SSD: why buy it and why not?

 

Well, SSDs (Solid State Drives) have several advantages over the typical HDD. We’ll start with a summary:

  • Speed. This is the main reason you should consider an SSD. Random access and sequential data transfer rates are not only very high for the common use, but also compared to a typical fast HDD. Accessing and manipulating files operations are generally much faster: OS boot times, file reading / writing / deleting and so on. It comes for a price though.
  • Higher performance in parallel work scenarios. When doing multiple operations concurrently, an SSD will generally do much better than an HDD. For example.
  • Noise is practically zero for the humans among us.
  • Power consumption is better than 7200RPM HDD which you can sometimes find in a laptop as a default component or an upgrade. Also, since many operation are completed faster, the power consumption is reduced more.
  • Less prone to mechanical problems, like in the case of the HDD where the machanism of the data plates and the reading needle can cause some kinds of problems.

 

The most important for the average gamer and laptop users in general, is the speed of the SSD in everyday use. Its random access rates coupled with its fast data transfer rates (even in low budget SSDs) are significantly improved over HDDs. Thanks to the nature of the technology and the firmware AI, data is accessed much faster compared to an HDD which makes many operations finish much quicker, busy time lower and overall responsiveness much higher, especially when many operations are at work in parallel (web-server or multi-user server, for example). Here are some graphs from Anandtech comparing that latest and fastest VelociRaptor to the Intel SSD 320 160GB, which is even not one of the fastest on the market today – generally these graphs mean that in realistic scenarios of light or heavy loads, the SSD has a very good advantage over even faster HDDs.

One such kind of operation is reading / writing  / deleting of small files, like in the case of loading the OS. The booting times of Windows OS, for example, are much lower, even when comparing the velociRaptor to a range of SSDs from 2009. Game loading should be faster in most cases too, but that is not really important.  Folder scanning, file searching and more such operations your laptop will be much more responsive and a great feeling of becoming one with your laptop will fill you. File copying operations. In case you do a lot of file copying like operations, an SSD will have the upper hand here too, almost by default.

Related to that – file swapping. The OS swaps data from the fast RAM to the HDD/SSD, especially if you don’t use something for a long time (like unused browser tabs) and when you open the application again it a bit sluggish for several second because it takes time to load it again to the RAM. If you are one of those people that open a lot of applications, tabs and windows and just keep it there, you know what I mean and – again – this is even more pronounced when using programs that usually make heavy use of files, like Photoshop and Premiere, as follows.

In the case of software that make a heavy use of files, like Photoshop and especially video manipulating software like Premiere, which loads and manipulate files almost constantly. Premiere itself, for instance, creates and use a lot of preview files and the more complex and bigger the project, the more tasking these operations will be – you don’t want the cpu to render your project from the start each time because it is slow and annoying and makes the whole system much slower.

On top of all these, the performance under a heavy load of operations is considerably faster too and the benchmarks confirm that. Even if you are a casual gamer, when doing a lot of storage work concurrently, like file transferring,  web surfing, some program that runs in the background, even gaming, the SSD has a big advantage – you have to wait less for programs. This would be also very noticeable in the server scenario: Running a lot of concurrent operations that make use of the storage, reading and writing constantly, opening and closing photo/video software and so on, will make your typical HDD suffer. SSDs, however, are more suited to this kind of work as they are less prone to the location and arrangement of the data on the disk. Remember that it happens in practice even in the common everyday use – a lot of opened browser tabs and quick browsing habits alongside OS background operations (like swapping) and some software instances that run that make use of the HDD/SSD.

Note that the SSD won’t really add to the frame rates in game or to be more exact – if it helps you significantly, you should start worry as the game shouldn’t use the HDD/SSD that much.

About power consumption – generally, SSDs also consume less power compared to HDDs, but when you compare the typical laptop’s 5400RPM HDDs, the differences are less pronouned. However, remember that the SSD will finish the job faster and will return to an idle state quicker. Anyway, unless you need any extra battery running times, it shouldn’t be your main factor for purchasing an SSD, in my opinion.

 

So, if SSDs are so much better, why bother with an HDD anyway?

There are several reasons.

First and most important – the price. Speaking of storage per price solely, the best rate you’ll get with an SSD is around 0.5$ per GB at best, as of the writing of these lines. With an HDD, the price can get as low as 0.035$-0.05$ per GB more or less, which is more than ten times better (like this or this). So if you are looking for more storage mainly and not superfast performance, the HDD is the right path and not the SSD – this would be the case of most users. However, as time goes on, the prices are getting lower and lower.

Second reason is, that most of the time you don’t really need it for gaming. If you are buying a gaming laptop, after the game is loaded, the SSD won’t help you much. So, if your budget is limited, better save the money or use it for something else (like getting better gaming performance..) – keep that in mind.

Third reason is that the SSD performance reduced with use, especially with real heavy use, over time. That’s not that of a problem with newer SSDs for the common user and there are ways of dealing with it named: TRIMSECURE ERASE and keeping enough space free on your SSD. This is not a thing you need to worry about as such, especially if you are using your SSD lightly and keep a lot of space free, but if you expect you’ll install an OS, get ape on your SSD and see the same very high performance no matter what – you are wrong. HDDs have similar problems, too.

These are the main reasons, in my opinion, abd just to make it clear – if SSD prices were much closer to an HDD or all you need is some place for your OS and some specific software, an SSD will be a better choice. No question there.

We’ll talk about lifespan of an SSD in another article, but it’s not an issue unless you are using consumer SSDs for really heavy duty servers, for example, and even then it’s pretty ok. There is a lot of info about this spilled over the web and one good article is this one from Anandtech.

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