A Solid State Drive or SSD is truly an amazing piece of hardware. While a bit heavy on the pocket compared to regular hard drives, it makes up for it in the performance department. Standard hard drives continue to use movable parts which make the process of storing and finding data a slow exercise. Constituents like RAM and CPU have to wait while the hard drive does its part. In a hard drive, the data is stored on disks or platters that need to turn on a spindle, and this is achieved by employing a motor. Then a head or several heads turn over the platters to retrieve the data. All this makes for a slow, noisy process.

The SSD has cut the seek time significantly; they practically eliminate the problem since the data is almost instantly accessible on Flash memory modules instead of on a spinning platter. Reading and writing speeds are also considerably faster – standard 2.5-inch drives can easily be five times as fast as their mechanical counterparts, and PCIe-based drives even faster.

SLC vs. MLC

SSDs make use of different kinds of NAND Flash Memory chips. There are primarily two kinds of NAND flash modules being used currently. The Single Level Cell (SLC) is capable of storing one bit per cell and the Multi Level Cell (MLC) stores two bits per cell.

MLC are the most common and affordable variant; it is much cheaper to produce and has a shorter life span than SLC. For the average user the difference is hardly noticeable, since an MLC-based drive is likely to last for years and outlive computer. However, for servers and other extremely disk-intensive applications, SLC is the safer choice.

SSD Controllers/Processor

The speed of the drive and its dependability are to a large extent determined by the controller (sometimes also call the SSDs processor). For one, they are in charge of controlling how the drive performs over time by using wear leveling algorithms such as TRIM in Windows 7, which distributes the data evenly across the drive, making sure that specific parts of the drive do not wear out ahead of time.

New controllers such as the SandForce SF-1200 are capable of reading speeds up to 280MBps and writing speeds up to 270MBps. Drives that are compatible with the SATA 3 6Gbps interface may be even faster, but this also requires that the computer supports this technology. The development of SSDs is centered on these controllers and newer versions emerge every few months. So before investing make sure to get the latest information on what is available.

Pros and Cons

The main issue with an SSD is the space; the more you require the higher the price, and significantly so. When compared with the standard hard drive, solid state drives are still much more expensive in terms of cost/GB. But unless you have high storage requirements and can only use a single drive, the positive factors far outweigh the negative in terms of overall performance benefits such as significantly improved boot time, application/game load times and startup and file copying.

For example, programs like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Power Point are loaded twice as fast. Virus scan times are cut by half. Another plus point is that SSDs use less energy than regular HDDs and add to the battery life of your laptop. Since data is almost constantly read from or written to the drive in a modern operating system, multi-tasking is also considerably improved. Unlike the HDD, the SSD also handles shocks and vibrations well, and temperature changes do not affect it much.

Is such a large investment to upgrade justified? Well, if you value overall system performance, then an SSD is the single best upgrade you can apply to a modern PC or Mac. The downside is that you usually have to trade storage space for speed – at least in laptops where you can only use a single drive. For desktops, another option is to buy a small size SSD, which is a little cheaper, and use it for the operating system and your most important applications and games, while using a secondary hard drive for passive storage.