How To Buy…SSD Drives (Part 1)

10/25/2012 9:17:22 AM

Want to buy an SSD but don't know what to look for? We help you find out

The popularity of solid state drives has been rising steadily for the past few years, but only recently have they reached a point where they've become a truly viable option for the majority of computer users. But how are they different from the average hard drive, and why might you want one?

Description: How To Buy…SSD Drives?

How To Buy…SSD Drives?

The main benefit of solid state drives is the dramatically quicker access times they have compared to the traditional platter-based hard disk drive. Even the slowest of SSDs can vastly outperform the quickest HDD. By replacing slow, mechanical platters with much faster transistors, they eliminate a substantial bottleneck in system performance: random access takes 1 millisecond instead of 5 to 10.

You might not think that milliseconds can make a difference, but tell that to the people trying to outrun Usain Bolt last week. Stacked up on top of one another, multiplied by the speed your computer can run at given the chance, you'll soon see the difference an SSD can make. Speed improvements will pop up in every aspect of your operating system, from reduced boot times to quicker thumbnails.

Data integrity is also improved. No moving parts means that SSDs are much less likely to crash than hard drives are, and where hard drive failure rates rise dramatically after three years of use, current statistics suggest that SSD failure rates remain steadily low for as long as five.

Compared to hard disk drives, SSDs also take up less space in a system, run cooler, and use less power. Admittedly, they're more expensive per-gigabyte and have vastly lower capacities than modern hard drives, but that's the trade-off you have to come to terms with. Do you want a sports car or a family saloon?

To help you decide, we're going to help you figure out what it is that makes an SSD worth owning. It isn't always an easy leap to make - not least because hard disk drives are bigger, cheaper and faster than they've ever been - but we think there are plenty of benefits worth considering, and hopefully once you've read the next few pages you'll agree.

How much should you spend?

The amount you need to spend on an SSD depends most heavily on the amount of space you feel that you need in your system. The more space you want, the more expensive the price will be - but only pay for the space you need.

Description: How much should you spend?

How much should you spend?

If you're looking for a bargain, it's worth paying attention to the cost per gigabyte. To work this out, all you need to do is divide the price by the number of gigabytes, and then use the resulting value to compare the relative cost of individual SSDs to determine which good value is and which aren't. For reference, anything costing over 90p per gigabyte should be considered bad value, and anything under 80p per gigabyte is very good value.

However, it's easy to say 'only pay for the space you need' - but how much space is that? At present, SSD drives are vastly more expensive than typical hard disk drives on a cost-per-gigabyte basis. The frankly ridiculous capacity of modern hard drives has allowed many of us to go soft on recognizing what our own data requirements actually are. True, you can get multiple terabytes of HDD space for the price of a fairly modest SSD, but you won't get the other benefits SSD offers with a hard drive. Be honest with yourself: how much space are you using, and do you need it all?

“For reference, anything costing more than 90p per gigabyte should be considered bad value”

Under current market conditions, we recommend spending somewhere from $235.5-$314 for a 240/256 GB drive, which should be enough for you to run your operating system and any games or large applications off without the need to constantly delete and reinstall software.

If you think you need more space than that (for example, if you have a large selection of media that you don't want to archive) then don't just buy an SSD with a greater capacity than 256GB (which will likely add hundreds of pounds onto the price). Instead, consider getting a separate 500GB or 1TB hard drive which you can use alongside it as a media archive. Although programs are substantially improved from running off an SSD drive, you won't see any hugely visible benefits from housing video, photos and music on one, so don't pay extra just to do so.


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