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Solid State Hard Drives, Driving the Future of Computers.

I have been watching solid state drives for some time now, and recently felt that the price had come down sufficiently to try one out in a new computer build. A Solid State Drive differs from a traditional Hard Disk Drive in that the SSD does not have any moving mechanical parts.

This means that you no longer need an electric motor to spin the platters where the data is stored. The main advantage of this is that it takes less power to operate a SSD than a traditional drive. There are no flying read/write heads that are constantly moving backwards and forwards across the disk picking up the data. This reduces the time it takes to retrieve the data as the computer does not have to wait for the data to go around and the heads to line up and read the data from the spinning disk.

How does a traditional, mechanical drive work?

The way that a traditional mechanical hard drive works is that data is written to the magnetic media on the platters using binary code. The computer looks for a vacant spot on the drive using the file allocation table. The start of the file is then mapped by track and sector, and that location is written into the file allocation table, kind of like longitude and latitude references on a map.

When it comes to retrieving the file, the computer simply looks up the location of the start of the file from the file allocation table. The computer then positions the read/write head so that it will pick up the data from the disk as it spins around.
(The read/write head is positioned at the end of the triangular shaped arm shown here on the left and actually floats above the platter and never comes in contact with the platter).

When it picks up the first part of the file, (the file may be spread over hundreds of tracks and sectors on the disk), the last part of the data tells the computer where the next part of the file will be found. The head is then re-positioned and it waits for that track and sector to come around. While this happens very quickly, (around 5400 revolutions per minute for most standard drives), with bad reads, or the heads getting to the spot just after the data has passed and having to wait until the drive makes another revolution, you can see why it does take time to load files.

Solid state drives, on the other hand do not suffer the same issues as their mechanical counterparts.
When data is written to the SSD, the location is mapped the same as the mechanical drive, the difference is that when you retrieve the file, the computer looks up where the file is located on the drive, the computer then reads directly from that location. When it gets to the end of the block of data, it has the mapping for the next data location and it immediately jumps to there. It never has to wait until components line up to get the data and it does this at 6 gigabits per second. This is around twice the read/write speed of its mechanical brothers, and technically, there should never be any read errors.

Another advantage is that you no longer have to worry too much about the head coming into contact with the platters after a hard knock, as there are no read/write heads to damage the platters, in fact, no platters. This makes laptop computers more viable and robust as you will not have to worry too much about bumping them and damaging the drive. Also, the laptop battery should last longer as there are no longer electric motors to power and run.

Installation and configuration

The drive that I purchased came with a bracket to mount the drive into the standard 3.5 inch drive bays. I feel that this is important because if you don't have this bracket, you will have difficulties mounting the drive into a desktop computer.
On opening the packaging, I found a drive that looks very much like a standard notebook drive that you would find in a laptop computer, although much lighter in weight.
I installed the drive and connected the cables, then loaded the operating system. The operating system saw the SSD as a hard drive that was capable of holding an operating system without having to do anything at all to the drive, straight from the box. Once I selected the SSD to install the operating system to, the first thing that I noticed was that the speed of the install. After the initial reading of the data from the DVD drive, which seemed to take a similar amount of time as a traditional build, the installation was completed in about half the time it normally takes.

This was repeated in all of the software that I installed. When running software programs, I found that from click to running program, was either instant, or only took a few seconds and the program was running. This is probably around 3 times faster than anything I have seen before. As an example of this, running Nero 8, this program takes about 8 seconds to load up on my computer. Loading the same program on the SSD the same program takes about 2 seconds. Open Office 3.4 on my mechanical drive computer takes about 17 seconds to open Writer and the same program on the SSD takes about 2 seconds. After installing an antivirus program which monitors in real time and starts at start up, and installing all windows updates, I found that the computer starts up consistently in about 19 seconds from the POST beep to displaying desktop icons, and shuts down in around 6 seconds.

So, what do I think about SSD's

I love them!!! These drives are absolutely awesome. If I had known just how fast these things were a few years ago, I think I would have been putting them into all my computer builds. As it stands now, with the prices coming down, and the capacities of SSD's getting bigger, currently 120GB is fairly standard with some available at around 240GB at around $1.00 - $1.50 per GB. Currently the biggest SSD that I can get right now is 600GB. This is pretty pricey at around $1000.00 but as I say, give it some time and I think that you will be getting 500GB drives for around $100.00 or less. In future, I think that I will at least be giving my clients the option of a SSD in a new build, and will probably be alerting them to the benefits of SSD whenever a failed or failing mechanical drive comes in

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