Not a Big Risk Anymore

Hello Phil

Solid-state drives (SSD's) are rapidly becoming the main drive in PC's as a factory install or DiY upgrade (not just a boot drive for the OS). They are lighter, noiseless, don't generate a lot of heat, consume less energy (extending battery life), are incredibly fast, and seemly indestructible versus their spinning HD cousins.

Granted most factory-installed SSD's top out at 256GB (ultrabooks and MacBook Airs) with a few at 512GB. Aftermarket prices range from $0.82 to $1.36 per GB. That translates into $104 for a 128GB SSD to $696 for a 512GB SSD (depending upon the manufacturer). A Crucial M4 series 512GB SSD (highly rated) can be had for about $400. As you can see a little careful shopping can net you a pretty good deal on some state-of-the-art technology.

Laptops are outselling towers as most people want mobility. However that mobility comes at a price. A factory-installed SSD in the past could increase the price of an $800 - $1,000 laptop by about $400 (regardless of Gb capacity). Because of cost most buyers skipped the SSD option. Now with improved technology and manufacturing techniques the SSD has become more mainstream and affordable.

One way to make that one-year old or older laptop seem like new is to install a SSD. As a matter of full disclosure in the beginning SSDs had a reputation for not handling data storage efficiently. Put simply they weren't able to properly recapture/reallocate space wherein something had been deleted. TRIM and Garbage Collection technologies (plus any other manufacturer proprietary schemes introduced into the SSD controller) have greatly minimized those concerns.

Learn more about TRIM and Garbage Collection here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Write_amplification

By comparison the old-fashioned (well may be not old-fashioned) spinning HD is prone to developing "Bad Sectors" which makes that portion of the drive unreadable/unwriteable. On the bright side SSD's today have similar MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) ratings as spinning HD's.

I think it's safe to say that the majority approve the use of SSD's in lieu of the conventional HD when deployed in the right environment and application. Consumer spinning HD's will be around for a longtime. They are still superior when it comes to capacity and less finicky regarding erasure and data recovery. However their use in laptops is decreasing as manufacturers continue their design trend of less is more, longer battery life and SSD's having less vulnerability to shock by everyday use.

The sweet spot for the SSD laptop will most likely be 256GB as large capacity pocket size external and cloud storage markets continue to grow. Some manufacturers offer 512GB laptops such as Sony and now Apple with the MBP 15" Retina display. Apple will even configure a MBP 15" with a 750GB SSD. WOW!

I question the wisdom of a 750GB SSD and larger given the delicate balance of speed vs. reliability vs. capacity. All of which have to be in sync without sacrificing the former two for the latter. But who am I to question the wisdom of Apple????

There are Pros and Cons regarding SSD's:

Pros - Faster, Less Weight, Generate less heat, Consume less energy, Less likely to suffer damage if dropped (when installed in a laptop)

Cons - Limited life span versus spinning HD's in terms of read/write cycles, SSD Secure File/Data Deletion, Data Recovery from a Failed SSD

The Pros don't require any discussion as they speak for themselves and are easily verified by the user. The Cons on the other hand while not false are not entirely true and therefore deserve discussion.

Limited life span versus spinning HD's in terms of read/write cycles refers to SSD Endurance. TRIM and Garbage Collection technologies built into the SSD controller are designed to compensate and extend the life of the SSD under repeated write/re-write scenarios. Expert opinions suggest that consumers (below the enterprise level) should not be concerned. Click the link: http://www.storagesearch.com/ssdmyths-endurance.html

SSD Secure File/Data Deletion would appear to be more applicable to business applications vesus the consumer. At present the best consumer solution is Data Encryption. There is talk of standardizing a Data Erasure Scheme for SSD's. It has yet to be agreed upon because manufacturers want to keep their processes proprietary. Click the link: http://arstechnica.com/security/2011/03/ask-ars-how-can-i-safely-erase-the-data-from-my-ssd-drive/

Data Recovery from a Failed SSD can be difficult but not impossible. Researchers quote... "SSD failures are in fact unrecoverable. The advice is to look at data recovery information on your SSD vendor's site and disregard data recovery sites in operation for less than 5 years." Click the link: http://www.STORAGEsearch.com/ssd-recovery.html

The key is not to let the Cons discourage you. There are several things one can do to avoid or at least minimize the unfortunates that MAY come with owning an SSD:

Deploy an SSD mainly for the OS and Applications Folders for fast boots/shutdowns and program launch/close
• Perform a "clean" install whenever possible versus cloning to an SSD
• Check the manufacturers website for firmware updates on a regular basis
• Know if a firmware update is Destructive which erases all data during the update process. Typically deployed as the second update for a new controller design - not the norm
• Store your important files and those that require constant editing on a secondary drive
• Turn off Windows Indexing/Search to eliminate constant write/re-writes. Services not needed given the speed of SSD's versus a conventional HD.
• Never Defrag a SSD either by automatic or manual setting
• Turn off Windows and Security software logging
• Don't buy an off-brand SSD (if the price is too good to be true...it probably is)
• Know your system and buy the correct SSD either SATA I, II, or III
• Choose the right size - 2.5 " for laptops - 3.5" for towers or 2.5" for towers using a 3.5" adapter
• Always BACK-UP your data on a regular basis
• If a DiY upgrade - Don't erase your old HD until you are satisfied with the SSD install...90 days at least

Phil...take a read of as many posts as you can. Then do your own research and decide for yourself if an SSD is the right upgrade for you. In case you're wondering, I upgraded my early 2011 MBP 17-inch with a 750GB spinning HD to an OCZ Vertex 4 SATA III- 512Gb 2.5-inch SSD and I'm loving it!

I hope this information aids you in making an informed decision. Good luck! cool

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