Why You Should Buy a Solid State Drive Right Now

Evan Thorpe, March 30th 2016

Upgrading your computer storage medium from a sluggish HDD to a lightning quick SSD is night and day.  It’s like swapping out your beat up Toyota Corolla for a brand new Chevy Corvette!

Speed

A cheap, slow SSD is undeniably magnitudes faster than even an expensive HDD, or hard disk drive.  For example, the gold standard in consumer HDDs, the Western Digital Caviar Blue (WDC Blue), reads data at mind numbingly slow 126 MB/s (megabytes per second) whilst writing at 149 MB/s.  In addition to that, the WDC Blue can only handle up to 800 IOPS; not even a percentage of the IOPS  an SSD can handle!  Meanwhile, a common consumer grade SSD, the PNY 1311, reads data at 550 MB/s and writes at 520 MB/s.  In addition, it can perform 90,000 IOPS (input/output operations per second).

Western Digital Caviar Blue (HDD) PNY 1311(SSD) 
Read Speed (MB/s) 126

550 

Write Speed (MB/s) 149

520 

IOPS 800

90000 

As you can see, an average SSD performs data transfers over 4 times faster.  But what are those IOPS thingies?  IOPS, or input/output operations per second, matter when multitasking.  Think of it like this:

You are working on a construction site, pouring a foundation.  The cement truck keeps pouring the cement no matter what you say to the driver.  Meanwhile, your small crew is trying to spread the cement and make it smooth,  but your crew is very small. They have a small number of IOPS they can perform at once.  Now, if you were to have more crew/IOPS, you’d be able to pour more than just one cement truck at once and finish the job faster!  Each cement truck is a task, like opening a new tab in a web browser or opening iTunes.  The more IOPS you have, the more tasks you can perform simultaneously!  This is where SSDs blow away HDDs.  SSDs provide the ability to be playing dozens of YouTube videos, rendering a video, writing emails, and playing music at the same time, whilst having a game open in the background.

An SSD also allows you to boot up your computer in 5-15 secs versus minutes with an HDD.  On top of that, once you log on, the computer will be running at full speed with an SSD.  That means, that your web browser won’t take 30 seconds to load the first time.

Affordable

When solid state drives, or SSDs first came to the general market, it was only enthusiasts who bought them.  They were crazy expensive, typically along the lines of $100 for a 32GB drive, when at the time, hard disk drives (what you likely have in your desktop/laptop currently) were going for roughly $60 for a 1024GB drive.  But, SSDs have been dropping in price for years.  Currently, a basic consumer 250GB SSD costs $60, which, let’s be honest, the average consumer only stores pictures and music on their computer; most people don’t need terabytes of storage.  Thus, a 250GB SSD would be sufficient for most.

Storage trends

As shown above, average price for a 256GB SSD has dropped from the $220 mark in October 2014 to the $150 mark in May 2016 (pcpartpicker.com)

 

No Moving Parts

An SSD has a completely different architecture from an HDD.  HDDs utilize a magnetic platter with a seeking arm to store and find information.  The seeking arm moves back and forth, reading and writing information, while the platter spins.  Obviously, a spinning platter isn’t very energy efficient.  On the other hand, SSDs are basically large flash drives.  They use NAND flash to store the data, and an electronic controller to access that storage.  This results in less energy use, due to zero moving parts.  In addition, the information is read and written much faster, resulting in a much lower latency.

hdd
An HDD shown with it’s seeking head and platter.  Image Source

While power consumption isn’t very noticeable in a desktop, laptop users are always scrounging for more battery power.  During idle, SSDs use roughly .1 watt, versus an HDD at roughly 6 watts.  This results in more battery time!  In addition to making your laptop last longer, because an SSD has no moving parts, it is VERY resistant to drops, unlike an HDD, which can completely break from a hard fall.

ssd
A Samsung SSD; no moving parts. Image Source

SSDs are also dead silent due to the no moving parts.

 

*If your HDD gets very noisy suddenly, it’s typically about to die.

Fragmentation

You’ve probably heard from someone that you should regularly defragment your computer or hard drive.  This isn’t necessary with an SSD, and here’s why.

Fragmentation just means that your data isn’t written very close together, it’s spread out.  What defragmentation does is rewrite this data, so that it is closer together.

Fragmentation on an HDD is bad because the farther apart the data is on the platter, the longer it’ll take the seeking head to find it.  This increases latency and reduces read/write speeds, in turn making the drive perform slower.

Fragmentation on an SSD isn’t bad, due to it’s design.  Because an SSD has no seeking head, there is no performance decrease from fragmentation.  But SSDs do have their own sort of garbage collection, called TRIM.  TRIM is a wear leveling procedure.  Flash memory actually has a finite amount of times it can be written to, so instead of writing and reading from the same few blocks (and wearing only those blocks out), TRIM regularly moves the data so that the drive wears evenly.  Don’t worry about longevity though; SSDs are known to last for dozens of petabytes (1000000 gigabytes) of data without failing, which a single petabyte would be 166 million mp3 songs.

What SSD Should I Buy?

SLC vs MLC vs TLC

You might have noticed how some SSDs are a lot more expensive than others.  This is likely due to the type of NAND flash used.

SLC, or single level chip, fits only one bit of data on each chip.  This equates to the fastest of the three types.  Also, there are the least read/write errors with this type.  Typically, these drivers are four to five times as expensive as TLC drives.  Their high cost and high performance is typically only used in enterprise systems or servers where the speed is worth the cost to a business.

Intel X25-E

MLC, or multi level chip, fits two bits of data on each chip.  This type of flash is second fastest.  It’s only slightly more expensive than TLC flash, roughly 1.5 times for most brands.  This type is recommend for people who are are consumers, but still need alot of speed.  So, if you’re rendering videos, playing video games with loading screens (GTA, LOL, etc), or just write and read a lot of data (10+ GB a day); then a MLC drive is for you.

PNY 2211

TLC, or triple level chip, fits three bits of data on each chip.  This type of flash is the slowest, but most affordable.  This type of chip is still much faster than any HDD, the PNY 1311 mentioned on the SSD vs HDD speed comparison, utilizes TLC flash.  Where this flash suffers, is during long data writes.  Once the cache is used up (typically 4-12GB), the write speed drops to roughly HDD speeds.  But in the real world, the only time most consumers transfer that much data is when they are backing up their files to an external drive.

PNY 1311

Form Factor

Form factor just tells us what dimensions a drive has.  There two types of form factors for SSDs; m2 and 2.5 inch.  2.5 inch is what most laptops and desktops use; while m2 is a thinner more spread out form factor, used in thin ultra books or mac books.  All the SSDs linked previously in the SLC vs MLC vs TLC section are of the 2.5 inch form factor.  Listed below, and on the left side of the below figure, is an m2 form factor SSD.  Unfortunately, m2 SSDs are more expensive, because fewer brands make them.

Crucial M500

 

 

Connector

SSDs typically use SATA to connect to the motherboard, with PCIE being less common.  PCIE does have an advantage though, it can support speeds several times faster than a SATA connector can.  Listed below is a PCIE connector SSD of the m2 form factor.  This type of SSD is several times more expensive than the more typically SATA SSD.

OCZ Storage Solutions RevoDrive 3

Suggestions

There are dozens of brands that compete for your money in the SSD world.  Here are a few that I prefer, based on value for your money.

Business/High Performance, High Cost:

Samsung 950 PRO

Enthusiast/Gamer/Editor Performance, Mid Cost

PNY 2211

Samsung 850 PRO

Consumer Performance, Low Cost:

PNY 1311

OCZ 150:

 

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