Let’s get this out of the way right up front: When it comes to speed, a solid-state drive (SSD) is the single most important component you can have in a computer. The key thing to look for when buying a computer is a solid-state drive — not a faster CPU, not more RAM, not a more powerful video card.
Your Hard Drive is the Bottleneck
Your computer’s hard drive is probably its bottleneck — the slowest component in the computer that slows everything down. A faster CPU or more RAM won’t do much good if your mechanical hard drive is holding everything back.
When you’re using the computer for normal desktop use, the hard drive is generally what’s slowing you down. When you click a program’s icon to launch it, open a file or even save a file to your hard drive, that wait you experience — even if it’s just a moment’s pause — is because the mechanical hard drive has to physically move its heads to a different part of its spinning magnetic platter and read the data from it.
Benchmarks Don’t Lie
Solid-state drives are primarily made from the same sort of flash memory you’ll find in USB flash drives, smartphones, and other solid-state devices. The SSD has no moving parts, just like a USB flash drive. You’ll never need to wait for a head to move back and forth, as you do with a mechanical hard drive.
This results in a massive performance increase. How big? Well, that depends on how you measure it. I upgraded a laptop that came with a mechanical hard drive to a modern solid-state drive a few months ago, and I ran benchmarks on both drives.
For some types of disk activity, the SSD was a mere two-and-a-half time faster. But for a mechanical drive’s slowest activity — reading from random locations all over the disk — the benchmark showed the SSD was four hundred times faster.
That’s a huge increase. It’s because an SSD isn’t just upgrading to a newer, faster drive — it’s upgrading to a newer generation of technology entirely, like when computers ditched floppy disk drives for CDs and then USB flash drives.
It’s not just benchmarks, either. If your computer boots in a minute or two, it could easily boot in 20 seconds or perhaps even less. When you open a program or file, that small delay will be eliminated and the computer will respond instantly. It’s a huge difference in real use.
Be certain it’s an SSD
You can upgrade your current computer to an SSD, but that’s a geeky thing most computer users won’t actually want to do.
Instead, when you find yourself shopping for a new computer, treat an SSD as the most important component for performance. Don’t choose a computer with a faster CPU and more RAM that has an old, slow mechanical drive over a computer with a slower CPU, a bit less RAM, and a speedy, modern SSD. That SSD-powered computer will probably be much faster in real use. And SSDs have come down significantly in price.
Some computer manufacturers seem to love pushing their old mechanical hard drives. It’s a numbers game to them — they can claim 1 TB, 2 TB or 3 TB of storage space next to a solid-state drive that might have only 128 GB, 256 GB or 512 GB of storage. But you probably don’t need an entire terabyte of storage on your computer. You likely will benefit more from faster storage.
If you do happen to need all that space — perhaps you have a lot of music and video files on your computer — then you can connect an external hard drive to your computer over a USB cable and store all your media files there. Remember, you’ll get the most benefit from an SSD for the operating system and program files. So if you don’t have enough room for all of your data, that’s fine; relegate those files to a mechanical drive. But make no mistake: An SSD will completely change the experience of using a PC.
Photo Credit: Simon Wullhorst on Flickr