The pros and cons of Solid State Disks

March 13, 2007

Samsung 4 GB Solid State Disk Identify all the moving parts in your computer, and you will have found the answer to the question, “what are the first components that typically fail in a PC?” Computers and mechanical (moving) parts just do not mix. Your power supply and processor may fail due to a build up of dust on a cooling fan; your CD or DVD drives will also have shortened life due to mechanical parts. However, if you ask any PC technician out there, he’ll tell you the number one failing part in a computer is the hard disk. Solid state drives are the future of internal storage, and, while they may be young, we’ll take a look at some of the differences between solid state disks, and the more common mechanical Hard drives.

The hard disk has moving parts such as rapidly rotating platters, and read-and-write heads. If you’ve ever seen a video of an open HDD in action, you’ll surely wonder what actually holds these things together. The HDD, as we know it, is on its way out. Maybe not in the near future, but soon enough.

The only alternative we can foresee is the usage of non-volatile memory, memory which does not loose its information when the power is shut of. We’re already starting to see a few promising solutions from Samsung, Sandisk, A-Data, and Intel; the solution is NAND memory, which comes in a variety of names, but all perform the same functions. They offer a cost-effective, high-speed storage solution to any mechanical alternative.

Solid state Disks (SSDs), while technically not disks as we know them, offer many unique advantages. There is no initial spin-up required, so they offer a significantly faster startup; even the fastest Hard drives today do not have half the read time of the SSD. Samsung is currently leading the SSD war in read and write speeds; their 50-nanometer process technology offers speeds nearly 5 times greater than that of Intel’s NAND memory.

SSDs have seek speeds hundreds of times faster than that of mechanical disks, since traditional hard disks have to physically ‘seek’ files before they are accessed. In addition, since there are no moving parts in SSDs, there is literately no sound emitted from the device, a much greater reliability, and far less power consumption.

The mechanical hard disks have read/write heads that float above platters to access data; it’s scary to even think about how close they are (smaller than a particle of smoke); this makes the hard disk susceptible to vibration, humidity, air pressure, temperature, and a variety of other external forces.

After a file is deleted on your hard drive, examination of the disk with an electron microscope can usually uncover the contents of the area, since bytes are not written in the exact same ‘tracks’ as the original data; there is still a small amount of the original file left around the edges of the track. This is a security concern that is no concern with SSDs; a simple deletion of a file on a SSD will leave no residual data that can be recovered.

So non-volatile memory storage is a beautiful thing, right? Wait, before you go out and spend nearly $700 on a 32 Gigabyte model, you may want to consider a few things; one of which I just mentioned – price. On a price per gigabyte basis, SSDs are considerably higher than conventional hard disks; you’ll end up paying nearly $9 more per gigabyte with a SSD.

One disadvantage to having ‘high security’ is the inability to recover lost or accidentally deleted files; even worse, you must consider what may happen after a mechanical failure due to abrupt power loss, magnetic fields near the SSD, and electrostatic charges. Granted, you wont have to shell out thousands of dollars to recover lost files, but there is definitely no going back if you haven’t created a backup of your important files.

With the advancement of SSD technologies, and a large decrease in price, solid state disks will surely replace conventional hard disks in the home computer; until they do, we’ll have to settle for the HD hybrid, a unique blend between the two methods. The hybrid drive uses flash memory as a high-speed cached for frequently accessed files that are rarely modified.

A hybrid drive combined with Vista’s ReadyDrive promises greater speed, decreased power consumption, improved reliability, and a faster boot time; however, hybrids are currently only known to be 100% compatible with Microsoft’s Vista operating system.

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4 Responses to “The pros and cons of Solid State Disks”

  1. Compgenius999:

    [i]“This is a security concern that is no concern with SSDs; a simple deletion of a file on a SSD will leave no residual data that can be recovered.”[/i]
    Wrong. Thanks to wear leveling, nothing is EVER overwritten or deleted until every other block on the drive is written to. Meaning, no security really unless you do a lot of passes over the drive..

  2. Compgenius999:

    I’m a douche bag

  3. Compgenius999:

    I have no idea how SSDs, or anything else works.

  4. lanh:

    Good article, nice explanations.

    I am skeptic about SSD leaving no traces though.

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