SSD versus HDD is an ongoing debate in most technical environments today. Should you jump on the bandwagon of new technology or stick with your old, reliable HDD? To understand the debate, it’s important to know what an SSD drive is and how it differs from the HDD drive.
Since 1956, we’ve depended on HDD technology to store information on our computers. Over time, these drives have become immensely smaller, capable of storing far greater amounts of data affordably and are generally pretty reliable. Research and development of current SSDs began in the 1970s, but experienced a number of false starts and setbacks. SSDs as we now know them were only born in the 1990s, but didn’t reach any real market potential until well into the 2000s. Now, they’re the new girl in school and everybody’s talking about her.
What Is an SSD Drive?
Image via Flickr by half_empty
SSD stands for Solid State Drive. It is different from HDD (Hard Disk Drive) in that SSDs have no moving parts. HDDs are constantly spinning, which often leads to mechanical failures that SSD drives are all but immune from. Also called flash drives, they operate exactly like our portable USB or thumb drives. An Solid State Hard Drive is like having a much bigger and more sophisticated flash drive.
Sometimes, SSDs are referred to as “electronic drives,” but this isn’t an entirely accurate term. Most SSDs use NAND based flash memory. This means that when you remove or power off the device, it still remembers what’s on it. Techies call this non-volatile memory, and this quality is obviously essential for any storage device.
SSDs are most practical for mobile users. Since HDDs are extremely susceptible to problems like overheating, jarring, extreme cold and even high elevation, many users need a durable, reliable device to withstand the rigors of outdoor use, use during battle conditions, use on public transportation systems and other less than pristine operating conditions.
About 90 percent of SSDs are marketed to individuals (as opposed to large organizations) for PCs, laptops and tablets. But the big guys account for 50 percent of manufacturer profits because large corporations demand larger, more powerful discs. The overall market for SSDs is growing about 70 percent per year.
Advantages of Using SSD Drives
Image via Flickr by IntelFreePress
Since there are no moving parts, there are a number of advantages inherent in using SSD drives, including:
- Quiet operation
- Faster start-up
- Much faster than an HDD
- Lower power consumption
- Produces less heat
- Almost never experience mechanical failure
No spinning drive means the machine can operate silently, except for very high-end SSD drives, which require cooling fans. Since the device doesn’t have to start spinning to operate, it boots up more quickly. No moving parts also means it uses less power, making it attractive to green thinkers. Since the drive produces less heat, it eliminates many of the cooling problems associated with using lots of high-powered machines. Usually, the moving parts of HDD drives cause failures, and SSD technology almost eliminates this possibility.
In addition to these benefits, SSDs are almost immune to damage by vibration, sudden shock, extreme temperatures and high altitude. This durability makes SSDs particularly attractive to the military, rescue workers, field researchers and others who need reliable memory in extreme conditions.
When SSDs fail, it usually happens during the writing process instead of the reading process when most HDD drives fail. Because of this, it’s often easier to retrieve information lost during an SSD failure than when an HDD fails. SSDs also run about 100 times faster than HDD drives and are lighter and smaller. Sounds like the perfect solution – so why isn’t everyone convinced to run out and buy an SSD drive already?
Disadvantages of Using SSD Drives
Image via Flickr by quinn.anya
SSDs still have a low endurance cycle when compared to standard HDD drives. This means you can’t use them indefinitely without failure. They have a shorter data retention, so the performance of SSDs deteriorates over time. Since the drives fill up faster, it’s necessary to do more maintenance work, such as frequent disc cleanups and removing duplicate files. Lower storage space also means you need more drives to store the same amount of data, and in some working environments space is a big issue.
But the most prohibitive aspects of SSDs are their lower capacity and higher cost. These drives store less information, yet cost considerably more than their HDD counterparts. Cost alone causes most buyers to pause, since the cost of a laptop or notebook with an SSD drive is about $200 more than an HDD machine. In some cases, this almost doubles the cost of the device.
Choosing Between HDD and SSD Drives
Image via Flickr by IntelFreePress
It’s important to remember SSD drives are still in a relatively new stage of development. As with all technology, these drives become better and more affordable over time. For applications in extreme conditions, the cost may be worth the ability to operate the machine in temperatures as low as 41 F and as high as 131 F. SSD drives are also a clear choice for machines needing to operate reliably in bumpy vehicles and other rough environments.
As development of SSDs improves and cost goes down, more consumers will opt for the quiet, quick operation of the SSD drive. Until these advancements become reality, users need to weigh the benefits versus the costs. Do you need a computer to withstand impacts, endure brutal temperatures, operate in silence or boot up quickly? Then the cost of your SSD drive may be worth it. For most average users, HDD remains a reliable, affordable way to store and retrieve data.
While some believe SSD drives will eventually replace HDD drives completely, most experts don’t think so. Manufacturers continue to improve their HDD development right along side their SSD efforts, because there remains practical needs for both devices. For the forseeable future, users will have a choice of both drive types when it comes to storing our estimated world accumulation of an astounding 1,800 exabytes (a “billion billion” or quintillion bytes, in other words, ten to the eighteenth power) of data.