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Scott SSDs: The Bottom Line

I’ve been wondering about desktop/laptop solid-state drives for a while, hearing all sorts of good and bad things. Recently I read up on the subject and here I present my findings, distilled down to the key points – whether you should get an SSD, which one, and why.

The Spark

First off, Jeff Atwood’s post is what renewed my interest in the subject of SSDs:

“Computer performance is typically limited by the slowest part in your system.”

…where the slowest part is often the hard drive. Removing that bottleneck can effectively make the whole computer faster to use and more responsive. He then proceeds to rave about the difference having a good SSD makes.

All right, he sold me on the concept. But surely there’s more to this SSD story than that.

The Nitty-Gritty

For a whole lot of info on SSDs, you could certainly do worse than AnandTech’s SSD Anthology. There’s also the somewhat more recent follow-up piece. Just a warning: both are quite long; I’ll try to sum up a few of the key points:

  • Many reviews look at sequential read and write speeds, but real-world usage is much more random – random read and write speeds (and their respective latency) tend to matter a lot more here. So make sure you’re not focusing on irrelevant benchmarks.
  • One of the best SSDs (Intel X25-M) destroys the best hard drive (WD VelociRaptor) in random reads and writes
  • Technically the NAND flash cells in an SSD wear out after about 10,000 writes, but realistically you’ll probably reach the end of the drive’s life at about 10 years (when the cells do not reliably hold a charge) first.
  • SSDs are much less power-hungry.
  • The very fast Intel drives are also some of the most expensive, but there are lower-cost alternatives which perform quite well.

Considering the above information, if I were to buy an SSD today I would go with the Patriot Torqx 128GB Drive. It’s fast, has a relatively good amount of storage for an SSD, and comes with both a 3.5″ bay adapter plus a 10 year warranty.

Maximum PC agrees, as of this writing it’s their Best of the Best SSD.

Is it Worth it?

While I’m looking forward to building a new computer within the next several months, I have not yet used one with an SSD. I only have what I’ve read to go on. Sounds very exciting though, and worth devoting a substantial portion of a computer’s budget to buying a good one.

The next question is whether I’ll have room in my budget for an SSD; I sure hope so. As clock speeds aren’t jumping up like they used to I expect to replace my current machine of several years with one that might have more cores and RAM but not an immensely faster clock, so an SSD may be the one thing that would provide a truly evolutionary leap.

What about reliability? Well, I’ve never owned a hard drive that came with a warranty a decade long. But that only answers the hardware question, not the question about my data. Of course, having an SSD that’s 80 or 128GB isn’t a huge amount of storage. That’s where traditional hard drives are still the best, at that cost-per-gigabyte it doesn’t make sense to expect your storage needs to be met by an SSD.

At this point, SSDs are best for your primary drive – put your OS and applications there and pair it with a hard drive for your data, terabytes are cheap in Hard Drive Land. Western Digital has always treated me well, I’ll probably choose whatever they’re offering that’s inexpensive and roomy. And maybe while I’m building a new machine I’ll recommission this computer to finally handle backup duties.

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