Speed up your computer with an SSD

Most of today's current computers are being slowed-down by the HDD (hard disk drive) -- an old data storage technology dating back to the 1950s!

If your computer is decently spec'd, that is, it's equipped with a moderately fast processor and sufficient memory then it will benefit substantially from a fast SSD. I can help you determine that.

 

SSD stands for Solid State Drive.

cheetah

Replacing a slow HDD with a SSD gives a substantial and immediate boost in performance for not much money. It can breathe new life into a slow computer. It will feel like a better-than-new machine, booting up many times faster and starting programs faster than ever. Even brand-new computers can be sped-up dramatically by installing a SSD. It’s unquestionably the best performance bang for the buck.

Because of all the positives SSDs offer, I recommend SSD installation in all new user computers, especially laptops.
 

Slower than Molasses in January

The picture here shows the hard drive activity as seen using the Task Manager. When the disk hits 100% active (busy) time, that means it's maxed out on data data flow and can operate no faster.

When the hard drive hits the transfer rate max, or comes close, that means I/O requests have to wait their turn. And there can be hundreds of them waiting. In this example, the "average response time" is over 10,000 milliseconds -- ten seconds! That's an eternity in computer terms. The computer in this example was running so slow it appeared to be frozen/hung.

This manifests itself to you as taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to finish booting up, for a program to load and become ready, etc. Your computer may not respond to clicks and it may appear hung or frozen until the backlog of disk I/O requests are cleared-up.

Why is the hard drive so bloody slow?

task manager displaying slow hard drive

Inside Your Computer

A computer system has many components that all contribute to the overall apparent speed that you experience. The CPU, memory, graphics chips, hard drive, and more. All of these components have seen major increases in performance as new generations of computers are released. But of all those, the hard disk drive (HDD) has seen probably the least comparative improvement in speed.

 

Making things worse, operating systems like Windows have gotten far bigger and more complicated, with far more processes running than ever before. Windows 10 is a pig compared to earlier versions. I've seen otherwise decently spec'd computers take ten minutes to become useable after restart with Windows 10 and a hard drive. An SSD can drop that to 30 seconds!

A Primer on How Hard Drives Work

The core technology behind the hard drive hasn’t changed much since the 1950s when the hard drive was invented. A hard drive has multiple spinning magnetic disks that hold all your programs and data. Your data is stored on these disks as microscopic magnetic pulses — many trillions of them.

inside of hard drive

Hard Disk Drive - HDD

The data are read-from and written-to the spinning disks via a small movable read/write arm that extends into the stack of disks as shown in the adjacent picture. The tip of that arm is the head which reads and writes the magnetic pulses onto the disks.

When you start up your computer, click on a program, open a file, or do anything else, the HDD must read and write data to fulfill that request.

 

Before it can do so, it must 1) wait for the proper spot of the disk to rotate under the read/write head and 2) the read/write arm must move in or out to position the head with the proper cylinder on the disk. The red lines illustrate this.

This all happens fairly fast but it’s still a rotating mechanical device so it takes time. In the context of computers, even milliseconds are a long time. When there are hundreds of read/write requests waiting to be carried out, then you have a bottleneck. This noticeably slows down your computer since processes (programs) have to wait their turn to read and write data to the disk.

Another disadvantage to HDDs are heat and wear. There’s a motor that spins the disks at many thousands of RPM and bearings that hold the disks in place, similar to the wheels on your car. Moving parts create friction, generate heat, and eventually wear out. This also makes HDDs use more power -- and power equals heat -- so your laptop runs hotter and the battery goes flat sooner. All disadvantages.

Solid State Drives (SSD) Solves All These Problems.

 

  • Zero seek: There are no read/write heads to position.

  • Zero latency: There are no spinning disks so no waiting for the proper sectors to rotate under the heads. Data transfer begins as soon as it’s requested.

  • No moving parts. SSDs consume far less power and generate very little heat. Less heat means a cooler running computer and, for a laptop, longer battery life.

  • No friction. There are no moving parts to heat up or wear out.

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As you can see pictured here, the SSD has no spinning disks, no read/write arm, no moving parts whatsoever. It’s just a big chunk of memory chips similar to the memory chips in your smartphone or tablet.

SSDs cost more per gigabyte than do HDDs. But that cost is coming down considerably and rapidly.

SSD cost is really only a concern if you have hundreds of gigabytes of data, which most people don't have. A 250 GB SSD is plenty of storage for most non-media applications and costs less than $80 as of this writing. A 500 GB SSD isn't much more. While this is more expensive than a similarly-sized HDD, it’s not that much more in terms of absolute cost. And the benefits are substantial.

inside solid state drive

Solid State Drive -- SSD

If you do have hundreds of gigabytes of media data (photo, video, music), such data can be stored on a HDD while your operating system, programs, and non-media data is stored on an SSD. This is the best of both worlds — cheap HDD (magnetic) storage for the space-hogging media files (video, especially), and super-fast SSD storage for everything else. Your tower computer can easily contain both SSD and HDD for this purpose.

Decently specced laptops today come with SSDs already installed but HDDs are still common. Pretty much all desktop and tower systems still come with HDDs. I can replace the HDD with a SSD, giving the computer an immediate and dramatic speed boost.

If SSDs are so great and wonderful then why don't all new computers come with SSD now?

 

The benefits of SSD aren't widely understood or appreciated by non-geeks so manufacturers don't include them in their mainstream models due to cost. Increasing the price even by relatively little in order to include the SSD is a hard sell in a market where computer manufacturers want to cut every penny possible. But as SSD and HDD cost spread narrows, we're starting to see more factory-installed SSDs as a result. 

True price parity is still years away and until then HDDs will be preferred by manufactures wanting to cut costs. But you don't have to wait for that day to arrive, you can switch today and enjoy!