- Solid state drives (SSDs) are a welcome innovation in modern computing, offering faster boot times and improved overall performance.
- SSDs are more durable and reliable than hard disk drives (HDDs) due to their lack of mechanical parts.
- SSDs are energy efficient, generate less heat, and reduce noise compared to HDDs.
- SSDs enhance multitasking capabilities and provide faster loading times for gaming.
- SSDs are portable, cost-effective, and offer a variety of options from different manufacturers.
Solid state drives (SSDs) are among the most welcome innovations in modern computing. Remember those days spent sitting in front of your old PC, watching your mouse cursor spin, and hearing what sounds like a coffee maker exploding inside your computer? We do. And hard disk drives are to blame for all those miserable moments.
When putting together a new computer or just shopping around, you should ensure you get yourself an SSD. This one component alone can save minutes out of your day and even make specific programs perform better.
If you’re not entirely sure what an SSD is, or just aren’t sure why you’d want one over a classic HDD, then keep reading. Today, we’ll cover what SSDs are, what they’re good for, and what they mean for your computer.
What Are Solid State Drives?
SSD and HDD — what are all these letters? Let’s break it down. SSDs, short for solid-state drives, are a departure from the previously standard hard disk drives (HDDs). Rather than mechanical disks and arms prone to failure with too much physical shock, SSDs make use of flash memory, which you can think of as grids of electronic memory cells.
Flash memory is a type of integrated circuit, which means that it operates electronically. This means you are able to near-instantaneously write and read data to these cells. Despite relying on electricity to operate these data cells, the flash memory is able to hold onto data without power, thanks to some amazing engineering.
If you’ve used a USB flash drive, then you’ve used a similar type of flash memory as the one used in SSDs. The reason the flash memory in these devices is able to hold data over a long time is that they are able to trap the charge used to write the data. Essentially, each flash memory cell behaves like a book made of capacitors.
PCIe and NVMe
When looking into your options for an SSD, there are a few different types available now. Some of the most common today are PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) and NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) drives. These are drives meant to live in an expansion slot of your computer as opposed to your typical SATA storage slots.
PCIe slots are direct connections to your motherboard that make use of high-speed data lanes to communicate with the rest of your computer. These expansion slots are capable of moving gigabytes of data per second. Typically, components like graphics cards, Wi-Fi cards, and SSDs make use of these slots.
NVMe is an extension of PCIe, and, as such, is optimized for SSDs. It is just a specialized way of communicating with flash memory to make better use of the entire PCIe data lane. By taking advantage of multi-core processing, NVMe allows your SSD to read and write multiple chunks of data at the same time.
Another term thrown around when looking for SSDs is SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). SATA was originally developed for HDDs, and, as such, operates at a lower speed. This is another way to connect your data storage to your computer through a dedicated lane.
This standard is much older and much slower. Data-focused, as well, SATA aimed to provide the fastest and most efficient data transfer available for the time, but it was focused on HDD technology. This means that the definition of “high-speed” was limited by the capabilities of the drive itself.
Brief History of SSDs
First invented in 1976, SSDs were not the amazing solution we know today. These original devices didn’t even have flash memory until 1980. These devices still held only a few dozen megabytes of data and were so prohibitively costly they only appeared alongside supercomputers of the time.
Early on, the usage of these devices also required batteries or a dedicated power supply to retain the data as well. This was because some early SSDs were actually RAM-based, but this solution was also very costly to general computing resources. This meant that early SSDs were sacrificing space and CPU usage for data read/write speed.
It would be a few decades before this technology actually found its footing in the consumer space. After many innovations and iterations, specialized built-in controllers now handle reading and writing rather than the CPU. The power aspect was taken care of due to better in-chip power management.
Today, the fantastic technology that makes SSDs possible has become vastly more affordable. Just in the past few years alone, the price of solid-state memory has plummeted so much that they are often cheaper than their older counterparts. But low price isn’t the only reason to buy an SSD. There are quite a few more. Let’s get into them.
Reasons to Buy an SSD
Now that you know a little more about SSDs, there are a few key features that make them a great choice for your next computer.
Reason #1: Faster Boot Times
Thanks to the impressive read and write speeds of SSDs, your computer spends less time waiting on itself. A noticeable improvement as you’ll be ready to work, game, or browse almost as soon as you sit down. Since SSDs are all digital, you don’t wait for a disk to spin to speed or for an arm to reach the right position to begin reading.
When you power on your device, your computer will be processing the data as soon as it is available. There are a variety of programs that make themselves available on startup. SSDs are able to access data randomly, so the data required for each program can be read in parallel as opposed to sequentially.
Reason #2: Improved Overall Performance
Another benefit of the speedy read-and-write is that it improves overall performance. Any application you launch should be available as fast as your CPU can load it. You’ll also find large files end up feeling much lighter, and scrubbing through large files won’t stutter or hang.
Creatives and power users alike will also be impressed. For any sort of intensive program, such as an editing tool or any sort of programming or scripting, you’ll find very few hangups due to loading in all but the most extreme cases.
Reason #3: Durability & Reliability
SSDs operate entirely digitally and have zero mechanical or moving parts. Because of this, there’s zero risk of mechanical failure. HDDs rely on a spinning magnetic disk and rotating arm, so if you accidentally shake or bump them a bit too much, you’re at risk of losing your data.
SSDs are also extremely reliable. Most have anti-corruption methods in place. With any sort of data storage, there is a risk of losing data. SSDs implement error correction algorithms to correct any errors during read and write.
SSDs include sophisticated controller chips that self-monitor and map the SSD. The many flash chips that make up an SSD are monitored, and any bad chips are then no longer targeted for storage. Don’t worry! Typically, your SSD reserves extra chips for this exact scenario. When certain flash memory chips malfunction or become corrupted, the system maps in unused chips to ensure you have sufficient storage and secure data.
Reason #4: Energy Efficiency
Despite being written using electricity, SSDs are actually very power efficient. These drives will only consume a small amount of power when reading or writing because there are no mechanical parts or motors to spin. No moving parts also means less heat generation. Your cooler will have one less component to worry about. Less heat also means your drive will operate more efficiently.
Reason #5: Noise Reduction
Remember that coffee maker sound we mentioned earlier? That is what a hard drive sounds like when it is working too hard. The problem is hard drives are pretty lazy by modern standards — so they make a fuss over the smallest thing.
Without any mechanical operation, your drive won’t have any parts that actually make noise! Most of us know the sound of an HDD booting up, but this sound is noticeably absent in a device with only SSDs.
It may not seem like much, but less noise often means more focus. Modern cooling solutions already prioritize low sound, so it won’t be too uncommon to see almost silently running systems. Think of what you can get done without being distracted by a loud hard drive.
Reason #6: Enhanced Multitasking
Multi-taskers will also see large benefits. Even a small amount of RAM can be rapidly moved to and from your SSD. You’ll be able to switch between tasks, and everyday browsing will feel smooth and snappy. Copying, moving, or transferring files will not only be faster but won’t affect other aspects of your system.
SSDs perform operations in parallel, so almost anything can become a background task. Dreaded tasks, such as virus scans or updates, no longer take power away from your actual work. Since SSDs are so quick, these operations won’t be noticed, and by the time you find them, they’ll be done.
Reason #7: Gaming
If you’re a gamer, it’s hard to imagine life without an SSD. With game file sizes becoming larger and larger, it’s a pain to have to wait for 300 gigabytes to download. Even if you have the best fiber internet available, you’ll have to wait for your computer to install these files. Plus, you’ll have to wait for the files to load in whenever you launch the game.
Thanks to a brand new SSD, you’ll likely be installing the game as fast as your network will allow. Besides the installation, loading games will be a breeze. Whether you’re loading in 4K textures or 200 gigabytes of uncompressed audio, you can trust an SSD will still be almost instant.
While you can technically throw an SSD in a game console like a PlayStation or Xbox, they make the biggest impact in gaming PCs. If you’re getting ready to build a new computer, you can’t forget the SSD.
Reason #8: Portability
SSDs are portable by nature. No moving parts means they are basically shock-resistant. You probably still shouldn’t throw your laptop, but if you do, your SSD will be fine. The fact that they use less power is also a major factor in their portability. Your laptop might get a few extra minutes of battery life with an SSD than with an HDD.
Reason #9: Cost
SSDs have so many points in the pro column. There has to be a major downside, right? Well, the cost definitely isn’t the gotcha you might think it may be. SSDs are actually very affordable compared to other parts of your computer you may buy. Even if you need a lot of storage, you won’t be breaking the bank.
For most users, a decently sized drive will be one of the cheaper components comparatively. Even those with serious storage needs won’t feel too bad about their purchase because of the premium features included in larger drives to keep your data safe. A couple of years ago, we would not be saying this. Only recently have SSDs fallen in price to the point that they win over traditional disk drives.
Best SSDs to Buy
Now that you’re a little more informed of the benefits, let’s look at some of the best SSDs you can buy. In this section, we’ll cover a few of the top dogs available in the market right now, as well as what these competitors offer.
Samsung 870 EVO SATA 1TB
If you’re looking to add a new drive or transfer your existing data to a new drive, the Samsung 870 EVO 1TB is a great option. This isn’t the fastest SSD available due to the SATA connection it uses, but there is an advantage to this.
If you have an older computer, you might not have the best motherboard to make use of PCIe/NVMe drives. This is the perfect drive if you’re looking to upgrade your current drive with a universal connection and more than enough space.
Samsung also has plenty of data protection methods included in this drive and is maximizing the available data transfer speed of the SATA connection. They also have a great drive management software called “Samsung Magician,” which makes switching to a new SSD a breeze.
Samsung 970 EVO Plus 1TB NVMe M.2
- Nickel-coated controller and heat spreader provide optimum heat dissipation
- Can reach sequential read/write speeds up to 3,500/ 3,300 MB/s
- Hardware Interface: PCI Express x4
- Digital Storage Capacity: 1TB
If you’ve got a newer machine, then consider a step up with the Samsung 970 EVO Plus. Rather than the 560/530 MB/s limit of the 870’s SATA connection, the 970 is capable of writing and reading at 3300 MB/s. You’ve read that correctly of an almost 6x faster performance. If you’re looking for blazing-fast data management, you’re in the right place.
Samsung integrates some of its latest innovations in this drive, as well. Advanced heat management for the small amount of heat generated, software-driven data security, and durable flash memory are all features found here. Be sure of your data’s security and safety with this choice, but check carefully if you actually have an M.2 port available!
WD Blue SA510 SATA 500GB
Another upgrade option, this time from Western Digital. Western Digital has been known for its drives in the past and is a trusted name in SSDs. If you’re looking for a good option to put in a new computer, then consider this. It may not seem as flashy as the Samsung drive, but the WD Blue also comes with a three-month subscription to Dropbox Professional!
This drive also comes with the Acronis software to help you manage your data. Acronis comes with AI-based protection against ransomware along with some standard cloning tools. If you’re a professional and are looking to upgrade your drive, then these features may be right for you.
TeamGroup T-Force Vulcan Z SATA 1TB
If you’re a gamer on a budget, then this may be the option for you. TeamGroup has been active in the custom PC space for quite a while and tailors itself to gamers with a lot of its products. 3D NAND on this drive means a higher storage density, better endurance, and lower power consumption.
There are also optimizations for caching data, chip wear leveling, and data corruption protection. The SATA connection may slow it down, but rest assured you’ll be maximizing this limit.
Samsung T7 Portable 1TB
- Digital storage capacity: 1TB
- Sequential read/write speeds of up to 1,050/1,000 MB/s
- Backed by a 3-year limited warranty
- USB 3.2 Gen 2 and embedded PCIe NVMe technology
This is an external drive as opposed to the internal offerings we’ve already mentioned. If you’re really looking for portability, then look no further. We’ve actually gone into a lot of detail on the T7 series of drives in another article. But we’ll give you a little refresher anyway.
Thanks to the awesome innovations in USB, you’ll still enjoy 1,000 MB/s speeds. This drive can fit nicely in the palm of your hand while blowing away some of the other SATA drives seen.
You’ll be able to carry your data securely with a password-protected drive. Even in the worst conditions, this drive can survive a 6-foot drop and most other shocks and bumps. This drive is a must-have for creatives on the go, students, and anyone who might need to get data in the field.
WD Black SN770 NVMe 1TB
- Equipped with a PCIe Gen4 interface
- Data transfer rate: 5,150 MB/s
- Supports future games developed for Microsoft’s DirectStorage technology
- Sequential write performance: 4900 MB/s
If you’re a hardcore gamer or a power user, then this might be the right drive for you. Another offering from Western Digital, the WD Black is their subsection of pro products. This drive boasts 5150 MB/s, putting almost every other option in the dust.
This drive also has integration with Microsoft’s DirectStorage technology. DirectStorage is a way for Windows to maximize the speeds available for SSDs, specifically for loading game resources. You’ll also get the benefits of Western Digital’s WD Black Dashboard to manage and monitor your drives and optimize your performance further.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Hadrian/Shutterstock.com.