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Solid State Drive Buyer's Guide

Is SSD For You?

 Let’s recap. What are the advantages of SSD over HDD?

1. Performance. Even if limiting our discussion to MLC drives, SSD offers dramatically faster seek/access times, faster read times, and usually faster writes. One of the anecdotes you hear time and again from SSD users is that Windows boot-ups and application loads are many several times faster with SSDs than HDDs, and benchmark testing bears this out. But you won’t see this fact reflected in conventional drive sepecifications.


2. Lower energy consumption. With no moving parts, SSDs require less power to operate. This also results in less heat output.

3. Reliability. Again, with no moving parts, the odds of component failure within the drive are greatly diminished with SSD.

4. Silence. SSDs should generate no noise whatsoever.

5. Less weight. We didn’t touch on this previously, but it’s another advantage for mobile users. SSDs weigh substantially less than equivalent hard drives, particularly if you get the low-end kind without casings. When it’s your back and shoulder on the line, every ounce counts.

And what are SSD’s leading problem spots?

1. Cost. There’s no getting around the fact that SSD still costs way more per gigabyte than hard disk and will keep on costing more for the foreseeable future.

2. Capacity. It remains to be seen if density advances in transistor technology will outpace density advances in magnetic media. Both still have substantial road maps in front of them. For the near-term, anyway, hard drives will maintain a sizable capacity advantage.

3. Endurance. Early issues with cell cycles and poor wear leveling are now fading away. We could continue to see spots of poor quality control on this front, especially in low-end products, but expect longevity to continue to improve as time goes on. Already, the average SSD endurance will likely far outstrip its useful life in an everyday PC.

Intevitably with SSDs, we come back to cost per gigabyte, so let’s see where today’s market stands. At the high-end of the MLC market, let’s take OCZ’s 120GB Vertex Turbo for $549. That’s $4.58 per gigabyte on a drive that specs sequential reads of up to 270 MB/sec and writes of up to 200 MB/sec. (Sustained writes reputedly hit 120 MB/sec.) At the other end of the spectrum, we have something like Kingston’s SSDNow V-Series. The 64GB 2.5" model now sells for $139, yielding $2.17 per gigabyte. That’s half the price-per-gig, but we also realize less than half the performance. Kingston specs the starter drives in the V-Series with 100 MB/sec sequential reads and 80 MB/sec sequential writes. Keep in mind that these are theoretical numbers; factors such as Windows boot-up may prove inordinately faster.

For comparison, we might look at a middle-of-the-roach HDD such as Seagate’s 500GB Barracuda 7200.12, currently selling for $55, or $0.11 per gigabyte. As you can see, even the cheapest SSDs have a long way to go before approaching cost parity with hard disk technology.