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Issue #386: Dec 14-20, 2014

Q:  I went to your website & searched for ‘Solid State Hard Drives’ but didn’t find anything that would answer my question. I am being dragged into the 21st century by upgrading my PC to Win 7. Unfortunately at the time this occurred (i.e. was forced upon me by the XP computer!), I had to buy a used PC from a local store. That “new” PC had only 160 GB on the HD. My old XP had 320 GB so not everything fit into the new one and the tech stashed a lot of stuff onto my external drive. There were a few FUBARs along the way & now I’m dealing with 2 computers and 2 external drives. I’m over 60 . . . who can remember where everything is stashed and who has time in this stage of life to spend time looking?!?! What I would like to do is buy a 500 GB Solid State Drive and have it installed. I can move the ext. HD files without too much difficulty and the tech will load the new SSHD with Win 7 since it will replace the old 160gb drive running Win 7. My question is how reliable are the SSHDs over the long haul compared to the regular spinning HDs? How does the off/on switching affect the SSHDs? Is there anything else that I don’t know about the SSHDs that I should know? At the moment, I’ve looked at SanDisk and Samsung.

– Crystal G.
Baker, Florida

A:  Before I answer your questions, Crystal, let’s make sure everybody knows what we’re talking about. Almost every computer needs a way to store its data files after power is removed.  Whether the files are the operating system itself, application or utility programs, or user data files, these all must live somewhere.  All modern PCs are equipped with a mass-storage device of some sort that provides this function.  The most common type of device, and one that has been in use for many years now, is the spinning-platter magnetic storage unit that is commonly known as a “hard drive” or “hard disk drive” (HDD).  These venerable devices have been simultaneously increasing in capacity and decreasing in price to the point where the cost per unit of storage is now measured in cents per gigabyte.  Unfortunately, since these devices incorporate moving parts (a motor, spinning metal platters, and a pivoting read/write head) they are subject to mechanical wear, inevitable failure, and other quirks, such as a phenomenon known as file fragmentation, which can slow the device’s performance over time.  A newer technology uses an array of flash memory chips similar to what you might find in a USB thumb drive, to create mass storage that has no moving parts whatsoever.  The proper term for such a device is “Solid State Drive” or SSD for short.  Such devices are superior to spinning-disk drives in several critical areas, including speed, reliability, and ruggedness.  Where they fall short is typically in capacity and cost.  The cost per unit of storage on a SSD can be anywhere from 3 to 10 times the cost of a comparable HDD.  However, like all things when it comes to PCs, the cost vs. benefit is a decision that everyone must make for themselves.

Now then, on to your questions.  The first thing that crossed my mind was why didn’t your technician simply install the 320 GB drive in your new machine?  That drive could even have been outfitted with your new Win7 and made the PC’s primary drive.  However, if you have your heart set on a SSD, that’s okay, if you can afford it.  There is no issue with off/on switching on SSDs – that is more of a problem with HDDs, since it is the process of spinning-up the drive motor that causes the most wear.  The reliability issues you may have heard about with SSDs come about because in flash memory, each memory cell has a limited number of times that it can be re-written.  Drive manufacturers have dramatically increased the reliability of the drives through use of something called TRIM technology, which optimizes the internal way the drive writes and deletes data so that one area doesn’t wear out prematurely.  Only very high-end users who write and erase data constantly, such as professional video editors might have a problem.  A typical home user is far more likely to discard the drive because of obsolescence than because of any problems.  With all that said, please check out independent online reviews of any specific drive models you are considering purchasing before spending your money!

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