To SSD or not to SSD, THAT is the question

Posted: February 18, 2011 in computers, hardware, technology
Tags: , , , , , ,

I had been toying with the idea of replacing my MacBook Pro (MBP) with a MacBook Air (MBA), the posted specs and benchmarks just impressed me so much, but when you get right down to it, the impressive part besides the look and feel is the inclusion of a Solid State Drive (SSD).

A while back I never would have thought of replacing my internal Hard Disk Drive (HDD) with an SSD, it was just too cost prohibitive, (actually i did a blog post about that ssds-more-questions-than-answers) but as with anything, costs do come down and the bleeding edge isn’t quite so sharp.   So you might be asking “why?”

To SSD:

There are a few good reasons to consider it now.  First, speed.  These things are wicked fast.  Access times are in the neighbourhood of twice to 40x as fast as a standard 5400 rpm HDD.  Mostly due to the physical movement of the heads needed to access the data.  Access speeds can be as fast as 0.1 ms, compared with HDD access speeds of 5 to 10 ms.  It all depends upon what you are doing and what size drive you are comparing against.  If you are like most people, waiting for anything always seems too long, regardless of how fast it is we get used to the speed of things pretty quickly.  I’m not saying thats not going to still happen but when you can open an application in less than a second it is pretty safe to say it will take a while to find that speed too slow.

Secondly, energy usage.  A SSD has no moving parts and uses less power than a standard platter style Hard Drive, typically 1/3 to 1/2 the power.  No moving parts also means less noise.  Never hearing a hard drive spin up or spin down again would not be missed.

Third, which is linked to the second, heat creation.  With no moving parts, no spinning platters for example, there is less heat created.  Less heat means less cooling is needed, which can help to reduce or possibly eliminate the cooling fan.  Fans on laptops are typically so small to fit in the case they need to spin at ridiculous speeds to do any good.  Reducing the heat, means these fans can be slowed down to just handle the heat generated by the processor instead.  Not having a scorching hot laptop on bare skin would be a nice thing.

Fourth, stability.  This again comes down to the no moving parts thing.  There is less chance of failure than a platter style HDD and also less chance of data storage problems if the drive is bumped or jarred in any way.  Sure, many laptops have rapid spin-down features built-in to help with this problem, but isn’t it better not to have to worry at all about motion while the drive is being accessed?

dismantled HDD (left) – dismantled SSD (right)

So why Not To SSD?

The main complaints against SSDs are the cost and the lack of storage.

These are getting better, but finding a SSD that is larger than 128 gig means you are gonna pay thru the nose as the saying goes.  The cost seems to double as you double the size from 128 to 256, which is quite different from a standard HD which typically only increases around 1/3 to 1/2.  Not only does the cost go up dramatically, but the initial cost is more as well.  Take an 60 gig drive as an example.  Standard HDD is approx. 20 cents per gig.  A SSD will run you about $2 per gig.

The sizes of SSDs is very strange too, not that it is necessarily a deal breaker but in a world where we got used to seeing standard sizes, its tough to compare apples to apples when every manufacturer is making their own size drives.  30, 40, 60, 64, 120, 128, 160, 250 and 256 are all common sizes at the moment.  (Anything larger is getting into the “you must be kidding me?” range as far as pricing goes)  Thankfully the types of connections and housings have been standardized, but the internal parts of the SSDs can be quite different, which affects speed and potentially reliability, making it tough to compare models from different manufacturers.

For me it all comes down to a simple ROI.  Will the new drive save me money? Not really, but the savings in time and energy have to be taken into account.  Also, the increased speed will make my MBP feel better than brand new, which may stop me from replacing it for a while longer which means that yes, it will in fact save me the added expense of a whole new laptop.  Oops, sorry Apple.  I mean PORTABLE computer.  We don’t call them laptops anymore, thats SOooo 2009.

tcg

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Foley, thatcomputerguy. thatcomputerguy said: New blog post… To SSD or not to SSD, THAT is the question http://bit.ly/gdUbhK […]

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