Solid Performance


Q: I am planning to purchase a new computer, and I’ve heard that solid-state drives are much faster and use less energy but are more expensive. In your opinion, is the higher cost of a solid-state drive justified?


A: Solid-state drives (SSDs) use flash memory and have proven to be very fast. Because they have no moving parts, and hence require no time to spin up to full speed, they deliver data almost instantaneously, even if the data is significantly fragmented. Compared with hard-disk drives (HDDs), SSDs are faster, lighter, quieter and less susceptible to vibrations, shock or magnetic interference. They also are far more energy-efficient.


The drawbacks to SSDs are that they tend to have a limited life span, performance can degrade over time, and they cost about five to 10 times more than traditional HDDs. While HDDs typically cost 10 to 20 cents per gigabyte, SSDs typically cost about $1 to $2 per gigabyte. Therefore, price and longevity are factors you should consider.


Recently, hybrid drives have emerged that combine the reliability of HDDs with the speed of SSDs through SSD caching. With these devices, a built-in SSD caches data before it is written to the hard disk and (at times) anticipates and pre-fetches data before the computer needs it. The results are reliable HDDs with faster performance. These hybrid drives cost about 25 to 50 cents per gigabyte, and to find one, simply look for drives that include SSD caching. I recommend 16 GBs or more.


A computer’s read/write activities represent the slowest function in a computer and are typically where performance bottlenecks occur; therefore, it does make sense to pay attention to hard-drive performance. However, the type of performance gains offered by SSD and hybrid drives are more noticeable when working with heavy transaction applications such as accounting system and ERP applications, or larger amounts of data. If your current computer is operating fast already, you probably will not notice significant performance gains offered by the more expensive SSD and hybrid drives.


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