If you’re wondering, “what is SSD?” but don’t know much about it, you’ve come to the right place. A solid-state drive (SSD) is a storage device that allows reading, writing, and storing data permanently without a constant power source.
How is an SSD different from a hard disk drive (HDD)? Which one is better? And how can you pick the right SSD for your needs?
In this guide, we’ll help you understand what an SSD is, the difference between SSD and HDD, the various types of SSDs, and how to choose the best one.
History of Solid-State Storage (SSD)
Did you know that the long journey of SSD storage and its development began in the 1950s?
Yes, it’s that old!
Back then, they used them in first-generation computers (vacuum tube computers) through two similar technologies: card capacity read-only storage and magnetic core memory.
However, those two solutions went out of style in the 1950s and 1960s with the growing popularity of cheaper storage components like drum memory.
As technology is constantly evolving, by the 1970s and 1980s, SSDs were back on the scene, but they were pretty expensive and weren’t widely adopted until Dataram introduced the Bulk Core SSD in 1976. Although this 2 GB SSD revolutionary creation still used core memory, it was highly compatible and operated much faster than fixed-head disks.
Companies started developing SSD technologies, such as the Sharp PC-5000 with a 128 KB SSD bubble memory in 1983. By the 1990s, flash-based SSDs were introduced and started gaining popularity globally, but they were still costly (up to $47,000).
In 2003, Transcend introduced cheap flash SSDs with a Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment (Parallel ATA or PATA) connector that cost as low as $50. PATA connector plugged in hard drives to computers.
It wasn’t until 2006 that flash SSDs were mass-marketed by Samsung with 32 GB capacity and a PATA interface. Ample storage SSDs were introduced in 2009 by OCZ Technology came with a 1 TB flash-based SSD, whereas Virident Systems developed second-generation flash-based SSDs with up to 2.2 TB of storage in 2012.
By the end of 2012, we saw reliable enterprise flash drives for high-performance applications, such as Intel’s SDD DC S3700 drive. The increasing need for speed, high performance, and reliability are critical factors for the growth and advancement of SSDs over HDDs.
Difference Between SSD and HDD
To understand the hype over SSD, you should first know how it works and how it’s different from a legacy storage technology like HDD. Even though SSDs and HDDs are both used to store data, they operate differently.
How HDD Works
HDDs have been around longer than SSDs. You can find them in various electronic devices such as desktops, laptops, game consoles, mobile phones, and tablets. However, it’s now considered an old technology for storing data due to its method of operation.
If you’re familiar with old record players, an HDD is a bit similar. An HDD is an electro-mechanical, volatile storage device that consists of multiple platters (disks) that spin around a spindle (central axis). It has a mechanical arm to enable it to write and read data.
There are two popular HDD sizes: 2.5-inch HDD used in laptops and 3.5-inch HDD found in desktops. The speed of an HDD depends on the number of spins/rotations it makes per minute.
How SSD Works
Unlike HDDs, an SSD storage device doesn’t have moving parts and almost instant access times. With SSD, the data is stored in microchips, making it faster. SSD is smaller in size in comparison with HDD and can even be mounted to the motherboard directly. You can say that it’s a more advanced and sophisticated form of a USB memory stick.
SSD depends on flash-based memory, with NOR and NAND being the two most popular flash types. Most SSDs use NAND flash memory because it’s faster for writes and smaller in size than NOR. NAND is a non-volatile flash that keeps data stored in it even if the disk is off.
While HDDs have a mechanical arm to read and write data, an SSD uses a processor (controller) to read and write data. It’s also in charge of storing, restoring, caching, and cleaning up data.
The SSD speed of reading and writing data, together with its overall performance, is determined by its controller.
Why SSD Is Better than HDD
Now, let’s come to the battle of storage drives. While the good ol’ spinning disk is still sold and used by many data centers and budget consumers, more enterprises and consumers are shifting towards SSDs. Here’s why:
- Speed: Speed is the most prominent and significant advantage of an SSD over an HDD. Since it doesn’t have moving parts, an SSD can read data 10 times faster than an HDD and write 20 times faster. Moreover, the HDD’s copying process ranges between 30 MB/s and 150 MB/s, whereas a standard SSD takes 500 MB/s. This way, SSDs deliver faster boot times, load times for applications and files (e.g. games and videos), and data transfer.
- Energy Efficiency: Due to an HDD’s dependency on lots of mechanical operations, it’s power-hungry storage. In contrast, SSDs are more energy-efficient and consume less power, prolonging battery life.
- No Overheating: SSDs are more heat-resistant, whereas HDDs tend to overheat, compromising the system’s overall performance.
- Build: Having no moving parts gives an SSD an edge over HDD in terms of durability. It’s a more reliable storage device, doesn’t vibrate, and can endure shocks, which HDD can’t. SSDs are also quiet, whereas HDDs are noisy.
- Weight: SSDs are lightweight compared to HDDs, making them more efficient in performance and functionality.
When You Would Need to Use SSD
Given the various benefits of SSDs over HDDs, many folks and companies are adopting them. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you must own an SSD or drain your wallet dry over it.
So, let’s take a look at some of SSD’s top use cases.
SSD is an excellent choice for businesses and enterprises that manage and store heaps of data, thanks to its high speeds, high performance, and reliability in filing transfer and access times.
Take programming and graphic design, for example. Although HDD is common among graphic designers and programmers due to its large storage capacities, professionals have recently shifted towards SSDs for their speed. They can deliver more projects in shorter time frames than HDDs.
2. Website Hosting
Speed is an essential factor in the web hosting industry. If your website loads slowly, you’ll lose revenue and traffic, eventually killing your online business. Did you know that speed is one of the critical factors to improve your website’s ranking on Google?
Professional websites include rich content and interactive features, especially database-intensive sites hosted on WordPress. An SSD’s fast read/write speed can help reduce latency and execute requests quickly, making your WordPress website load faster. We’ve written at length about how you can speed up your WordPress website.
Data security is another important reason for using SSD, as HDDs are vulnerable to mechanical failures, leading to data loss risks. As mentioned above, SSDs are more resistant to physical damage, making them a better choice to safeguard data.
Unlike HDDs, SSDs don’t suffer from data fragmentation, which improves the overall performance. Their low power consumption is also ideal for web hosting companies to save power and lower electricity consumption, thus allowing them to become more environmentally friendly.
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SSD is popular with gaming enthusiasts, and it’s no surprise. The performance of SSD is ideal for gaming, from speed to durability and energy efficiency. Games these days are loaded with heavy textures and models that can take up to 3 minutes to load with an HDD. But with an SSD, the same game would load in less than a minute.
Whether you’re a researcher, a utility worker, or a blogger/vlogger, you’ll need a portable SSD if you travel regularly. SSD and HDD indeed come in both internal and external forms. However, SSD is more durable owing to its non-volatile mechanism and doesn’t take much space compared to an external HDD.
Different Types of SSDs
There are different types of SSDs on the market today. You’ve probably heard the terms “SATA,” “NVMe,” “PCIe,” and “M.2,” but what exactly are they?
To begin with, the different types of SSDs depend mainly on the connection interface between the storage unit and the computer or server. Let’s dive into each type.
The first interface or generation used with SSDs is called Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA). It’s the most commonly used interface among hard drives and storage devices.
SATA delivers speeds up to 600 MB/s, and its size fits most notebooks and PCs, hence its popularity. SATA also comes in a smaller size, referred to as mini-SATA (mSATA).
SATA is the slowest among all SSD types, but it still has a data transfer rate up to 5x faster than HDDs.
Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is a protocol for SSDs that allows data exchange speeds to reach up to 2600 MB/s — that’s almost 5x times as fast as SATA SSDs. NVMe SSDs are newer than the SATA SSDs and usually use peripheral component interconnect express (PCIe), discussed in more detail next.
NVMe SSDs are more expensive than SATA SSDs and usually require more power. That’s why they’re only used for specific needs, such as for businesses that prioritize high data processing and transfer speeds.
The NVMe protocol also works with flash memory, which means that even external or portable, NVMe SSDs will perform just as fast as internally connected NVMe SSDs.
You can also categorize SSDs according to the connectors used, which define the data transfer speed.
PCIe is the same connector used to connect high-performing graphic cards directly to the motherboard. When NVMe SSDs use PCIe connectors, they deliver the fastest possible data processing and transfer speeds.
However, the difference in speed, or bandwidth, is most noticeable when dealing with larger files (50 GB or more), but when starting Windows or launching a game, it won’t be much different from using typical SSDs.
Formerly known as Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF), the M.2 connector ensures that an SSD reaches the fastest speed possible (upwards of 2600 MB/s). If the computer’s motherboard doesn’t have an M.2 connector, then alternatively, a PCIe card with an M.2 connector is used to connect the NVMe SSD to the motherboard.
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If the computer’s motherboard already has an M.2 connector, you’ll find the storage labeled “SATA M.2” or “NVMe M.2.” However, if the motherboard doesn’t have it and has a PCIe card with a built-in M.2 connector, it’ll be labeled as “PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD.”
The M.2 connector is relatively small in size and is there to replace mSATA. It’s also suitable for small-sized notebooks as well as larger devices. M.2 connector is compatible with SATA, PCIe, and even USB 3.0.
Advantages and Disadvantages of SSDs
From what we’ve discussed so far about SSDs, you now have a pretty good idea about their primary advantages.
Let’s recap: They’re much faster than traditional disk drives. They’re also more reliable in the sense that they deliver more stable performance. What’s more, they’re energy-efficient and smaller in size.
What about the disadvantages of SSDs? Well, SSDs do lag behind on a few things:
- Price Point: Price is the most significant disadvantage of an SSD. Although they’ve become cheaper and are getting more affordable every day, they’re still more expensive than HDDs. That said, SSDs are still not suitable for everyone, especially users on a tight budget.
- Storage Capacity: Some users prioritize storage capacity over performance as they use the storage for usually large files such as movies, music, photos, etc. Although there are SSDs that can give you up to 4 TB of storage, they’re still limited in capacity if you compare them with HDDs.
- Limited Write/Erase: SSDs have a limited write/erase cycle. For instance, consumer-grade SSDs have a limited number of write/erase cycles that range between 3,000–5,000 cycles. Premium SSDs can have write/erase cycles of up to 100,000 cycles.
Even though SSDs are generally more expensive than HDDs, the demand for SSDs has been rapidly increasing, especially with cloud-based platforms, for the benefits we discussed above. Other factors also contribute to the drop in SSD prices since their launch.
For example, the price of NAND flash memory has been dropping for the past couple of years. In addition, the move to 96-layer and 128-layer processes from 32-layer and 64-layer technologies has led to fitting more storage into smaller space, thus reducing the cost of the materials.
Another factor is the wide range of SSDs on the market for consumers nowadays, from budget-friendly to premium options. For instance, you can get ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro with 1TB of storage and 3D NAND NVMe Gen3x4 PCIe M.2 2280 interface for as low as $150, or the Crucial MX500 3D NAND SATA SSD with 500 GB of storage for around $60.
When you shop for an SSD, calculate the cost per gigabyte. But keep in mind that large storage capacity drives — those bigger than 256 GB — will give you better value for your money.
How to Choose the Right SSD
Choosing the correct type of SSD depends on a few factors, including your budget, the size of your desired storage capacity, and the kind of device (desktop, notebook, server, etc.).
The most affordable form of storage is indeed the HDD, whereas SSDs, even with all their types, are generally more expensive.
SATA SSDs are the most affordable SSD type. In other words, if you have a small budget but are seeking performance, then SATA SSD is the most suitable option for you.
On the other hand, if budget isn’t an issue, a better-performing NVMe is the more efficient choice.
2. Storage Capacity
SSDs are becoming available in larger storage capacities. The larger the capacity, the more cost-efficient they are. A simple calculation can help you decide exactly how much SSD storage you’ll need in your PC.
First, know how much data you use per month, on average. Then, add to that a minimum of 20% to be safe. That’s the storage side you need.
For example, if all the files and data you use have an average total size of 700 GB, then a 1 TB SSD will be more than perfect for you. However, if your usage doesn’t exceed 500 GB, then a 512 GB SSD seems enough.
3. Type of Device
Thanks to the continuous development of SSDs and their connectors, their sizes are constantly getting smaller while preserving their performance. As a result, most SSDs are compatible with most computer devices and their motherboards.
That said, the type of SSD used depends on whether or not your device is compatible with it. But that can always be adjusted with the proper connector.
The only type that won’t work with some devices is the SATA SSD due to its large size. That’s why it’s more common in bigger devices such as desktops.
On the other hand, NVMe SSD is compatible with almost all devices, especially when using the M.2 connector.
If you’re still not sure about which SSD type you should use, take a look at the following comparison table:
|SSD Type||Affordability||Advantages||Disadvantages||Best for|
|SATA||Affordable||Cheapest type of SSD||Slower performance than NVMe SSD||Home use|
|NVMe||Relatively expensive||High performance and small in size||Relatively expensive and may need a connector to be compatible with some devices||Business use, gaming, website hosting|
There’s no doubt that the SSD market is booming due to increased demand from businesses and web hosting services. But will SSDs permanently replace HDDs? It’s still uncertain whether HDDs will become a thing of the past, given their generous storage capacity and affordable cost.
Nevertheless, the cost of SSDs is decreasing. And their availability in different storage capacities, sizes, and configurations makes them more affordable than ever.
We recommend you use SSDs over HDDs for your desktops and notebooks. And if you’re looking for a managed SSD hosting for your WordPress site, we’ve got you covered!
What was your pick when deciding between SSD and HDD? Let us know in the comments!
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