128Gb Super Talent SSD as seen here for around $4600 but the 64Gb is just entering the market with many people still fighting to find available 32Gb SSDs just to see if they stand up to their reputation. This brings us to our final point of availability of the solid state drive which is almost non-existant unless purchased through laptop manufacturers as they are presently rushing to get them out or watching Ebay.

On a further note, I have to credit Super Talent for their indepth article that they included above. Get a coffee for the entire 15 pages.

EASE OF TRANSITION

I am going to have to stick to personal experience here and limit myself to notebooks as I haven’t had the pleasure of playing with a SSD in a powerhouse desktop as of yet (although I am interested hint hint). I have switched my SSD with a Seagate Momentus HD no less than 8 times now for testing. Further, I have had the opportunity to switch one SSD for another and can state that nothing could be easier.

Do you want an SSD? Simply find one, backup your system with a disk imaging program, pull out the HD and replace it with the SSD (both being SATA of course) and restore your system. Similarly, you can do a clean install just as easily as having the HD inside the system. There are no additional cables or carriages to worry about.

FURTHER REFERENCE

Are you interested in reading more about the SSD? You only have to go as far is this article within NBR to learn more. I have already mentioned the detail that companies such as Mtron, Samsung, Sandisk and Super Talent have placed into their own websites along with articles from Tomshardware.com and Anandtech.

CONCLUSION

The solid state drive has pushed in hard and fast and it’s not going away soon. The SSD, muchlike the internet when it first came to light, was originally touted as a passing phase. It has quickly found a position where, if manufacturers can find the lower prices, higher storage capacity and availability, the SSD will threaten the mere existence of the HD. The first obstacle of performance was surpassed long before many knew what SSD stood for.

There appears to be so many benefits that we just cannot ignore the SSD on a business or personal use level. Although it will need to gain a foundation in the spiderweb designs of small and large office networks, the simplicity of the SSD lies in the absolutely lightning speed in which it accomplishes its tasks at the individual user level of both.

Quicker startup, incredible performance, no moving parts, less heat, longer battery life, incredible reliability and durabilty will soon enough conquer the obstacles of price, storage restrictions and availability.

Dont believe me? Look at this IBM 62PC “Piccolo” HDD, circa 1979 – an early 8″ disk !!!

  • Josh Stevenson

    You say ‘ . . . it is made of flash memory rather than volative memory, thus bringing into existance the term ‘solid state memory’.

    As you know the transistor was invented in the ’50’s and was different from the preceding valves (‘tubes’ in the US) in that electron movement took place in a solid – germanium, later silicon – rather than a gas or a vacuum. This is what gave rise to term ‘solid state’. Many early transistor consumer electronic products were sold badged as ‘SOLID STATE’. This means that RAM is also solid state memory. The previous ‘gaseous state memory’ was the valve triode. This is a reference to valve and transistor flip-flops which are among the basics of electronic memory.

  • Informative article Les

  • joe

    This article is old. 80 GB SSD are now under $200 and much larger drives are now available.

    Another huge benefit besides faster access time, greater longevity, vastly superior shock resistance, less power consumption, less heat and less noise is the fact that SSD’s also don’t need to be defragmented.

    Traditional spinning HD’s are about to go the way of the floppy drive and the Zip drive. They will be a legacy device within 2 years (2013) at which point OEM manufacturers like Dell will not even offer them as an option.

  • I now know what these things are.

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