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Characteristics: Hard Drive Versus Solid-State

Should You Upgrade? From A Hard Drive To An SSD
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Performance

As you'll see in the video toward the end of this story, an SSD can significantly speed up a modern PC any time you launch an application, load a game level, or import lots of data. Why? Often, smoking-fast data rates are cited. Compared to SSDs, 2.5” hard disks achieve 60-100 MB/s, while 3.5” drives hit in the 100-150 MB/s range. Those spec sheet figures represent a best-case scenario for mechanical storage, though. The vendors quote numbers while their products move large amounts of data sequentially. To be fair, SSD vendors also pick best-case tests when they draft their specifications. But because both technologies work differently, the numbers aren't as easily compared.

As soon as the disk's read or write head has to change tracks, a delay that seems archaic by modern standards is incurred. Consequentially, I/O-heavy applications like Windows' boot-up, where thousands and thousands of small data blocks are read, do not favor hard drives (even modern ones). The effective data rate winds up being only a few MB/s. Thus, while disk drives do a great job of holding large quantities of data, they are not ideal as system drives or for hosting performance-sensitive applications.

SSDs store their data on NAND flash. In fact, they employ a number of memory chips operating in parallel, communicating across data channels. Combined, all of a drive's channels are able to achieve sequential read speeds ranging anywhere from a couple hundred megabytes per second to more than 550 MB/s. As mentioned, sequential performance is where hard drives shine, too.

Writing to an SSD is complicated by the fact that only whole blocks can be written. Even if the operation only involves a few bits, it may be necessary to read, erase, and finally rewrite one or two blocks per channel. Thus, hundreds of megabytes per second can turn into just a few dozen. Here's the thing, though: as long as we're talking about 4 KB blocks, which are used by modern file systems, SSDs are still 10 to 20 times faster than hard disks, sustaining write speeds in the two-figure MB/s range as hard drive performance drops into the KB/s as a result of the head movements. This difference in performance is quite noticeable.

Mechanical Construction

SSDs have no moving parts, and are thus extremely robust. Theoretically, if you were to subject one to extremely high vibration or shock, solder joints could come undone, but that would be pretty unlikely. While solder joints could also separate in a hard drive, the real issue there is the use of mechanical read and write heads over a quickly-rotating platter, almost like an old-fashioned record player. Anything more than the faintest vibration impedes the performance of a disk drive, not to mention the risk of catastrophic mechanical defects like the infamous head crash, where the head impacts the physical media. Although hard drives (especially 2.5” ones), are quite resilient nowadays, we would still not call them robust, in stark contrast to SSDs.

Power Draw and Heat

SSDs draw a few watts at most. Hard disks, however, can draw 10 W or more during sustained head movement. Modern SSDs don't even really get warm. Disk drives, on the other hand, often necessitate cooling. While normal front-to-back circulation through your case may be enough, the heat dissipation of your hard drive is something to think about as you build your system.

Weak Spots

Whether an SSD will suddenly go belly-up on you cannot be predicted, which is pretty much the case for hard drives as well. However, the latter are more prone to failure due to their combination of electronics and mechanics. This may partly depend on how they are treated. In comparison, SSDs seem to be more susceptible to issues with their firmware. The potential problems are different, but still present in both cases. For more about SSD reliability, check out Investigation: Is Your SSD More Reliable Than A Hard Drive?.

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Top Comments
  • 33 Hide
    Inferno1217 , October 7, 2011 4:36 AM
    looks like dial-up vs. broadband
  • 20 Hide
    Wamphryi , October 7, 2011 5:13 AM
    I was of the opinion that 10000 RPM Drives are enough. However since I went SSD there is no comparison. I have two Velicoraptors in RAID 0 and they just cant keep up. However they are ideal to store a couple of hundred GB of HD Video for Video Editing. Upgrading a Laptop from its HDD to a SSD is a real treat. It results in a massive improvement in performance.

    SSD for the OS and main applications is well worth it.

    10000 RPM HDD's make awesome scratch drives especially for HD.

    7200 RPM HDD's are excellent for reasonable performance combined with large capacity.

    5400 RPM HDD's are excellent for external / hot swappable solutions especially in the absence of active cooling.

    There is a solution for every situation now.
  • 20 Hide
    bratbretbrot , October 7, 2011 4:30 AM
    limited capacities and still-high prices, period
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    bratbretbrot , October 7, 2011 4:30 AM
    limited capacities and still-high prices, period
  • 33 Hide
    Inferno1217 , October 7, 2011 4:36 AM
    looks like dial-up vs. broadband
  • -7 Hide
    kurahk7 , October 7, 2011 4:37 AM
    The motherboard pictured is the MSI H57M-ED65 not the listed Gigabyte.
  • -1 Hide
    agnickolov , October 7, 2011 4:37 AM
    The answer is still: it depends on your needs.

    I just upgraded my boot drive - to a 450GB 10K RPM Velociraptor. Any lower capacity is simply insufficient to hold my Steam and other games.
  • 5 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , October 7, 2011 4:38 AM
    Great article. Enjoyed reading it. I was a little apprehensive when I purchased my first ssd. It was a low budget entry model that was on sale. Quite frankly the performance surprised me.

    Two days ago I purchased my second ssd - a Samsung 470 256GB ssd because of Samsung's reliability. In addition my motherboard is not SATA 3 6Gb/s capable and I did not want to upgrade the motherboard, cpu, and memory. The next upgrade will be when the new PCI-e 3.0 based components establish a reasonably good track record.
  • 2 Hide
    kurahk7 , October 7, 2011 4:38 AM
    kurahk7The motherboard pictured is the MSI H57M-ED65 not the listed Gigabyte.

    Never Mind. Just refreshed the page and saw the "System Hardware for Real-Life Tests."
  • -1 Hide
    CorusMaximus , October 7, 2011 4:52 AM
    Is there still issues with raid 0 and trim on SSD?
  • 2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 7, 2011 5:03 AM
    i lolled on seeing the video. the hdd video is very familiar to me, specially the scrolling messages on the ms powerpoint oening splash scree.
  • -1 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , October 7, 2011 5:08 AM
    Q: has anyone here used both a sf1200 SSD and a sf2281 based SSD? whats the "subjective speed difference" between these two? and please dont quote benchies. did you actually feel that the system is faster?
  • 3 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , October 7, 2011 5:13 AM
    mayankleoboy1Q: has anyone here used both a sf1200 SSD and a sf2281 based SSD? whats the "subjective speed difference" between these two? and please dont quote benchies. did you actually feel that the system is faster?


    If there is any subjective difference it would barely be noticeable. We've had veterans post here and at other forums that they could not tell the difference. It would be different for a complicated enterprise or scientific application.
  • 20 Hide
    Wamphryi , October 7, 2011 5:13 AM
    I was of the opinion that 10000 RPM Drives are enough. However since I went SSD there is no comparison. I have two Velicoraptors in RAID 0 and they just cant keep up. However they are ideal to store a couple of hundred GB of HD Video for Video Editing. Upgrading a Laptop from its HDD to a SSD is a real treat. It results in a massive improvement in performance.

    SSD for the OS and main applications is well worth it.

    10000 RPM HDD's make awesome scratch drives especially for HD.

    7200 RPM HDD's are excellent for reasonable performance combined with large capacity.

    5400 RPM HDD's are excellent for external / hot swappable solutions especially in the absence of active cooling.

    There is a solution for every situation now.
  • 6 Hide
    jwcalla , October 7, 2011 5:52 AM
    "Should You Upgrade?"

    This should have been a one-word article.

    srsly... once you go SSD, you can't go back.
  • 6 Hide
    DjEaZy , October 7, 2011 6:16 AM
    Should You Upgrade from A Hard Drive To An SSD? It's expensive, but worth it... speed increase is wow...
  • 6 Hide
    Wamphryi , October 7, 2011 6:41 AM
    Yeah my i3 Laptop feels like it has more snap than my i5 Lynnfield Desktop which runs a Velicoraptor.
  • 3 Hide
    Kamab , October 7, 2011 7:23 AM
    Definitely Agree.

    Purchased an Intel X25-M 80GB on my most recent desktop build and have since upgraded to SSD's on my personal/work laptops. Definitely improves the experience.
  • 9 Hide
    compton , October 7, 2011 7:28 AM
    To all the people who think that it's not worth it until they can get a 1TB SSD for $80, consider that Baby Jesus hates it when you're running your OS off a hard drive that hasn't changed since the pterodactyls roamed the skies. I'd take an $80 SSD over any mechanical HDD any day of the week. The great part is YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE OR THE OTHER! Not even in many laptops, with the advent of more mini PCIe SSDs. In the past year I've forgone more rapid upgrades to stockpile SSDs when I can get them cheap. You can get a gently used X25-M 80GB for not much feddy on the eBay the kids talk about. Agility 30GBs are going for $40 when there're in stock on Newegg. Every part of the price spectrum is covered. Just install Windows (Or OSX if you go both ways...) on the SSD, use the HDD for Steam or what have you. It's easy, it works great. Don't deny yourself the most effective upgrade you can get right now because you think you need at least 512GB. Many laptops with SATA II and III barely surpass SATA I in many instances, and you're still better off in a laptop with a SSD -- with some decent solid state storage in a Core2Duo lappy it will certainly feel snappier even if you're hamstrung with a bunk controller. And to top it off, a desktop system with no loud-ass HDDs whirring like a helicopter in a tornado? Worth every penny. I can't think of any system made after 2003 that wouldn't benefit from faster storage, but even if max transfer rates are lower, its the small size performance that really pays the bills.

    So don't act like you have to sacrifice mechanical storage to get a smaller capacity SSD. Don't act like it's too expensive... there are a ton of great choices between $80 and $129. Don't be a SSD hating asshat. That's all I ask.
  • 9 Hide
    Homeboy2 , October 7, 2011 7:46 AM
    "limited capacities and still-high prices, period"

    You don't get it. For less than a hundred you can buy a 64 gb SSD and use it for a boot disk and a few apps. PERIOD.
  • 7 Hide
    compton , October 7, 2011 8:10 AM
    haplo602I am still going for 5x250GB drives in raid 5 ... ssds are nice but have limited lifespan built in. that's one thing that keeps me away from them.


    HDD have a limited lifespan as well. At least with SSDs once all the PE cycles are erased the drive is at least read only...

    What if I told you could write 164GB a day for the next 10 years? With a 64GB Crucial M4? Or many other drives...
    Check of the XtremeSystems.org forum endurance testing at



    _Pez_No, I should not upgrade. I prefer more storage capacity than super speed and limited storage capacity. If I want speed I can put 2 or 3 WD 600Gb VelociRaptors in raid 0 and also have super High capacity speed for less money. I Think that would be and is for me the choice of smart ppl.


    Yes, but the 4K random writes don't scale. You could have 4 velociraptor 600s and only get 4MBs 4K random reads and writes. You'd be able to copy blu-ray rips from a ram drive at a hellified speed... but that's worthless. Small file random performance makes all the difference. Plus, the raptors are way overpriced for the performance.
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