SSDs – Solid State Drives

By Merle Nicholson, Tampa PC Users Group
merle@merlenicholson.com


Newer and faster hard drives are developing rapidly with the use of Solid State Drives (SSD) in various forms for the end consumer. You may find it worthwhile to investigate these for your own use.

SSDs use a technology similar to memory in flash drives. The on-board program is different, however, to allow for faster, larger and more efficient storage of data.

There are notebooks and high-end desktop computers available right now with SSDs already installed. The most prominent ones are the Eee PCs from ASUS. Most of the early ones have drives mounted on an internal card and are very small, sometimes only 8 GB, just barely enough space to install an operating system. They’ve gotten larger, of course, as the cost/size ratio gets smaller.

There are several reasons to consider SSDs. First, they are fast. Very fast - like Spaceball One’s ludicrous speed in the movie Spaceball. I’ve seen some claims that have OS load times down to ten or twenty seconds. Second, they use very little power, an important feature for notebooks, and, third, they’re shock resistant, in case you’re prone to dropping your notebook.

SSDs are sold in several forms. The most common by far is a device that is exactly the size of a notebook SATA drive (2-1/2” size). If you want to install this in a desktop machine, there are several adapters that will allow inexpensive mounting in a 3-1/2” standard mounting bay. The connectors and placement of the connectors are identical to notebook hard drives, so installing them in a docking station or enclosure made for notebook drives is no problem.

Forms and typical prices (2010) are: Except for the price, there really is no downside to these devices. Even the slowest of these – and there’s quite a range of data speeds – are faster than mechanical drives. There were some initial problems when they first came out: a “stuttering” problem and a dwindling available space. There were (are) some problems with earlier operating systems. All of these have been fixed now for Windows 7. Windows 7 came out recognizing SSDs and utilizing them optimally. There are solutions to problems with XP and Vista on manufacturers’ forums, but they should probably be left to experts – if you can find one. Best thing is to simply use Windows 7.

Interestingly, you should never defrag an SSD. I’ve read that Windows 7 turns off defragging for SSDs, but there’s probably nothing keeping you from using other defraggers. But if you do, you’ll shorten the life of the drive. Basically, there is no such thing as a fragmented SSD. It’s all equally fast all across the drive, and defragging just moves the data back over the most-used part, the very last thing you want in an SSD. Its total life depends on spreading the data out and using the unused parts as much as possible.

And while we’re at it, let’s address lifespan. I’ve looked at many of these to see what the MTBF rating is. (Mean Time Between Failures – See Wikipedia for MTBF). A few are rated for greater than 500,000 hours, but many – or most – are rated greater than 1,000,000 to greater than 1,500,000 hours. Well, that’s not forever. But mechanical hard drives are good for about three years, and there’s no reason to think SSDs have a shorter life. Indeed, think of this: When your computer is on, that mechanical drive is probably spinning when idle, wearing out the motor and bearings. There’s no equivalent to that in SSDs.

One more observation. An SSD mostly reads blazingly fast. So you should expect dramatic changes in the time it takes to read in the Operating System on startup, or read a large video for editing, or pull from a large database, or edit JPEGs. But the write times are usually much less, especially in small writes. So, while loading programs and data is fast, it may not be so noticeable while you’re working with your software. It probably will not do a thing for cruising the Internet or editing a document. Overriding that, though, is a longer battery operation for notebooks, but not a dramatic improvement because the hard drive is only one of the heavy use components in a notebook.

And please, do not consider an SSD for a system with limited RAM installed. Address the RAM problem first – at least 2 GB, but 4 GB or 6 GB is even better, depending on where your interest lies regarding software. u