Daily Archives: May 9, 2012

To SSD, or not to SSD?

Last year, my laptop died.  Rather than replace it, I opted for upgrading my desktop PC to make it gaming-capable, among other things, as it tends to be far cheaper and is much, much easier to upgrade when components go on sale.  At the time, I did the bulk of the upgrades, but I didn’t get new hard drives, as they were still functional and I didn’t think they were as important to spend extra cash on when I could put that money into a new processor or RAM.  So, since that time, I’ve been using a previous-generation hard drive on my next-generation motherboard.

The drive I was using was 160 GB, so not exactly a large capacity to work with.  As lots of stuff is moving toward cloud-based storage, and as we have a 400 GB external hard drive, 160 GB was still enough to do most things, though it felt “cramped” at times.  Hard drives are relatively cheap things to upgrade, where you can get a 1 terabyte hard drive (that’s 1000 GB) for about $100, and frequently cheaper.  However, that upgrade would give me all kinds of capacity, but not a huge jump in “speed.”

There are a variety of reasons for this, but part of it is that traditional hard drives actually have spinning parts, much like a record player.  As an illustration, in the image above, you can see the compact disc-looking thing, and what also looks like a needle.  Obviously, the drive’s operation is far more complicated than “it’s just like a compact disc,” but in many ways, that’s really all it’s doing.  Bigger and faster, but the same basic concept (well, and without lasers…).

Enter the “solid state drive,” or “SSD.”  Unlike a regular hard drive, this one has no moving parts.  In fact, it works much more similarly to the SD card you put in your camera.  For this reason, these guys tend to be fast in comparison with a traditional drive.  However, the cost is also far higher when in a “price per gigabyte” paradigm.  The highest volume SSD I can find sits at 960 GB, and is running $3,150 right now.

In order to run Windows and an array of programs (comfortably), you need over 100 GB, and then a second drive to store your pictures, videos, music, documents, and so on.  Thus, when this 120 GB drive from Mushkin hit $100, I was ready to take the plunge.  $100 for 120 GB was my “benchmark” price for such a thing, when it would be worth it to spend the cash on a low-capacity device when I could get 1 TB in a traditional drive for the same money.

After some hiccups concerning the cable I was using, I finally got the thing installed this past Sunday, up and running with Windows 7 Ultimate, a variety of games and “useful” programs, and a formatted 160 GB traditional hard drive (my old one) to be used exclusively for media storage.  In running a Windows-based test on my various components, where the old hard drive was definitely limiting in my overall performance, now my drive is the fastest thing in there, and my processor is what’s lagging (though not my much).  The computer boots up and is ready to use in about 20 sec, which is far faster than the minutes it used to take.

Overall, I’m a believer.  Where people used to say “add some RAM to ‘pep up’ that old computer,” the SSD is, increasingly, what people are going to suggest.  For $100, you can improve your computer’s speed to a ridiculous degree, turning it into the speed demon it once was when you first bought it.