Hard Disk Drives versus Solid State Drives
What’s the Difference?
Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical
Cheaper per GB vs. More expensive per GB
Available relatively cheaply in large sizes vs. Large sizes get expensive, smaller sizes are cost effective
Slower boot-up times vs. Fast boot-up times
Slower read/write speeds vs. Faster read/write speeds, generally 3 to 4 times faster
Poor random read/write performance vs. Excellent random read/write performance
Reliability and durability is a concern vs. Extremely high reliability and durability
Power consumption relatively higher vs. Low power consumption, increasing laptop battery life
We’ve kept it simple for you above, but for the more curious and technologically inclined, here is a more detailed write-up. Solid state drives (SSDs for short) are now a current technology. Keep reading to learn more about them, and our opinions on this new technology of which our customers always value and enjoy hearing.
“Hard drive technology is old yet mature – it has been around since 1956.”
So, the picture above already speaks a thousand words. A small hard disk drive, of just 9mm thickness, housing a magnetic platter spinning at a rate of 5400rpm (sometimes 7200rpm). Some drives have two, with only 1mm or so distance between them while spinning at those speeds.
Have you ever heard your car engine when it’s revved at such a high rpm? And then you have a couple of reading heads flicking around on the platter’s surface (but not touching the platter itself) at a speed quicker than the human eye can register, reading and writing data from the platters while they are spinning at such a high rpm. A thin layer of air molecules separating the head and platter surface. The reading heads run off their own motor, and this motor is in action most of the time your computer is on.
You know where we’re going with this. It’s a marvel and a testament to our world’s engineering capabilities that this is possible in the first place. And then we ask ourselves, why did our hard drives fail? Why did they only last a few years, or even sooner? We should really be wondering how they work at all under the above circumstances.
But on the flip-side, many drives are out there that have been lucky to last several years and longer. The technology can stand the test of time but it all comes down to many other factors – usage patterns, quality of your drive batch (of which we’ll never really know), shakes and knocks to the drive at crucial pinpoint split-seconds when they may have been intensively reading/writing data.
Hard drive technology is old yet mature – it has been around since 1956. The concepts are now iron-clad. The manufacturing process is constantly changing, through its own challenges of driving down unit cost at a possible sacrifice to quality and potentially reliability. Newer hard drives of the past several years or so, are lasting less and less time before there are problems. Many customers nowadays are seeing failures within a year, but more commonly 2 to 3 years. Patterns are also emerging. Failures are more common with drives that need to house more than one magnetic platter (usually 750GB and bigger) and even more common with laptop sized 2.5″ drives. 1TB drives in the laptop form factor (2.5″) have had a poor failure rate over the last few years, with some hard disk manufacturers worse than others.
With new technology, comes new challenges.
We have a solution to this age-old technology. It’s available. It’s reached a level of maturity where it can be relied on by the most intensive of computer users. It’s not full-proof, and it still brings some relatively new challenges to the table. But we can leverage this solution to bring a whole new revamped age of computing to our life if done smartly.
Solid state drives have been around for several years, and the early iterations were poor – more of a trial run for manufacturers to see how they coped in the real world, away from their confines of controlled benchmarks and predictable usage patterns. Nowadays, they’re excellent, and a lot of the early issues are now dealt with and in many cases eradicated. The main one is ‘write endurance.’ The algorithms are complex, but we’ll hit on some of the basic concepts for you to get a better understanding.
To keep it simple, a chip from an SSD can only undergo a limited number of write cycles. A ‘write cycle’ is writing a bit or a byte of data to one of the cells inside the chip. A chip will have millions of cells. Each cell has a limited endurance, let’s say for example 2000 write cycles. After this has been reached, the cell will become bad and the SSD’s in-built controller will automatically segregate it off. What does this mean for us?
In real world terms, an average home consumer SSD will have a ceiling of say 75TBs of writes before it starts to lose write capacity. In real-world terms, that’s roughly 14GB of writes every day for 15 years. The average user, even if he/she were internet browsing and office application heavy, would get nowhere near that level daily. The SSD is likely to outlast the laptop, and possibly get migrated into another laptop. You see, SSDs have their own little processor, controller, and firmware. In the background, a process called ‘wear-leveling’ is occurring, and it’s distributing the writes evenly across all the chips within the SSD rather than letting it wear one chip at a time out first. This is one of the biggest advancements. It catapulted the lifespan of the later generations of SSDs. Cheaper SSDs have less endurance, but even with that in mind, average usage should see them lasting several years or longer. But putting all of this aside, the sheer performance that the SSD brings to the table is worth paying for alone, regardless of endurance or value per GB. We are talking about a new technology here – we can’t compare it to a traditional hard disk drive.
We also need to bear in mind that the technology has reduced in price phenomenally – as much as 400%. A 250GB SSD back in 2012 (2012 was roughly when manufacturers started to put the foundations in for the ‘wear-leveling’ and newer advancements that would allow SSDs to last) was around the £250 cost – £1 per GB. Some brands were even more – over £300 in cases. Nowadays (February 2017), we’re roughly looking at £80 to £90 for a mid-range 250GB SSD. There was a period in early 2016 when you’d be paying £60 and even as little as £56 if you were lucky at the right time. Since the EU Referendum and the Brexit vote in Summer 2016, and the forthcoming currency crisis with the GBP, we’ve had to watch SSDs and many other computer components increase in price again by 20 – 30% practically overnight. The biggest increase came when the GBP crashed in early October 2016. Things are steady now albeit at a higher cost than several months ago, but we’re not going to see much in reduction now until things change at the manufacturing end in the future. Thankfully other competitive brands cost less, and still offer a decent level of endurance and performance to the flagship brands.
If you are to be performing a lot of writes per day (productive work, database work, or just general shunting around of data on a daily basis), there are better enthusiast/professional grade SSDs out there. They can be purchased at a slightly higher cost and will have a much higher endurance, for example, 150TB of writes. You can get enterprise grade SSDs that have even greater endurance, and these are especially for server use but they cost significantly more. They’re not designed for the consumer world.
Benefits and trade-offs.
What does this mean for you? If we were to upgrade your laptop or computer from a hard disk drive to a solid state drive for its boot drive, you’d see a decrease in space. For example, if your computer had a 1TB hard disk, your storage will decrease to 250GB – this size would be the most economical option. A bigger SSD can be purchased if you require more storage, but the cost will multiply. Where hard drives are cheaper per GB the larger they get, SSDs increase in a linear fashion; a 500GB SSD can be upto twice the cost (more commonly, about 1.5 times the cost) of a 250GB SSD, and so forth.
However, you’d see all of the advantages listed above. Fast bootup. If your laptop/computer is an Intel® Core™ i3 or i5 (2nd generation or newer), it will utilise the newer SATA3 6GBps standard that all current SSDs employ, and you will see an instant snap to the computer. A boot-up time of between 10 to 15 seconds – newer laptops and computers seeing even lower. And this is all the way through into your operating system after everything has finished loading – notably sluggish anti-virus suites. And when you click an application to load, there is no waiting around. It’ll load. Fast. Almost instantly. After a day you’ll notice your productivity is much higher by many factors. You’ll get your routine tasks done faster, making time to do more.
The more you use it, you’ll start to realise that a lot of things you did that took a little longer before are taking a lot less time to do now. People delving into productivity and creative work will notice the difference instantly. Humongous software suites that’d take 20 to 30 seconds to load fully are now taking just a few seconds. Saving large video or image files in the region of several hundred megabytes or even gigabytes big, will no longer take minutes to do (and hang your computer up in the meanwhile). These files will be saved promptly within seconds and allow you to continue working.
You will notice that you don’t hear a whirring sound, and that very slight vibration you felt from the base of your laptop has also gone. Silence! Well, that is until the fan kicks in to cool the processor off.
You’ll also start to rely on your computer more and spend more time praising it rather than cursing it. Suddenly the money you spent on the upgrade will be forgotten about, and you’ll not be able to go back to a computer based on a hard disk again. When your family and friends use it, they’ll be in awe of its speed and wonder how it’s even possible – unless they’re SSD users themselves, of which they’ll praise you for joining the club!
And then there’ll be that time where you are watching a film on your laptop. CRASH….BANG….WALLOP…the laptop falls to the floor, and we’re expecting the operating system to have crashed and hung up. Oh wait! It’s still playing the film! Not even a glitch. And this is the big benefit of having no mechanics – there are no platters or reading heads to ever crash from a thud or a drop. The only damage suffered will be cosmetic.
Never stop keeping a backup of your data.
There are a few small things that you need to be aware of. Data recovery costs on an SSD drive are very costly. It’s a more competitive outlook with hard disk drives, and you’ll find that we can recover data from hard disks that are partially failing. This isn’t the case with SSDs. If they have a partial or electronic failure, any simple means of getting your data off are simply not possible. Important – keep your critical data backed up. You should be keeping backups regardless of your storage medium. Always maintain a minimum of two copies of your critical data at all times.
Use a USB pendrive, an external hard drive or better still an external solid state drive (we can construct one for you) to store your backup on. Or if you’re savvier, keep everything backed up in a cloud account of your choice. Google® Drive, Microsoft® OneDrive, Dropbox – take your pick. There are many other alternatives out there too. We can of course help you with any of this so if you need assistance with setting up a backup solution, let us know.
I’m ready to upgrade!
Excellent. Get in touch with us via our enquiry form (use the Upgrades option) or contact us directly and we will give you a quote after discussing your requirements. The only warning we will give you, is that this is a one-way road. Once you’ve felt the experience, you will want an SSD in every computer or laptop you own.