Not a lot is ever really certain in the technology industry, however, one thing that might just be right now, is that solid state storage will be the future, in the relatively short term at least, of digital data storage.
To put it simply, your hard disk drive, which for the younger generation may be all they’ve ever known when it comes to the innards of their computers, are going to become, to a certain degree, redundant. But, if you have looked into solid-state drive storage already, you will know that the price is really the single biggest deterrent of switching your hard drive out for a solid state drive (SSD).
So, here we’re going to look at just how viable it is to do a complete changeover and use an SSD as the solitary method of storage in your machine, assuming you’ve got a regular laptop and not the new MacBook Air which uses solid-state flash storage as standard.
SSD As A Complete Storage Drive Replacement
So, first off let’s address the biggest problem: the price. If for sake of argument, we take 500GB as a standard hard drive size of someone who is really that interested in tech and computing that they would be inclined to swap to solid-state drive storage, then we can directly compare. Half a terabyte of solid-state drive storage will set you back anywhere around a grand depending on the manufacturer. You’ll do well to stoop much below £950 for a new 2.5″ drive. That’s a lot, in anybody’s book, especially when you consider that the equivalently spacious hard disk drive will cost you a mere £40-ish from a reputable manufacturer. So, how could anyone possibly justify shelling out an extra £900 for a solid state drive over a traditional hard drive of the same capacity?
The truth is, they can’t. It’s just not worth it. Really. However, if I take myself as the everyday sort of tech guy, nothing hardcore, then it makes perfect sense to go for a lower capacity. I recently did, in fact, swap out my 320GB MacBook Pro hard drive for a 96GB SSD from Kingston. I figured that I’m not the sort of person who will keep a host of movies on an internal laptop drive, I don’t even need my gargantuan iTunes library on there, I’ll keep that on my iPod Touch. My desktop machine is where I’ll rack up external drives amounting to terabytes to keep all my music, TV and movies in order.
So, if you are the sort of person who likes to slap everything, HD video, lossless music and masses of photos and documents all on one laptop drive, stop reading now. Unless your personal wealth is comparable to Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour, you just can’t justify the price tag.
If, like me, you simply have the necessary system files, applications, games, save game files etc. then you could be tempted to reduce the capacity of your internal drive and opt for a 64/96/128GB drive which will cost you a relatively meagre £80-150. Considering the wealth of online storage options available, for example, Windows Live SkyDrive offers 25GB of free storage, you won’t have to worry about where to stow your wealth of documents and photos as they’re securely kept online and synchronised with all your devices with a service such as Dropbox.
So what benefits does solid-state drive storage bring over a traditional hard drive for a complete storage replacement? Well, in truth it’s all about speed. The time taken to launch apps is incredibly low in comparison. It’s almost one of those things you have to experience to fully appreciate. Anyone could sit here and rave about just how amazingly fast it is, but it has to be put into context. I am going to be carrying out a full review of the Kingston SSD I have, in which I will detail actual read/write speeds etc. so be sure to check it out.
Most SSD’s come packed inside a SATA enclosure, so as long as your machine is easily accessible, it’s a simple switch and a fresh installation of the OS is all that’s required, and if you’re a Windows user, I imagine you would want to do that by now anyway.
So, is solid state storage viable as a complete hard drive replacement? Well, I think the bottom line is that it depends on what you use your computer for. If you’d be carrying a sizeable external drive anyway, it’s worth it. If you use a lot of online storage, it’s probably worth it, but if you want movies, large music libraries, backups and anything else that packs a great number of gigabytes, it’s most likely not the way to go just yet, but keep an eye out for reductions in price throughout 2011 and 2012. Solid state storage WILL become the norm eventually.
SSD As A Boot Drive
What if you don’t want to pay a hugely expensive price for a complete SSD-based storage solution, but don’t want to be missing out on all those sweet benefits of having a speedy SSD? Well, the popular resolution for this sort of dilemma is to keep your large capacity traditional hard drive, but pair it with a smaller, faster drive to hold your system files and applications. It’s easily done for a desktop computer, but in most laptops, it’s a lot tougher and will require the sacrifice of an optical drive.
For years the optical drive has been an almost pivotal part of any decent PC setup. We’ve needed them for software installation, for the most part running games, ripping CD’s/DVD’s etc and equally, burning them again. But, in this day and age, with the plethora of digital distribution services, such as the obvious example of iTunes for music, TV and movies, but also the likes of Steam for games and if you’re looking for software, there won’t be much you can’t find online for digital download.
It’s just more convenient that way, so why do we really need an optical drive, then? Well, I’d love to hear your examples, but in truth the only time I ever use mine is to rip a music CD to add to my lossless music library as finding high bitrate audio online is a lot of the time fairly difficult. But, with this sort of high-quality music downloads surely on the horizon, if not a little nearer, the optical drive is surely going to become entirely redundant in the not too distant future.
So, why not consider throwing out that old optical disc drive and getting yourself a hard drive caddy for your current drive, and put a 64GB SSD in the primary SATA slot?
The important thing to note is the benefits that it brings. As I mentioned earlier in this article, I will soon be figuring out some real statistics, but even to the untrained eye the speed benefits and general feel of improved responsiveness when it comes to launching apps and the initial bootup time are undeniable. It has to be seen to understand fully, but with boot times cut to just a few seconds and many applications loading up almost instantaneously, it is definitely worth it if you had the money.
There are an increasing number of PC’s, plus many new Apple Mac models such as the MacBook Air, which is coming pre-fitted with an SSD, with the likes of the iMac giving you the option of dual drives. In a desktop machine, for me, it is more justified to splash out on a pair of drives, as you will be more inclined to stow a great amount of large media on there, but if you tend to do this sort of thing on a laptop it is a great solution.
So, it is difficult, in fact impossible, to give a definite judgement on which is the better solution, it all depends on the individual requirements I suppose. So let’s be clear if you keep a lot of media, you need a hard drive (assuming you’re not literally made of money) but you don’t necessarily NEED a solid state drive. It is more a case of WANT at the moment, it is an impatient man’s luxury, but just generally makes your machine feel a lot more powerful.
If you only tend to use what’s on the web and only require the basics from your computer, you may want to consider swapping it out altogether. If you want the best of both, then get both. With hard drives being pretty cheap these days, it won’t cost you a fortune to keep a secondary drive alongside a solid state boot drive. And if you do go for both, it does, of course, mean that you may be able to reduce the capacity of the solid state drive, which may mean actually that you save money this way.