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Solid State Drives

by Parm Mann on 20 October 2008, 00:00

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This HEXUS.help guide explains what a solid-state drive is, how it works, where you'll find it, and what the future holds for the increasingly popular storage medium.

The Technology and how it works

A solid-state drive, or SSD as it is more commonly known, is a data-storage device that has no moving parts and uses solid-state (NAND) memory to store data. With no moving parts, an SSD is in theory free from risk of failure.

The technology is essentially the successor to traditional hard drives which are storage devices that use fast-spinning platters and magnetic surfaces to store data. By eliminating moving parts, an SSD runs cooler, produces less heat and achieves faster speeds for small-file transfers with none of the delays that moving mechanical parts represent in traditional hard drives.

The majority of SSDs consist of flash (NAND) memory, a non-volatile computer memory that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed,  and are designed to replicate standard disk drive sizes; 1.8”, 2.5” and 3.5”.

The advantages of an SSD are clearly apparent, with no platters to spin and no read/write head to move, the drive can get up to speed instantly and largely eliminate seek time and latency.

With no moving parts, an SSD will create little to no noise – a significant improvement to the traditional hard disk that you often hear chugging away. Similarly, a solid construction with no moving components ensures that an SSD is more rugged and better suited to devices that could be exposed to shock and vibration such as laptops and mobile phones.

SSDs do currently carry two key disadvantages, however; they are both smaller in capacity and more costly in price than traditional hard drives. Though larger SSDs are continually being announced, they’re going to arrive with a very high price premium. As with hard disk drives in the past, prices are expected to continue to drop as SSD production and adoption increases rapidly.

Today, a 32GB SSD retails at approximately £230 and a 64GB SSD at approximately £550. In comparison, a traditional 80GB hard drive can be purchased for as little as £25.

Despite being first developed in 1978, it is only recently that SSDs have started to appear in consumer devices such as laptops. Don’t be surprised to purchase your next PC, laptop or phone and find a solid state drive within.

The Market

The market for SSDs is clearly apparent and, really, can’t get much bigger. With the technology set to replace existing hard-disk drives, especially when capacity is not paramount, it is feasible to believe that the majority of systems in future will offer SSDs as at least an option.

Apple, who recently launched its new laptop, the MacBook Air, offers a 64GB SSD as an alternative option to a traditional hard disk at a premium cost.

As SSDs become more widespread and production is ramped up, costs of producing and purchasing the drives is expected to drop significantly. As prices drop, users wanting to increase performance of existing systems may also wish to switch from a standard hard disk to an SSD.

As well as being more rugged than standard hard drives, SSDs can also be smaller and more compact, making them ideal for use in mobile devices. With mobile devices becoming increasingly popular in various forms; notebooks, sub-notebooks, ultra-mobile PCs, Tablet PCs and mobile phones, the potential market for SSDs continues to grow.

The Players

Manufacturers looking to take advantage of what SSD technology has to offer aren’t in short supply.

Firstly, you have the SSD manufacturers themselves, companies who create the drives for use in other devices. To name just a few, the manufacturers producing SSDs consist of the likes of Lexar, RiDATA, Samsung, SanDisk, and Toshiba.

Secondly, you have system and device manufacturers who offer SSDs as a component within a product. As an example, the XO laptop - used for the One Laptop Per Child project - uses a 1024MiB flash drive as its primary storage device. Other big names include Dell and Apple, who both offer 64GB SSDs as premium optional upgrades in some of their notebook devices.

Just about every system manufacturer will soon, if not already, be offering a solid-state drive option.

Summary

Solid state drives have officially landed. It has taken a while, but the drives are now appearing in more and more devices. Though still too highly priced for most consumers to warrant upgrading, continually falling prices and rising capacities indicate that SSDs will be everywhere before you know it.

As the frontrunner to succeed small-capacity hard-disk drives for the next few years at least, expect to find SSDs in your laptops, PCs and mobile devices sooner rather than later.


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