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Not long ago we covered some considerations you should make when buying a new hard drive 5 Things You Need to Consider Before Buying a Hard Drive 5 Things You Need to Consider Before Buying a Hard Drive Hard drive shopping isn't all that difficult. Read More , but the world of home computing is moving towards solid state drives for storage How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Do Solid-State Drives Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] Over the past few decades, there has been a considerable amount of work in the field of computer hardware. While computer technology is constantly improving and evolving, rarely do we experience moments where we simply... Read More . Should you buy one?

We explored the pros and cons of SSDs Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] If you've kept up with some of the latest news about new computer parts, you may have heard about SSDs, or solid state drives. They are designed to replace your clunky, slow hard drive and... Read More a few years ago. At the time, most users were put off SDDs because of high prices, limited storage capacities, and potential for compatibility issues. Most of those issues have cleared in recent times, so yes, you should get one!

That being said, there are a few points to consider before diving right in. Don’t go into it blindly. Stay educated so you can make the best decisions when purchasing your next SSD.

Pricing

SSD prices have plummeted over the past few years. In 2010, the average price hovered around $3.00 per gigabyte, whereas in 2015 you can find SSDs for as low as $0.34 per gigabyte (as is the case with the Crucial BX100 500 GB for $169).

Crucial BX100 500GB SATA 2.5 Inch Internal Solid State Drive - CT500BX100SSD1 Crucial BX100 500GB SATA 2.5 Inch Internal Solid State Drive - CT500BX100SSD1 Sequential reads/writes up to 535 / 450 MB/s on all file types Buy Now At Amazon $187.77

Relatively speaking, however, SSDs are still more expensive than traditional spinning hard drives, and this difference is not negligible. For example, a Western Digital Blue 1 TB can be bought for $53. Compared to the Samsung 850 EVO, the WD Blue is one-third of the price for twice the capacity.

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So in terms of being economical, HDDs beat SSDs without question. If your budget is strapped, stick with an HDD. However, SSDs have never been cheaper than they are today and they’re quite affordable, so don’t be afraid to spend the cash.

If you do decide you’ll want an SSD, purchasing a larger capacity drive provides more value for money. For example, the Samsung 850 EVO 120 GB is $73 ($0.61 per GB). For an extra $33, you could more than double the storage capacity to 250 GB ($0.42 per GB). The $178 500 GB SSD offers the best value at $0.36 per GB. So by buying the 500 GB SSD, you’re only paying almost half the price per gigabyte!

Samsung 850 EVO - 500GB - 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-75E500B/AM) Samsung 850 EVO - 500GB - 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-75E500B/AM) Powered by Samsung V-NAND Technology. Optimized Performance for Everyday Computing. Buy Now At Amazon $156.00

Physical Specifications

Whenever you buy hardware, you have to look out for potential incompatibilities. The best SSD in the world is useless if you can’t mount it in your system, right? Fortunately, SSDs are pretty much standardized (for the most part) so you’ll be okay as long as you pay some semblance of attention.

Form Factor: Most modern SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor, which happens to be the standard size for laptop HDDs. Such a drive is unsuitable in desktop computers, which usually require a 3.5-inch form factor, but you can remedy that with an adapter like this SABRENT 2.5″-to-3.5″ Mounting Kit for $7.

Sabrent 2.5 Inch to 3.5 Inch Internal Hard Disk Drive Mounting Kit (BK-HDDH) Sabrent 2.5 Inch to 3.5 Inch Internal Hard Disk Drive Mounting Kit (BK-HDDH) Converts an available 3.5" HDD bay drive to accommodate two 2.5" HDD or SSD (Solid State Drive) Buy Now At Amazon $6.45

It’s worth noting that there’s a newer form factor that’s gaining popularity: the M.2 standard (formerly called NGFF). These SSDs are tiny and thin, meant to fit into ultra-thin laptops and mini personal computers What Makes Mini PCs so Small? And, the Best Mini PCs You Can Buy Today What Makes Mini PCs so Small? And, the Best Mini PCs You Can Buy Today A new generation of mini PCs is making its way into our homes and offices now. Read More .

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Z-Height: But just because you get an SSD with a 2.5-inch form factor doesn’t mean it’ll fit right into your laptop. You also have to make sure the z-height, or thickness, is small enough for your laptop body.

Typical z-heights are 9.5mm and 7mm, with modern SSDs leaning more towards the 7mm side. Consult your laptop’s manual or user guide to see which thicknesses are supported.

Interface: Consumer-grade SSDs pretty much all have a Serial ATA (SATA) interface, although whether you should get a 3 Gbps SATA or 6 Gbps SATA will depend on whether your computer can handle those speeds. Nowadays 6 Gbps drives are more common, but 3Gbps are often cheaper if you can find them.

Noise: One benefit of an SSD over an HDD is that SSDs operate silently because they lack mechanical parts. If you want to move past the whirring of an HDD as it spins up and the chitter as it looks for files, then go for the SSD.

Performance

The main benefit of an SSD over an HDD — and the reason why so many people live by the SSD once they make the switch — is the fact that SSDs are significantly faster. With SSDs, computers boot up in seconds, programs launch almost instantaneously, and files are transfers up to 10 times faster.

Which is to say, even the worst SSDs are still miles ahead of HDDs in terms of performance. If speed is your only concern, then there’s no question: SSD wins every time.

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That being said, not all SSDs are made equal. Consider these two options:

Maybe the difference of 37 MB/s while reading and 327 MB/s while writing isn’t important to you, in which case you should just go for the cheaper option. But if you honestly need every bit of speed, then you should be aware that it’s going to cost you (an extra $88 in the example above).

Silicon Power Velox V70 120GB SATA 6.0 Gb/s 2.5 inch Synchronous Flash Solid State Drive (SSD) SP120GBSS3V70S25 Silicon Power Velox V70 120GB SATA 6.0 Gb/s 2.5 inch Synchronous Flash Solid State Drive (SSD) SP120GBSS3V70S25 Powerful co MBination of new built-in Toggle flash and advanced controller and firmware Buy Now At Amazon $139.99

Storage Capacity

There’s an important distinction between the way SSDs and HDDs operate. While HDDs often have to deal with disk fragmentation How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer How to Care for Your Hard Drives and Make Them Last Longer Sometimes an early death is the fault of the manufacturer, but more often than not, hard drives fail earlier than they should because we don't take care of them. Read More , SDDs have a quirk of their own to worry about: garbage collection.

When data is written to an SSD, it’s written in chunks called pages. A group of pages is called a block. At any given time, the pages in a block could be all empty, all full, or a mixture of empty and full.

Due to the way SSDs are engineered, it’s not possible to overwrite existing data (which is possible in an HDD). Rather, in order to write new data to an occupied block, the entire block has to first be erased.

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Furthermore, to prevent loss of data, whatever information existed on the block must first be moved elsewhere before the block can be erased. Once the data is moved and the block is erased, only then can new data be written to a previously-occupied block.

This process, called garbage collection, requires empty space to function properly. If you don’t have enough space available, then the garbage collection process loses efficiency and slows down. This is one reason why an SSD’s performance degrades over time: it fills up too much.

To keep the garbage collection going at peak efficiency, traditional advice is aim to keep 20 to 30 percent of your drive empty. For a 250 GB drive, that means you should only use up to 200 GB max.

You should also enable TRIM Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Read More in your operating system.

Longevity

The last thing to consider is how long the SSD with last you. In our comparison of storage drive lifespans Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? Hard Drives, SSDs, Flash Drives: How Long Will Your Storage Media Last? How long will hard drives, SSDs, flash drives continue to work, and how long will they store your data if you use them for archiving? Read More , it was clear that about 74 percent of hard drives survived beyond their fourth year. How do SSDs compare?

Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no moving parts — which is great for quiet operation, and it also means there are no parts to wear out. Hence, mechanical failure isn’t something that should concern you.

The downside, however, is that SSDs are more prone to power failure. Loss of electricity while the drive is running could result in data corruption or even full-blown device failure. Learn the effects that electrical anomalies can have on your computer and how to prevent them The Effects Power Outages Can Have On Your Computer The Effects Power Outages Can Have On Your Computer Do you unplug your computer during severe storms? If not, you may want to start. Read More .

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In addition, the memory blocks in an SSD have a limited number of writes. If you’re constantly writing data to the SSD (on the order of gigabytes per day), then it’s possible for the drive to lose the ability to write any more data (though reading would still be possible).

The expected lifespan of an SSD is between 5 and 7 years, which is the average point of failure. With every year that passes beyond this point, the chance of drive failure increases.

Are SSDs Right For You?

If you’re on a tight budget, don’t care about speed, or prioritize data reliability above all else, then you should stick with a traditional spinning hard disk drive. For everyone else, it’s about time to move onto SSDs if you haven’t already.

Once you’ve made the switch, we recommend these tools for managing your SSD Top Tools for Managing and Maintaining Your SSD Top Tools for Managing and Maintaining Your SSD Did your SSD start out Usain Bolt fast, but now limps along? You can whip your drive back into shape using a handful of toolkits and optimization software, but caveat emptor: Some SSD optimization software... Read More along with these tips for securely deleting data from an SSD How To Securely Erase Your SSD Without Destroying It How To Securely Erase Your SSD Without Destroying It SSDs can only be written to a limited number of times. This is a challenge, particularly for erasing data and doing so securely, which can vastly reduce performance and shorten SSD drive life. Read More and these tips for recovering data from an SSD Can Data Be Recovered From a Failed SSD? Can Data Be Recovered From a Failed SSD? Many users assume that, because an SSD has no mechanical parts, they are at less risk to fail. Unfortunately, that logic just doesn't hold for SSDs. Read More .

Are you making the switch to SSDs? Tell us about it in the comments! Did we miss any important points? Let us know below. We’d love to hear from you.

Image Credits: SSD Form Factor by Hadrian via Shutterstock, SSD vs. HDD by Romas_Photo via Shutterstock, Garbage Collection by Music Sorter via Wikipedia, Exposed SSD by JIPEN via Shutterstock

  1. Colin
    July 4, 2016 at 1:05 am

    I always thought that if your HDD made noise, it was panic time. I have a small number of HDDs and I do not hear them( laptop and HDDs not high end items). The only HDD I had that made noise, died.

    • Joel Lee
      July 13, 2016 at 8:30 pm

      Noise isn't necessarily bad for an HDD but it would definitely make me more cautious about storing important data on it. SSDs don't make noise like HDDs do so that warning sign is gone unfortunately.

  2. skipmichael
    August 9, 2015 at 5:06 am

    Alert.... Alert...

    shortly after I downloaded Windows 10 I decided to put a in SSD as my main drive. I was, and still, unable to port the Windows 10 OS to the new SSD.

  3. George Klein
    August 8, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    This article omits the most important detail to be considered for an SSD drive.
    There are two types of SSD memory: Single Level Cell (SLC) or Multi Level Cell (MLC).
    There are major differences between those two types.
    The SLC memory is faster, it allows at least ten times more read/write cycles before slowing down considerably and become unusable, but it's more expensive than a MLC memory.

    So, if you want to use an SSD drive for storage or backup an MLC drive would be okay, since that drive will not have a large number of read/write cycles. That type of drive can last more than a decade, even under "heavy" usage.

    However, using an MLC SSD drive as the main "hard" drive, where the operating system is located is not recommended.
    That drive will have a lot of read/write cycles (regardless of what operating system you use, WIN 8 or 10, or any MAC OS X) and will wear out in a couple of years.

    About a year and a half ago, before purchasing my iMac and choosing a hybrid drive I requested from Apple to reveal the type of the flash component of the iMac hybrid drive.
    Fortunately Apple uses the SLC type of memory, so I chose the hybrid drive for my iMac.

    All Apple MacBooks have SLC type solid state memory.

    • Sharfaraz Ahmed
      July 4, 2016 at 12:48 am

      You're stuck in the era of SLCs. Most MLCs and even some TLCs have the same or even better performance and endurance ratings these days than the SLCs you're talking about, thanks to smarter controllers and clever garbage collection. And the whole PC market, including Apple, has moved on to MLC ssds and beyond. Check this: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6727/apple-is-using-sandisk-ssds-in-retina-macbook-pro-as-well

      The last statement you made is so wrong. Never make such conclusive statements about technology, which is evolving every day.

  4. Hein Mönnig
    August 8, 2015 at 7:01 am

    We have, at any given time, 10 or more Windows PC's in the house. Over the last few years I've begun upgrading our core systems from traditional spinning hdd's to ssd. The speed advantage has always been worth it, although costs have been substantial. It has been useful, though, to repurpose the removed hdd drives as external backup disks (archive storage, media servers, etc.). I'm delighted that ssd prices continue to fall; these days I can pick up a 256gb ssd for the price of a 64gb back in the day...

    • Joel Lee
      September 2, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      I can't wait for SSD prices to fall even further, especially with Samsung's announcement of a 16TB SSD!

  5. David W Shanholtz
    August 7, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    I put an SSD in my desktop pc and the speed increase is phenomenal! Booting only takes seconds now. I hope to eventually put one in my laptop.

    • Joel Lee
      September 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      It really is amazing! Glad that you switched over to the SSD side. :)

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