What is a Solid State Drive in a Laptop?

What is a Solid State Drive in a Laptop

Today we’re making it clear what is a Solid State Drive in a laptop. A Solid State Drive, commonly known as SSD, is a type of PC storage without mechanical components. It is a new generation of storage devices and a substitute for your traditional mechanical Hard Disk Drive (HDD).

By using an SSD, when performing any task, the waiting time is dramatically reduced, even on cheaper drives. Anything you load on it will perform much quicker.

The HDD is by far the slowest part of any computer system, even the faster ones using SATA interfaces. Your processor can handle billions of cycles a second, but it often spends a lot of time waiting for your drive to feed it data.

It is easily the weakest point of any machine when relating to processing speed. There is no other hardware component as slow as a regular HDD.

That’s why a quick Solid State Drive makes all the difference in a computer’s performance and its usability.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a Solid State Drive on your computer?
    1. What is a Solid State Drive and is it the latest technology you can get?
    2. Cost of Solid State Drives
      1. Evolution of the Solid State Drive prices over time
    3. What does Solid State Drive Mean
    4. What does a Solid State Drive do? What is a Solid State Hard Drive used for?
  2. Advantages of a Solid State Drive
    1. Is a Solid State Drive Better
      1. Does Solid State Drive make computers faster?
      2. Why is Solid State Drive Better
        1. Improved Performance
        2. No Noise
        3. Better Reliability
        4. Energy Efficiency
  3. Different Types of SSDs
    1. Types of Storage Memory
  4. Solid State Drive vs Hard Drive
  5. Solid State Drive vs Flash Storage
    1. eMMC vs SSD comparison
  6. In Conclusion

What is a Solid State Drive on your computer?

The SSD has a semiconductor memory and stores data on flash memory chips, much like a smartphone, a memory card, or a USB drive. It uses nothing but integrated circuits. As a result, it’s able to read and write data much faster than a mechanical hard drive.

On the other hand, the traditional spindled Hard Disk Drive (HDD) as you know it has one or more spinning disks with reading and writing heads attached to a mechanical arm which is known as the actuator. Even the cheapest entry-level SSD is at least sometimes as fast as a conventional mechanical hard drive.

What is a Solid State Drive and is it the latest technology you can get?

Solid State Drives might seem cutting-edge modern but are actually fairly old technology. They were introduced by IBM during the 70s and have been around for decades in various forms. As their cost was so prohibitive, these drives were only used in supercomputers and ultra-high-end machines.

Throughout the 2000s, the cost of flash memory started to fall considerably, and by the end of the decade, the first Solid State Drives were making inroads in the personal computer market. The use of SSDs has been particularly driven by the growing usage of applications that are demanding a lot of Input/Output performance.

The last few years have seen a huge marked increase in the availability of SSDs. Storage capacity has been improving significantly and they’ve also shown a dramatic decrease in price. However, they’re still costlier than traditional HDDs. Still, the trend of decreasing costs per GB continues to be in full force.

Cost of Solid State Drives

We’ll go over it further down this article but, yes, the cost of Solid State Drives is significantly higher than that of regular Hard Disk Drives. But it’s the gap is much shorter than just a few years ago.

Evolution of the Solid State Drive prices over time

When it comes to technology there’s a habitual relation between features, specifications, and price.

In the beginning, the features and performance are limited and the price is quite expensive. As months and years go by the customer’s bang for the buck improves considerably.

The products get new features and their performance and specifications improve considerably. At the same time, price cuts back considerably. This is when the product becomes mainstream.

The same happened with Solid State Drives. Let’s take a fast look at their evolution.

According to PCWorld, in 1977 a 256Kb Solid State Drive cost about $9,700 (over $36,000 in today’s money). That’s mind-blowing. These days a photograph that you shoot with your smartphone occupies more space than that SSD had available. Yes, that SSD didn’t have enough space to hold a simple photograph today.

By 2006 Samsung releases a 32GB SSD for about $699. It seems foolishly expensive and limited for what you can get today but still, it’s lightyears of improvement since the 1977 product.

What’s next? Well, the development continued in similar patterns and, long story short, today it’s not uncommon to find a 256GB SSD below $40 or a 1TB unit for $100.

The difference is that now SSDs are a real option for consumers. And if your looking for a new computer or upgrading your existing one, replacing an HDD for an SSD is definitely the best bang-for-the-buck upgrade you can invest in.

What does Solid State Drive Mean

If you’re wondering what Solid State Drive means, it’s easy. It is called a “Solid State” because of the lack of moving parts. It has a solid-state architecture.

As mentioned before, SSD is short for Solid State Drive (also known as Solid State Disk or Electronic Disk Drive).

It supports reading and writing data and maintains stored data in a permanent state even without power.

What does a Solid State Drive do? What is a Solid State Hard Drive used for?

To answer the question “What does a Solid State Drive do?” most of you might find it easier to know that an SSD serves exactly the same purpose as your classic Hard Disk Drive.

What is a Solid State Hard Drive used for?

It can be used to boot and run your computer’s operating system, run applications, and store files. Remember those birthday photos that you saved in a folder on your computer? Well, they’re on your computer’s drive.

Advantages of a Solid State Drive

Compared to Hard Disk Drives, SSDs are typically more resistant to physical shock and vibration, they run silently and have quicker access time and lower latency. And because there is no power draw for the motors, the drive uses far less energy than the regular HDD.

Power usage and shock resistance are a key role in the use of solid-state drives in laptop computers. They’re also lighter, another big pro when considering an SSD for a laptop.

When compared to an HDD you can be sure that the outcome is pretty much a large advantage of a Solid State Drive.

Is a Solid State Drive Better

Considering the present values per GB, it’s difficult not to consider an SSD as an overall better option, unless you’re a high-demand user in terms of storage space. Nowadays, HDDs are very affordable and you can easily get a 1TB drive for about the same price as a 500GB SSD.

Also, newer generation SSDs, are even faster, more reliable, and have longer lifespans.

Does Solid State Drive make computers faster?

This is what SSDs are most talked about.

Does Solid State Drive make computers faster? Yes! SSDs are much faster than HDDs.

Is a Solid State Drive Better? In most situations, yes, a lot better. Let’s see why.

Why is Solid State Drive Better

Here we are: why is solid state drive better? Let’s see in detail in which ways a Solid State Drive is better than the usual Hard Disk Drive.

Improved Performance

Traditional HDDs are particularly sluggish, and an SSD would give your laptop a significant boost in performance. Even an older, slow, almost obsolete machine, would turn into a usable piece of technology with the help of a Solid State Drive.

Quicker data access will make a huge improvement. Since the drive does not have to spin up the drive platter or move drive heads, the data can be read and written near instantly.

Turning on your PC and accessing Windows or Mac will be a completely different experience. Boot delay is often reduced significantly.

You’ll especially notice the difference when opening an application, or switching between tasks. Games will load faster too, and make the experience of browsing the web, working, or doing anything else on a PC or Mac so much more snappy and responsive.

No Noise

SSDs are absolutely silent. No moving parts mean no vibration and no noise produced by the spinning disks or by the actuator.

Better Reliability

Most HDD fails are a result of mechanical failure and that will happen at some time in their lifespan. After tens of thousands of hours of operation, mechanical drives will wear out. If they’re exposed to constant shocks and vibrations or extreme magnetic fields, they’re likely to fail within a couple of years or even some months.

After years of development, SSDs malfunction far less often than HDDs and they maintain their speed throughout their lifetime too. Also, SSDs are far less likely to be affected by impacts.

Energy Efficiency

Solid State Drives use far less energy (40% to 60% less) than regular HDDs. Because there’s no power drone for the motor and for other moving parts they’re far better energy-efficient drives.

And, if that may not translate into huge savings regarding energy costs, it will boost your laptop’s battery life noticeably.

Different Types of SSDs

SSDs are available in all sorts of storage capacities, starting at around 32 GB and ranging up to 5 TB in the consumer market.

The most common type is the 2.5-inch Serial ATA. This is the classic form. The drive itself is enclosed in a lightweight shell that has the same shape as a traditional laptop 2.5-inch hard drive and connects over the same SATA cable. They are drop-in-compatible on most laptop and desktop systems. Being the most affordable type of SSD they’re also the slowest, however, still many times faster than the quickest HDD.

The SSD Add-in Cards (AIC) is much faster than SATA drives as they operate directly in the motherboard via the PCI-Express bus, which is many times faster than SATA connectors. SATA is a fairly old technology, designed more than a decade ago to handle the traditional HDDs. However, these SSD cards are not an option for a laptop computer. They are only viable for a desktop PC, considering you have a free PCI-e slot. This form of SSD has a higher price per gigabyte but also offers the best performance.

mSATA, or Mini-SATA SSD, refers to both the form factor of the SSD as well as its interface. This type of SSD is a bare circuit, being much smaller than the 2.5-inch SATA drive. These drives are mostly used in netbooks, laptops, small form factor PCs, and other devices where a smaller footprint is crucial.

M.2 SDD drives have become the standard for slim laptops, ultrabooks, tablets, and other high-performance machines. They also come in the form of a bare circuit. M.2 is an interface specification that supports multiple protocols and applications such as Wi-Fi, Universal Serial Bus (USB), PCI Express (PCIe), and SATA. M.2 SSD comes in four different physical sizes. You have to be certified if your laptop or desktop computer’s motherboard has an M.2 free port when opting for one of these.

Types of Storage Memory

SSD drives use non-volatile memory, meaning that it can retain data even without power. NAND is the type of flash memory used and you can find some different types of NAND memory inside different SSD drives. NAND cells are not designed to last forever, as a result, they have a limited number of write cycles.

To extend the life of NAND storage devices, the controller ensures that all data written is spread evenly across all physical blocks of the device so as not to wear out one area of the NAND faster than another.

  • SLC (Single Level Cell) – Is typically used for enterprise-grade solutions. This type of flash accepts one bit per memory cell and it’s the most accurate when reading and writing data, having the longest lifespan and charge cycles over any other type of flash. It has faster write speeds, and lower power consumption but it’s also the most expensive type of NAND flash.
  • MLC (Multi Level Cell) –  MLC is cheaper, but it’s also slower and has a shorter lifespan, being capable of fewer Program/Erase cycles. Its power consumption is higher than SLC. MLC flash is preferred by most manufacturer brands for consumer SSDs for its lower costs.
  • eMLC (Enterprise Multi Level Cell) – eMLC is a type of MLC (Multi Level Cell) optimized for enterprise use. It offers better performance and more read/write data life cycles. Its cost is lower than SLC being a great cheaper alternative to it.
  • TLC (Triple Level Cell) – TLC SSDs write three bits to each cell. They are the most common type of SSD. TLC has the lowest cost per GB, also with lower write speeds and fewer Program/Erase cycles. It is the cheapest form of flash memory to manufacture and as the result is the most widespread in the low-end sector of the home market. Despite being the least durable type of memory, you can still expect a TLC SSD to last several years of intensive use.

Solid State Drive vs Hard Drive

Hard Disk Drives users to have a typical doubt when they compare Solid State Drives to Hard Drives.

When you haven’t tried it yet it’s easy to have a few doubts. Is it better? Is it fast? Will I notice any difference? Am I just spoiling money?

Some years ago I also had that doubt. Then I read about it, bought one, and got amazed.

A Solid State Drive compared to Hard Drive is a bit like comparing an F1 car to a fast car. Yes, I’m not exaggerating.

The specified values are important, don’t get me wrong, but even more important are the differences in real life.

Let’s watch a video so you understand what we’re talking about. Check out this video by ASUS North America comparing an HDD to an SSD.

It looks unreal, right? Let me tell you that after you upgrade you will surrender to the solid state drive compared to a hard drive.

After getting used to an SSD you’ll even get a hard time when using a computer with an HDD. It doesn’t feel like you driving, it feels like you’re pushing the car. That’s how much difference there is in the solid state drive vs hard drive argument.

By the way, this video compares solid state drives to hard drives. Bear in mind that it was uploaded back in 2011 and that the current HDDs have evolved a bit – but SSDs have evolved a lot.

When you go buy an SSD you’ll be buying a storage unit much more developed than the one used in that video.

Solid State Drive vs Flash Storage

This is a somewhat tricky subject and I wanted to mention it so it gets a little bit easier without going too technical.

Have you ever thought about Solid State Drive vs Flash Memory and wondered what the difference was? I mean, it’s the same stuff, right? Well, not exactly.

Flash storage is made of silicone chips where data is written and stored. It’s faster than conventional Hard Drivers because there are no moving parts. Information can be written a finite number of times, usually more than enough for the needs of the typical user.

Part of the confusion is due to the fact that SSDs actually are not flash storage. Despite that, SSDs habitually features flash storage.

eMMC vs SSD comparison

It’s important to mention eMMC, too. You can find eMMC as the internal memory of many smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, and budget laptops.

That means that if you’re looking for a budget laptop or a 2-in-1 hybrid and you check the specifications sheet and it says it has an SSD, recheck that.

It probably features eMMC memory. eMMC has great advantages but also shortcomings, and this eMMC vs SSD comparison wouldn’t be complete without mentioning both.

When you buy one of these products like a 2-in-1 hybrid or smartphone with eMMC storage, the eMMC is a non-removable or upgradable card. It’s soldered to the circuit board.

In terms of computers, that means that there’s a significant space saving as the eMMC storage will be found on the motherboard. It will also be faster than an HDD and much more energy efficient. And it’s also much cheaper than SSD storage.

In many aspects, eMMC is great. Now let’s go over the downsides.

Although eMMC has some similarities with SSD, we can say that it is its economical version. It’s virtually non-removable, non-upgradable and performance is a fraction of the SSD.

If your computer usage is demanding – like gaming and productivity – an SSD is a much better option than an eMMC. But if you just want a 10.1″ tablet or an 11.6″ hybrid to check emails, watch a few videos and do small tasks, a device with eMMC might be just fine.

In Conclusion

Nowadays it’s difficult not to recommend a Solid State Drive in favor of an old HDD. New generation SSDs are getting faster, having longer lifespans, and getting more affordable every year.

The only occasion an HDD still makes sense is for mass storage. These drives are cheaper than SSDs and available in some quite massive sizes for fairly low prices. Let’s say, if a storage space of about 500GB is enough for your requirements then opt for an SSD. If you need 1TB or more disk space, the HDD still makes a sensible option for its price.

You can combine both if you have the space required for two drives. Have a smaller SSD for the operating system to boot and run your programs and apps, and an HDD to store your photos, your videos, and your games.

Also, keep in mind that unless you’re searching for extreme performance for professional use, high-end SSDs, while technically quicker, won’t often feel faster for the regular user than less expensive alternatives.

Every SSD, even the entry-level options, will feel a lot faster than any type of mechanical Hard Disk Drive, hands down. It will make a huge difference that you’ll instantly notice. Also, with an SSD, you’ll get no noise, better reliability, and superior energy-saving – an important aspect if you’re using a laptop.

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