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Like a memory stick, there are no moving parts to an SSD. Rather, information is stored in microchips. Conversely, a hard disk drive uses a mechanical arm with a read/write head to move around and read information from the right location on a storage platter. This difference is what makes SSD so much faster.

The traditional spinning hard drive (HDD) is the basic nonvolatile storage on a computer. That is, it doesn't "go away" like the data on the system memory when you turn the system off. Hard drives are essentially metal platters with a magnetic coating. That coating stores your data, whether that data consists of weather reports from the last century, a high-definition copy of the Star Wars trilogy, or your digital music collection. A read/write head on an arm accesses the data while the platters are spinning in a hard drive enclosure.

An SSD does much the same job functionally (e.g., saving your data while the system is off, booting your system, etc.) as an HDD, but instead of a magnetic coating on top of platters, the data is stored on interconnected flash memory chips that retain the data even when there's no power present. The chips can either be permanently installed on the system's motherboard (like on some small laptops and ultrabooks), on a PCI/PCIe card (in some high-end workstations), or in a box that's sized, shaped, and wired to slot in for a laptop or desktop's hard drive (common on everything else). These flash memory chips differ from the flash memory in USB thumb drives in the type and speed of the memory. That's the subject of a totally separate technical treatise, but suffice it to say that the flash memory in SSDs is faster and more reliable than the flash memory in USB thumb drives. SSDs are consequently more expensive than USB thumb drives for the same capacities.

A History of HDDs and SSDs Hard-drive technology is relatively ancient (in terms of computer history, anyway). There are well-known pictures of the infamous IBM 350 RAMAC hard drive from 1956 that used fifty 24-inch-wide platters to hold a whopping 3.75MB of storage space. This, of course, is the size of an average 128Kbps MP3 file, in the physical space that could hold two commercial refrigerators. The IBM 350 was only ulitized by government and industrial users, and was obsolete by 1969. Ain't progress wonderful? The PC hard drive form factor standardized in the early 1980s, with the desktop-class 5.25-inch form factor, and with the 3.5-inch desktop-class and 2.5-inch notebook-class drives coming soon thereafter. The internal cable interface has changed from Serial to IDE to SCSI to SATA over the years, but it essentially does the same thing: connects the hard drive to the PC's motherboard so your data can be processed. Today's 2.5- and 3.5-inch drives use SATA interfaces almost exclusively (at least on most PCs and Macs). Capacities have grown from multiple megabytes to multiple terabytes, an increase of millions fold. Current 3.5-inch HDDs max out at 10TB, with 2.5-inch drives at 3TB max.

The SSD has a much more recent history. There was always an infatuation with non-moving storage from the beginning of personal computing, with technologies like bubble memory flashing (pun intended) and dying in the 1970s and '80s. Current flash memory is the logical extension of the same idea. The flash memory chips store your data and don't require constant power to retain that data. The first primary drives that we know as SSDs started during the rise of netbooks in the late 2000s. In 2007, the OLPC XO-1 used a 1GB SSD, and the Asus Eee PC 700 series used a 2GB SSD as primary storage. The SSD chips on low-end Eee PC units and the XO-1 were permanently soldered to the motherboard. As netbooks, ultrabooks, and other ultraportable laptop PCs became more capable, the SSD capacities increased, and eventually standardized on the 2.5-inch notebook form factor. This way, you could pop a 2.5-inch hard drive out of your laptop or desktop and replace it easily with an SSD. Other form factors emerged, like the mSATA miniPCIe SSD card, M.2 SSD, and the DIMM-like SSDs in the Apple MacBook Air, but today many SSDs are still built into the 2.5-inch form factor. The 2.5-inch SSD capsacity currently tops out at 4TB, but will undoubtedly grow as time goes by.

Advantages and Disadvantages Both SSDs and HDDs do the same job: They boot your system, store your applications, and store your personal files. But each type of storage has its own unique feature set. The question is, what's the difference, and why would a user get one over the other? We break it down:

Price: To put it bluntly, SSDs are more expensive than HDDs in terms of dollar per GB. For the same capacity and form factor 1TB internal 2.5-inch drive, you'll pay about $60 to $75 for an HDD, but as of this writing, an SSD doubles that to $130 to $150. That translates into 7 cents per gigabyte for the HDD and 14 cents per gigabyte for the SSD. Since HDDs are older, more established technologies, they will remain less expensive for the near future. Those extra hundreds may push your system price over budget.

Maximum and Common Capacity: As seen above, SSD units top out at 4TB, but those are still very rare and expensive. You're more likely to find 500GB to 1TB units as primary drives in systems. While 500GB is considered a "base" hard drive in 2015, pricing concerns can push that down to 128GB for lower-priced SSD-based systems. Multimedia users will require even more, with 1TB to 4TB drives as common in high-end systems. Basically, the more storage capacity, the more stuff (photos, music, videos, etc.) you can hold on your PC. While the (Internet) cloud may be a good place to share these files among your phone, tablet, and PC, local storage is less expensive, and you only have to buy it once

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