Most electronics today are built around semiconductors and chips. A solid state drive uses semiconductors (NAND Flash) for storing data rather than magnetically charged platters in a conventional rotating hard drive.
SSD Similarities to Traditional Hard Drives
Solid state drives and USB flash drives use the same type of non-volatile memory to retain data when there is no power. The difference is in the form factor and capacity of the drives. While a USB flash drive is designed to be external to the computer system, an SSD is designed to reside inside the computer in place of a more traditional 2.5” or 3.5” hard drive, although there are portable versions of an SSD available, particularly now that the M.2 form factor is widely available.
The M.2 form factor allows for a much smaller hard drive footprint, and vastly increases the number of applications the SSD can be used in. At only 22mm’s in width, and lengths 42, 60, 80 and 110mm’s in length, this size SSD is ideal for smaller form factor computing devices.
Many SSD’s on the outside look almost identical to a conventional hard drive. This design allows the SSD to be put into a laptop or desktop computer in place of a traditional rotating hard drive. It also uses the existing Serial ATA interface so that it can easily be placed into any PC as a traditional hard drive would.
The primary benefits of an SSD are, less power usage, much faster data access and significantly higher reliability because of no moving parts.
Why Use a Solid State Drive?
Solid state drives offer several advantages over traditional hard drives. First, the SSD does not have moving parts. While a magnetic drive uses drive motors to spin the magnetic platters and the drive heads, all the storage on a solid state drive is handled by flash memory chips.
Also lower power usage is a key benefit in the use of solid-state drives in portable computers. Because there is no power draw for motors, the SSD uses far less energy than a regular spinning hard drive.
SSD’s Provide Reliability
Reliability is a key factor for portable drives. Hard drive platters are fragile and sensitive. Shocks from a short drop can damage a rotating hard drive. Since SSD’s store data in flash memory, there are fewer parts to be damaged in an impact. While, mechanically, SSD drives are better, they do have a limited lifespan. Nand Flash memory has a fixed number of read/write cycles (aka program/erase cycles) that can be done before the memory cells become unusable. For most consumers, however, the P/E cycle limits tend to allow the drives to last longer than the average computer system. There are also many advanced techniques employed in todays SSD’s that mitigate this effect, such as wear leveling.
Increased Adoption of SSD’s
Several years ago storage capacity and cost per gigabyte were barriers to widespread adoption of solid state drives. But now that both bit density and cost have achieved parity on mainstream capacities in SSD’s, the SSD is ubiquitous in mobile devices, tablets, AIO’s, laptops and notebooks. There is also a significant upgrade cycle taking place in desktop PC’s and older laptop PC’s due to the significant performance boost provided by incorporating an SSD device.
In addition, as SSD technology has matured, and manufacturers have increased the robustness of NAND Flash technology, SSD’s are now being used in many non traditional applications that require local storage, such as Factory Automation, Edge Computing, Smart Automobiles, Robotics, Medical devices, Surveillance, Data Centers, Aerospace and Industrial equipment.
Solid State Drives are now truly mainstream.
SSD Form Factors and Interfaces, What’s the difference?
There are many types of Solid State Drives (SSD) available in the market today, but knowing which one to choose can sometimes be a daunting task. There are so many different form factors, interfaces and capacity choices, it can be confusing as to which SSD to purchase for your next storage upgrade.
SSD’s have become mainstream and affordable, and the performance improvement at the system level is significant and noticeable, so it’s important to understand the major differences between form factors (2.5”, M.2) and interfaces (NVMe and SATA) before you dive in and purchase one.
The SSD Upgrade ID Process
The most common SSD’s (and highest volume shipped) possess the Serial ATA interface, and usually come in the 2.5” form factor, although some SATA SSD’s are offered in an M.2 form factor, or as an PCIe ‘Add On’ card, depending on your motherboard, and support for storage devices and interface’s. As you can see already, lots of variables to consider….
So the first place to start is determining what your system motherboard supports. Serial ATA is most common on older (more than 4-5 years old) systems, be it a desktop, laptop or AIO (All In One), while more recent systems support newer and faster interfaces like PCIe NVMe, (Non Volatile Memory Express) or they have M.2 slots built in. (M.2 sockets shown below)
If your system motherboard supports the SATA bus, then you’ll be able to use the existing hard drive data and power cables that are present, to hook up your new SATA SSD.
The Serial ATA SSD interface tops out at about 550 to 600 MB’s/sec. (sequential read), whereas the NVMe 1.4 interface (PCIe 4.0) can achieve Sequential Read speeds of up to 7000 MB’s/sec. on the latest models! So an order of magnitude faster than Serial ATA SSD’s, which was about five times faster than a Serial ATA Hard Disk Drive (rotating memory) at ~100 MB’s/sec.
So when it comes to breathing ‘new life’ into an existing system, you can just imagine what a larger capacity SATA or NVMe SSD will do for your systems performance. Whether you look at start up times or larger file loads, your system running a higher performance SSD will be noticeably faster. Money well spent!
There are two primary types of M.2 SSDs, those that use the PCIe bus (these are commonly known as NVMe SSDs) and those that use the SATA bus. There are also different lengths of M.2 SSDs. The typical lengths manufactured are 2242, 2260, 2280 (most common) and the 22110. The number “22” is the value of the width of the M.2 drive in millimeters (mm). The numbers after that, 42, 60, 80 and 110 represent the length, again in millimeters. Longer drives can accommodate more NAND flash chips and therefore support higher capacities.
How much Capacity do I need?
Now let’s spend a moment focusing on Capacity. With the cost per GB getting very close to that of traditional rotating HDD’s, it makes sense to get the largest SSD your budget can afford in most cases. Considering that Windows 10 alone consumes anywhere from 25-30GB’s, not counting any other system files, preloaded bloatware, applications, programs, games, photo’s, video’s, documents and so forth, you will quickly run out of space if you purchase anything less than 256 GB’s, and even then, 500 GB’s really should be the minimum for most typical users. Prices today for a 500GB SSD are super affordable. And capacities top out at around 8GB’s, albeit SSD’s that large are typically pretty expensive. A nice balance in today’s market is 1-2 TB’s, and you’ll have room to grow your file stash over time without having to upgrade after just 6-8 months time. And if you shoot a lot of photo’s and more importantly, video footage, you really should get 3-4 TB’s of local storage, and augment that with cloud storage that you can upload and offload files to later. Upload speeds, even over the faster internet connections available are maxed out at about 30 Mb/sec, so large files take some time to move, so it makes sense to have sufficient local storage. Video file sizes are typically very large. When you consider that a 1 minute clip of 4K UHD video shot at 60 FPS (frames per second) consumes about 400 MB’s of space, you can see how quickly you’ll consume many GB’s of storage saving these files to your PC or Laptop.
Which Form Factor?
Finally, let’s look at form factors. For the longest time, the 2.5” form factor was the dominant SSD size, but in the last several years, and with the advent of the PCIe NVME interface, you now have PCIe Add On cards for older desktop PC motherboards, and the M.2 form factor for newer motherboards. So for older systems, you’ll likely be using the 2.5” form factor ‘as is’ in your laptop or AIO machine, and for your desktop PC, you’ll be getting a mounting frame adapter that holds your 2.5” unit, which allows you to mount it in place of the 3.5” HDD you’re replacing. And for M.2’s, you’ll either have a dedicated slot for the M.2 SSD, or you’ll be mounting it in a PCIe adapter.
2.5″ SATA SSD (left side) and M.2 NVMe (right side). PCIe Adapter with an M.2 SSD mounted. (below center)
Its an exciting time when it comes to upgrading your systems performance in a big way, and nothing is easier than changing out your 30 year old hard disk drive technology, with the latest and greatest in Solid State Storage, with ultra fast transfer rates. It’s the most cost effective way to get so much more performance out of your computing experience, regardless of what you use your computer for.
So happy upgrading!