Traditional platter-based hard drives have been around since the dawn of the modern computer. The technology has been made smaller, but the concept is the same: a read/write head floats mere microns above a fragile ceramic platter, reading and writing data magnetically from microscopic hills and valleys on the surface. All the while, the platters are spinning at thousands of revolutions per minute, generating loads of heat and friction.
While solid-state drives (SSDs) are becoming more popular (Apple is leading the way by including SSD-based storage in many new laptops), traditional platter-based hard drives are still shipping in a majority of computers. These types of drives are slow, unreliable, and especially in recent years, have a high rate of failure. We often tell people that it’s not a matter of “if” a hard drive will fail, it’s just “when”. This is the main reason we push backup as the most important routine task for anyone interested in preserving their years’ worth of critical data.
Solid-state drives are a game-changer in the data storage world. Instead of having moving parts which create heat and multiple points of failure, think of an SSD as a faster, larger version of a a USB flash drive. The drive, while on the outside can look very much like a traditional hard drive, contains a simple logic board inside with memory chips soldered directly to it. This means that you not only get enhanced reliability due to the simpler design and cooler operation of the device, but a VERY noticeable speed increase over a platter-based drive because traditional “seeking” (waiting for the platter to spin around to the requested point(s)) is not necessary. If you’ve ever seen a piece of RAM, you can think of an SSD as its bigger brother, which stores data over the long term vs. short term.
Apple recently started shipping all MacBook Air and MacBook Pro Retina Display models with integrated (although proprietary) solid-state drives. The performance bonus is quite welcome, and because these machines use a proprietary chip design, it has allowed Apple to make the machines much thinner and cooler than ever before. Even Apple’s new iMacs contain solid-state storage technology, though it appears as part of a hybrid-style drive which blends both the new technology and the old for increased storage as well as performance. More about Apple’s “Fusion Drive” technology can be found here:
For those computers that shipped with standard, platter-based hard drive, an SSD upgrade may be just the thing to give new life or enhance performance. There are several options for upgrading, including replacing the original drive or adding an SSD in addition to the existing drive. Some MacBook Pro models even support removing the optical drive and replacing it with a special bracket that supports an additional hard drive.
If you are interested in having an SSD installed in your computer, or simply have questions about what options you have with your existing computer, please get in touch with us! We are happy to make recommendations and advise on making the jump.
Solid State Drive vs. Traditional platter-based hard drives
- MUCH faster
- Cooler operation
- Enhanced reliability
- ZERO noise (no moving parts)
CONS (These will most likely ease as the tech comes of age)
- More expensive per GB
- Smaller available sizes
- In rare cases of failure, data recovery can be more difficult if no backup exists