The world has not known a better option for storing data since IBM introduced the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) in 1956. HDD is a 60 year old technology. While we should owe respect to the old, time has taught us to pave the way for the new. The enhancements you shall receive for upgrading into a solid state drive (aka SSD) are not at all minor, for its revolutionary random access speeds, its multi-tasking prowess, and its outstanding durability and reliability are worth taking a closer look and analysis. In this read, we shall introduce Solid State Drive in comparison to its old counterpart Hard Disk Drive in a simple analogical way for those who are not computer geeks.
SSD—The New Storage Subsystem King
Although both drives work on storing and locating data and might look a bit similar in their outer appearance, they have major different characteristics. For example, an HDD relies on the feature of magnetism to store data on a rotating platter. A read/write head floats above the spinning platter reading and writing data. The speed of the spinning motion determines the speed of the HDD performance. Today, laptop drives spin at either 5400 RPM (Revolutions per Minute) or 7200RPM, though some server-based platters spin at up to 15,000 RPM.
However, the Solid State Drive (SSD) is the major first leap in the storage technology. It is a total transformation in computing experience. Think of an SSD as an oversized and more sophisticated version of the humble USB memory stick where information is stored in microchips. To read and write data, an SSD does not need a spinning mechanical arm, it rather uses an embedded processor called a control. It has a NAND-based flash memory that is characterized by being non-volatile – not forgetting what was stored on it.
Access Time and Latency
SSDs are over 100 times faster than HDDs in accessing data, including data seek time and latency. SSDs dramatically outperform HDDs in the aspect of data access times, which can be defined by the delay between the request and completion of a read or write operation. Thanks to using integrated circuits instead of physical spinning platters, SSDs’ performance is consistent and fast and it can access any location with lighting speed.
HDDs, however, have a very fragmented performance which affects its speed in locating the requested data. A modern SSD boasts random data access times of 0.1ms or less, whereas mainstream 2.5” consumer HDDs take about 10~12ms or more.
Imagine you are inside a hyper market; seeking to purchase the ingredients of a cake. You will have to collect all the ingredients of the cake. Although you have everything written on a slip of paper, you will have to visit each section to pick the item required. You will have a trip towards the fridges to pick up the eggs and milk, then head over to the sweeteners section to pick sugar, get to the section of flour to have the needed flour and move to the vegetables section to pick carrots if you desire to make a carrot cake. Such physical movement to walk and pick up your items shall consume quite a bit of time. Now, imagine if miraculously all the ingredients of the cake existed in one place. No movement is required. A whole lot of effort and time is saved.
Through this analogy, you can see how an SSD is so special. While with an HDD, you will have to wait for a mechanical drive head to swing into place, there is no need whatsoever to do this with your SSD, which aptly transforms the responsiveness of your computer.
Furthermore, latency advantages take the side of SSD. Latency is the delay between an input or command and the desired output. It can be visualized in your attentiveness and speed in the morning before and after coffee. An HDD’s speed is more akin to your pre-coffee morning self, while an SSD would represent how you feel after your coffee. How long it takes to actually locate a piece of data directly affects how fluid the user experience is.
The performance of the machine enhances to a great extent under usual and heavy load, given the incredible access time. The ability to access any drive location without a performance penalty means you can have more applications open at the same time with less lag. Functions like boot time, shutdown, application loads, web browsing, application installations and file copies receive an overall improvement. Forget about the spinning hourglass, as you will be seeing it less frequently and for much less time, let alone the speed in opening and closing your laptop without frustrating delays. The “sleep” and “wake” features shall work the way they were designed to be. These are only performance benefits resulting from the sequential and random performance capabilities of an SSD; allowing for quick file copies and smoother performance when working with large files, like videos.
Random performance, measured in Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS), is yet the most important performance metric for SSDs. A large portion of storage activity is made up of 4K random writes, a metric that measures how well a drive will perform when writing small chunks of random data (e.g. changing a small piece of a Word or text file and then saving the changes). However, it is not copying large files or installing applications that takes up the most time from users. In fact, multitasking on the one hand does including email, web-surfing, listening to music, etc. On the other hand, working with various work and media files consumes a considerable amount of time. Such tasks are influenced by IOPS, which is improved by 200x in an SSD over a traditional HDD. For this reason, prominent SDD manufacturers put a heavy focus on random performance when designing their SSD lineup, offering users industry leading Random Performance of up to 100,000 IOPS. Such performance is what each user has been dreaming and opting for.
With SDDs, the amount of data stored does not matter, they will deliver consistent performance anyway. However, HDDs can suffer a performance decrease of over 50% when full or containing a lot of fragmented data. For the most part, the physicality of the disks cause such a problem. While they are able to sequentially write to the space along the outer area of the platter (where there is more surface area to cover) in the early days of a drive’s life, they function less efficiently with more data storage because the outer sectors fill with data and the drive has to write to progressively smaller sectors, which naturally store less data. Thus, additional movement is required to switch to the next available sector if more space is required. With extensive use, date becomes fragmented which forces the mechanical drive head to jump among inner and outer sections of the platter, negatively affecting performance even further.
* For example, if the sequential performance of an HDD is 160MB/s R/W, it is guaranteed per se only for the initial, clean state. After extended use, such performance may decline to around 70-80MB/s
Durability is a crucial issue nowadays, with everyone having to move about with his electronics around. For some people, they cannot part with their devices that are needed for the completion of their business.
In this aspect, bumps and blows can greatly affect the arm and needle of an HDD. Comparing an SSD to an HDD resembles comparing a record player to a CD player to and MP3 player. An MP3 wins all 3 in terms of durability. It is the best to carry along in trips and going about. Any time the complexity of mechanical parts is involved, there is an increased risk of damage to one of the components. It is very important to choose that which won’t take significant abuse. An SSD can withstand more than 40 times the vibration (20G) than an HDD (0.5G) and up to 1500G of shock (compared to less than 350Gs for a typical HDD), which secures your data as you go. It also means you can watch a video on a bumpy train or plane ride without worrying about skipping frames. Laptops, for example, are a lot more travel friendly as such.
Cassette tapes and CDs are good examples. Compared to their digital counterparts (the CD), cassette tapes were drastically more prone to failure. The physical tape mechanism of the tapes make them more prone for getting stuck, tangled, and breaking; and the process of finding the song you wanted to listen to was tedious at best. However, a CD overcomes all the above. Not only does its physical shape survives breaks, but it also presented a more flexible user-friendly use. The same can be said about the leap from HDDs to SSDs. Having no mechanical components means fewer parts to wear out and fail.
Some SSDs enjoy a Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) of up to 1.5 million hours for consumer drives, high-quality consumer HDDs offer a MTBF of only 0.5-0.7 million hours. Some types have the lowest Annual Failure Rates (AFR) thanks to their perfect quality and their fully automated advanced bin sorting processes.
The life of an HDD is quite exhausting; having to run at full speed to get things done. It must spin up its magnetic platter to full velocity, consuming a considerable amount of energy in the process. Add to this, the mechanical read head must swing into place continuously to locate the correct data. Such complicated movement is totally avoided in an SSD. It can access any data it wishes while consuming only minimal power. Some SSDs draw an average of only 0.127 watts of power in operation, whereas an HDD requires an average of 1.75 watts. Looking for power outlets is minimal with SSDs because they complete their tasks with such incredible speed, and spend more of their time in idle mode than an HDD (at which an 840 Series consumes only 0.046W compared to an HDD at 0.8W). This means a great improvement if battery life and less hustle to keep your device connected to power.
Bringing it all together
Durability, reliability and quickness are a few merits you gain by shifting to SSDs. Forget all about the noisy sounds of ticking, waiting minutes to have your orders done or the amount of failures you have had with your HDD. You should also care less about having your data lost when you travel. SSDs further promise a faster write/read time along with an extremely quick boot up, file copying and a lot other functions. Your computer is more responsive; not suffering the fragmentation of data stored on it. Finally, SSDs save much power compared to their old counterparts.
SSDs promise you a world of new smoother technology. The dramatic changes you shall experience are indeed incomparable and amazing. In fact, users are wishing more for optimum computing performance, that is why SSDs are on their way to becoming the mainstream, standard storage mechanism, especially for laptops given the advantages they present for a mobile device. SSDs provide substantial benefits over traditional hard drives. Get the most out of your laptop or desktop computer with a solid state drive.