Solid State Drives and Hard Disk Drives

SSD vs HDD

Generally – on a $  per Gb basis –  SSDs (solid state drives) are around five times* the price of HDDs – so are the newer technologies and performance of the SSDs really worth that much extra?

For the purposes of this article, the term SSD will also include mSATA and M.2 (PCIe) flash drives (sometimes referred to as “blade” drives), which are becoming more popular and are commonly found in a wide range of Windows and Mac-based notebook computers.

*Based on cost per gigabyte in Australia.  At the time of writing (January 2017) one gigabyte of capacity in a HDD will cost you around seven to eight cents whilst for a solid state drive the cost is about 50 cents per gigabyte.  Put another way, a one terabyte HHD can now be purchased around the $75 (entry level drive), whilst for an entry level SDD a one terabyte drives are sold for around $450 to $500.

So Why Would a SSD be a Better Option than HDD?

In terms of function, an SSD does everything a hard drive does, but where a hard drive uses a metal platter with a magnetic coating to store your data, an SSD instead stores this on interconnected flash memory chips that retain the data even when there’s no power present.

Speed

The biggest boon of solid state drives is the faster speed.  SSDs due to their design are able to process? Read and write much quicker than hard disk drives.  With a solid state drive, your computer be it a laptop, desktop or Mac will boot (start-up) much quicker, open and run apps much faster as well as transferring files at a much more rapid speed.

Please note SSDs also include flash drives and the information in this article relates to both SSDs and flash drives.

Fragmentation

Fragmentation occurs only on HDDs. Well, not exactly.   On the subject of fragmentation and SSDs, many people will argue:

(1) SSDs don’t fragment, or

(2) there are no moving parts, so no problem, or

(3) an SSD is so fast, why bother?

SSDs shouldn’t be “defragmented” since that shortens lifespan, so is this a problem that impacts on SSDs or not?

Applications running on Windows do not talk directly to the storage device.  Data is referenced as an abstracted layer of logical clusters rather than physical track/sectors or specific NAND-flash memory cells.  Before a storage unit (HDD or SSD) can be recognized by Windows, a file system must be prepared for the volume.  This takes place when the volume is formatted and in most cases is set with a 4KB cluster size.

The cluster size is the smallest unit of space that can be allocated.  Too large of a cluster size results in wasted space due to over allocation for the actual data needed.  Too small of a cluster size causes many file extents or fragments.  After formatting is complete and when a volume is first written to, most or all of the free space is in just one or two very large sections.  Over the course of time as files of various sizes are written, modified, re-written, copied, and deleted, the size of individual sections of free space as seen from the NTFS logical file system point of view becomes smaller and smaller.

Since Windows lacks file size intelligence when writing a file, it never chooses the best allocation at the logical layer, only the next available.  Therefore SSDs do fragment at the logical Windows NTFS file system level.  This happens not as a function of the storage media, but of the design of the file system.

Fragmentation will result in the read speed of your drive decreasing over time.  Explained simply, your HDD works at optimal speed when the data is stored sequentially in continuous blocks.  As more and more information is stored on your drive it is no longer possible for the data to be stored sequentially.  This means the information becomes fragmented – that is stored in numerous different sections of the disk or platter surface.

The result of this is that the head has to move across the different segments to retrieve the data and this is what slows down the speed.  Whilst with technological improvements (being that the read-write algorithms have improved) this is not as big a problem as previously, it still occurs with HDDs.

Due to the different technology of SSDs this fragmentation does not impact on the speed of performance.  SSDs access information from the different cells simultaneously so fragmentation as such does not slow down the performance of an solid state drive.

Affordability

The price differential between SSDs and HDDs has declined in recent years.  However, as stated at the beginning of this article, for comparable storage space SSDs are can be up to five times the price of a hard disk drive.  Furthermore, if you need a large amount of storage space (say over 1 or 2 terabytes) then SSDs come with a pretty hefty price tag (usually around $450 or more for one terabyte).

The range of SSDs currently available is diverse with a wide range of different brands, capacities and performance. The price of these SSDs is not only dependent upon the capacity of the drive, but also on the reputation and reliability of the brand and their products, and the different technologies employed.  Performance is another factor and probably the one most people focus upon. This is also reflected in the price.

Design Improvements

In many newer desktop and notebook computers, SSDs are now common-place and integral to the design and function of the system. In addition to the more common 2.5 inch form factor, there are also those using an mSATA mini PCIe SSD card design, and the even newer M.2 SSD (a DIMM-like SSD flash storage device) in both SATA and PCIe variants, the latter of which is setting some new speed records for read/ write tasks.  These PCIe devices are found in many mid to upper-range notebook computers, and are standard in all current MacBook Air and MacBook Pro designs.

Some manufacturers have produced “hybrid” drives (referred to as “fusion” drives by Apple in their Mac products) in both 2.5 and 3.5 inch form factors, combining a hard drive’s large storage capacity with the performance of an SSD, at a price  slightly higher than that of a typical hard drive. The flash memory acts as a buffer for frequently used files, so your system has the potential for booting and launching your most important apps faster, even though you can’t directly install anything in that space yourself. In practice, hybrid drives offer some tangible benefits, but they are still more expensive and more complex than regular hard drives. They work best for people who need both lots of storage and fast boot times.

Durability (SSDs  vs  HHDs)

The great advantage that SSDs have over HDDs in terms of durability is that they are less likely to be damaged or fail should the drive be subject to subject to shock or impact from instances like being dropped on a hard (or not so hard) surface.  Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no moving parts and so can withstand a little more punishment.  They’re an ideal solution for devices that do a lot of travelling.

However, a word of caution. It may be more durable, but an SSD can still fail.  It may not have moving parts, but it does have electronic components and memory chips that could fail. While it might be able to resist failure from being dropped, it is just as vulnerable to something like a power surge or lightning strike.

HDDs are composed of moving mechanical parts that are highly susceptible to failure if subjected to shock or impact with a hard surface.  They are particularly vulnerable whilst in operation (ie. powered on) and immediately after use, even with the system turned off.

If you do experience a hard drive failure it might not end up being Total Hard Drive Failure. To be sure, you need to get your drive tested to assess the extent of the damage and to see whether data recovery may be possible.

You may also want to an assessment as to whether your drive can be replaced and your system restored to working order, including reinstallation of the operation system, the device drivers and applications that were running on the computer, including your emails accounts and settings.

In effect, you will need your computer to be restored as close as possible to its original state.   This can be  a very time consuming exercise and done in our workshop in Coorparoo, Brisbane. We’ll be happy to discuss your options, costs and time frame involved.

Noise & Heat

When in operation, SSDs are virtually silent as their function is not based on moving mechanical parts.  On the other hand, HDDs will usually emit an audible note – especially under load – and can be very noisy if they are a performance-oriented drive. HDDs also get hot and generate a lot of heat inside a case or enclosure.  Excessive heat and noise are indicators of a failing HDD.

Size

Most slimline notebooks and some slimline laptops are now manufactured to include solid state drives.  This is not only because of the speed advantage but also because SSDs can be manufactured to a much smaller size – the SATA 2.5 inch form factor is still the most common.

Generally, hard disk drives (particularly the 3.5 inch typically found in desktop computers) cannot compete in terms of size or form factor that is available to SSDs, particularly.  This is simply due to the different technology of the two drives, the rotary arm and spinning platters of the HDD cannot be shrunk down or made as slim to the same extent that the solid state drive can.

Thus with the continued trend of slimmer, lighter machines more and more notebooks and laptops will be available with solid state drives or flash drives rather than their older counterpart the HDD.

Conclusion

So, are HDDs still a better option than a SSD? Price is still the key factor when deciding whether a SSD or HDD is the best option for you.  Whilst SSD’s currently win in every aspect except price per Gb and storage capacity – for those who are looking for an affordable desktop or notebook Mac  or PC, then a HDD may still remains the best option for you.

For example, if you travel a great deal with your Mac or PC notebook and don’t require a large amount of storage then an SSD is very much worth considering.  Not only will your computer be able to withstand any rigours of travel but also will be much faster to boot, open applications and transfer data.

Can I Change my HHD for a SSD?

At Affordable Computer Repairs and Service we receive numerous requests from clients in Brisbane who request the replacement of their current HDD for the faster option of an SSD.  This upgrade to a SSD is often possible to do and may be an effective way of upgrading the performance of your older computer.

Upgrade Laptop to SSD?

If your laptop, notebook has a standard 2.5 inch disk it may be possible to replace that disk with a 2.5 inch SATA SSD.  If your desktop has a standard 3.5 inch disk then you may be able to replace it with a 2.5inch SATA SSD. If upgrading your motherboard, you will find that many mid and upper level models now feature an on-board PCIe socket for mSATA and M.2 SSDs, in addition to SATA and Express SATA connectors.

Will it Improve Performance?

For reasons outlined earlier, the answer is yes.  But there are other things you need to consider as well.  The benefits of using an SSD will be limited by the age of your computer, the CPU type and speed, the amount of RAM installed, the video/ graphics controller and your operating system.  Ideally, you will want to have a fresh/ new installation on your SSD rather than cloning your current hard drive if you want the full benefits of installing an SSD.

Upgrading your Mac with an SSD

For most Mac laptops built after 2012 (MacBook Air models from late-2010) your computer may already have a SSD and in this case, you have the option to upgrade to a larger capacity SSD.  This can be an expensive business.  A one terabyte SSD for example can set you back $600 or more and that is without the labour cost to switch the disk.

For MacBook and MacBook Pro computers built before 2012 the option to upgrade to a SSD is a straight-forward exercise.  The work that is needed for this is far less than for an iMac making it a more viable choice in terms of upgrading your Mac.

Upgrade iMacs SSDs

For 21.5 and 27 inch iMacs models (late-2012 onwards), the option to add a PCIe SSD or replace an existing HDD with a 2.5 inch SATA SDD is neither a practical nor cost-effective option – in our view.  These more recent iMac models are more difficult to disassemble and reassemble compared to their predecessors making it a costly job in terms of labour, in addition to the cost of the hard drive.

Their design is a deliberate attempt by Apple to make repair and the upgrade of components as difficult and prohibitive as possible, so that you will “up-spec” your system at time of purchase or replace the computer earlier in its life-cycle.

For older iMacs (models prior to 2012) the costs (particularly labour) are less.  However the benefit that you will obtain may not be that great due to the age of the other components, and the age of the iMac itself, which by year 4 post-purchase is often at the mid-point of its service life.

This is not to say that this can’t be done, so contact us to discuss this further so we can give you an honest opinion as to what the benefits are likely to be for your particular computer, the estimated cost and time involved to complete the upgrade to a SSD.

Affordable Computer Repairs and Service

We are a Brisbane computer repair business and happy to help you with your decision regarding SSDs vs HDDs or hybrid drives.  Please feel free to give us a call on 3397 1215 for some friendly advice and IT services at a very affordable rate.

Solid State Drives and Hard Disk Drives

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Affordable Computer Repairs and Service Brisbane