SSD versus HDD – do you need one?

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are fast making their mark in the IT space. They are smaller, lighter, faster, more power efficient and, with no moving parts, more robust and reliable than traditional hard drives.

June 12, 2013

By Zandré Rudolph, Retail Manager at Drive Control Corporation (DCC) for Crucial SSDs

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are fast making their mark in the IT space. They are smaller, lighter, faster, more power efficient and, with no moving parts, more robust and reliable than traditional hard drives. While the capacity of SSDs (64 -512GB) is significantly lower than that of HDDs and they cost about five times more, SSDs continue to grab more market share in both the 2.5 and 3.5 inch formats. They are finding a very welcome home with niche users.

SSD fans are typically mobile workers, gamers and users of data and/or graphics intensive applications. There are a number of attractions for these users. The most notable is that all the benefits that come with the non-volatile NanD flash memory of the SSD. This is the same kind of memory found on mobile and portable devices and on your desktop PC’s flash drive.

With no moving parts, SSDs offer instant-load performance which translates to faster boot times, faster application loading times, and better system responsiveness. SSDs are also more rugged, reliable and stable than traditional magnetic hard drives, shaking up or dropping a mobile device with an SSD may leave you with a broken screen, but your data will be intact. It’s what you want when you are on the road, need to present sales information to a client without start-up delays, crunch a huge amount of data or edit video footage in the field or from a remote location.

Read and write speeds of SSDs vary by capacity, model and brand but users can expect to reach up to 500 Megabytes per Second (MB/s) write speeds and read speeds of up to 260 MB/s on a 512GB Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) 3 model. A 128 GB SATA 3 SSD may have write speeds of only 175MB/s. On a SATA 6 512GB SSD however, you could get read speeds of up to 500MB/s.

In order to understand how the speeds differ and the performance benefits of SSD over traditional HDD, it is necessary to take a step back and clarify the difference between the two hard drive technologies. A traditional HDD features a platter or disk with a moving arm with magnetic heads. SSD technology has no moving parts and features a far smaller footprint.

The speed of a traditional HDD is measured by the rotations per minute which illustrates the speed at which the drive’s disk spins. For example, low-end HDDs read approximately 100 MB/s and write speeds of approximately 40 MB/s. Conversely, a low-end SSD hard drive features read speeds of approximately 200 MB/s and write speeds of approximately 100 MB/s. This is significantly faster than traditional HDD.

Unfortunately the relative scarcity of NanD flash memory is why SSD’s cost so much. Production capacity is unlikely to meet demand in the next decade, according to industry sources so while costs are coming down a little, there will be no fast drop. At present, you can expect to pay about R5 000.00 for a 512GB SSD, and about R1 000.00 for a 500GB HDD.

The big trade-off is capacity. The maximum SSD capacity is now 512GB, nothing near the 3TB territory that HDDs are approaching. There are some compromises to be made and many are doing so, using the 3.5” SSDs. All SSD’s only come in a 2.5” form factor and one would need a 3.5” bracket to install it into a desktop PC for targeted applications and processes. With installation as easy as ghosting the current HDD onto the SSD and dropping it in, it is a no brainer for those that can make productive use of the speed and processing capacity of the SSD.

For those who want a fast start-up on their desktop PCs, e.g., gamers, the 2.5” SSD with a 3.5” bracket is installed and used to boot up the PC. In this instance the Operating System (OS) and key applications that demand fast response times loaded on the PC and the bulk of other data and applications are stored on an accompanying HDD. The same setup can be used by graphic design professionals, video editors and Computer-Aided Design (CAD) users of data intensive applications with the SSD dramatically increasing the speed of workflow by being able to speed up processing and file transfer.

The good news is that no moving parts also makes the SSD about 20% lighter on power consumption, which is great if you are working on battery life. It’s also quieter. No moving parts also means there’s no mechanical wear on components, increasing the relative life of the drive.

While still too expensive for mass consumption, the SSD clearly has a role to play in the modern computing realm. BMI data confirms the SSD’s growing popularity with HDD sales reported as flat while SSD sales are increasing sharply quarter on quarter. SSDs now also ship standard in portable devices such as ultrabooks and small format notebooks.

You know you need a SSD if you want to:

  • Push the power button on your laptop or PC and have it boot almost immediately?
  • Load applications (or games) almost instantly?
  • Increase your multitasking capabilities?
  • Reduce the weight of your laptop, increase your system’s battery life and fool-proof your data against slips, bumps, falls, and other travel accidents?