Upgrading from a regular hard drive to a solid state drive (SSD) is the single best upgrade to improve your computer’s performance. While other computer parts such as the processor, RAM and graphics card are all important components, the real bottleneck in today’s PCs (and Macs) is the hard drive. The hard disk drive (HDD) has been around for half a century and the technology is aging. Even though they are much faster today than 50 years ago, even the latest and fastest hard drive has no chance of competing with a modern solid state drive. But what is a solid state drive, exactly, and how does it differ from a regular hard drive?

Solid State Drives vs Hard Disk Drives

As the name suggests, the solid state hard drive contains no moving parts and consists of flash memory units called cells that can house data without the presence of electrical current. Moreover, the solid state drive reads and writes data considerably faster and as opposed to mechanical drives it has virtually no access time (the time it takes for the mechanical arm to reach the correct location on the spinning disk). A solid state hard drive has many advantages over a traditional rotating platter hard drive;

Massive Speed Improvements

The main reason that people upgrade is the incredible performance boost. Your operating system will start much faster, as will all your applications and games. The time it takes for every computer task related to reading or writing to the disk – and that includes most of them one way or the other – is significantly reduced, resulting in a much faster user experience. We are not talking about a small improvement in overall performance here, but a very noticable one.

Although performance differs a great deal between different manufacturers and models, it is not difficult to find an SSD replacement for your laptop hard drive that is five times as fast. For desktop PCs the difference is even greater, thanks to the option to use PCIe-based drives.

Shock Resistance

Since the solid state drive contains no moving parts, there are fewer possibilities of damage to the unit. The moving parts of the traditional plate hard drive are cylindrical disks with arms between them for accessing data similar to a CD or DVD but are able to hold a lot more memory. In contrast, the solid state hard disk does not have to rely on a movable arm to access various places on the disk, allowing it to not only access the memory faster, but also removes the risk of the plates becoming unbalanced or the metal arms scratching the disks.

Undoubtably, anyone who has used a computer for a significant amount of time has experienced that heart-sickening sound of a hard drive becoming unbalanced and emitting the horrible scratching sound of the hard drive access arm scraping against the memory plate. The solid state disk eliminates this risk. Solid state drives are also able to withstand the shock of dropping or other unintentional abuse that hard disk drives could not take.

Until now, dropping a laptop, a desktop, or a tablet PC that contains a standard hard drive could spell death for your personal data. Solid state drives allow devices to be much more robust and able to withstand a good deal of shock without losing valuable data. Solid state drives can be used in many situations outside of PC technology where storage of information is crucial in difficult environments. From airplane black boxes to digital camera memory to laptops; solid state drives are an integral part of our ability to retain data securely today.

However, not even SSDs last forever–eventually the cells that make up the storage space wear out. Newer drives have technology in place to compensate for this (wear leveling), but the number of times that data can be written and erased on any drive is limited. For the average user this doesn’t matter much since the drive will usually outlive the other computer parts anyway, but for servers and other demanding machines it has to be taken into consideration.

Pros and Cons with Upgrading to an SSD

There are also downsides with switching to SSD storage technology, the big one being cost per gigabyte. Prices have decreased quite a lot recently, but really roomy solid state drives are still very expensive. Most users trade storage space for performance, and even then the drives cost more than a reasonably large hard drive. After trying an SSD, however, very few users will want to go back to a regular HDD.