Who needs an SSD anyway?

Last Updated on October 1, 2010 by Dave Farquhar

So one of my coworkers asked about my SSD today, and two others followed up with questions after I talked about how fast it is.

Any time a new technology comes out, there are objectors, of course. Unless it’s something they’re used to seeing. SSDs aren’t. I believe SSDs will go down in history as a disruptive technology, and as such, they’ll be misunderstood for a while.One person asked what I do that I need that kind of speed. Well, the same things everyone else does with a computer. What does he do that he needs anything faster than a Rage 128 video card, or a dual-core CPU? Truth is, I’m sure he has a faster video card than me and its capabilities sit there unused all the time.

Finally I answered. Once you’ve used it and gotten used to the speed, it’s very hard to live without it. In a way, it’s a cop out, but it’s true. Back in the early 1990s when people would ask Amiga owners what they do that they need multitasking, they got the same answer. Eventually the rest of the world figured out those Amiga guys were right, and PCs and Macintoshes got pre-emptive multitasking.

The other guy asked what it cost. I said around $130 for 30 gig. "That’s an expensive 30 gig drive," he said. Well, he’s right. But consider this. The drive consumes perhaps 20% of the power that a conventional drive does. That cuts your electric bill. It generates minimal heat, so it’s not heating up the inside of your computer. That extends the life expectancy of the other components, and therefore the computer. The drive has no movable parts, so there are no disk heads to crash and lose your data at some unexpected time. Put an SSD in a computer, and barring a really bad power surge or filesystem corruption, there’s every reason to believe your data will stay intact, not just for three or four years, but more likely a decade or more.

To me, all of that’s worth something. Not to mention that some people think absolutely nothing of spending $300 extra for a faster CPU or video card.

In a way, an SSD is a luxury. But let’s think about it rationally. People who need $100 1 TB drives need them because they have boatloads of multimedia files. Whether it’s pictures, movies, or music doesn’t matter. None of them need fast access, so putting them on an SSD is fairly pointless. So buy that $100 1 TB drive to hold that stuff. Then spend $130 for a 30 GB SSD, or $160 for a $60 SSD, and store the stuff that does need speed–namely the operating system and applications–on the fast drive. Then you’ve paid $160 extra for what was an impossibly fast drive just two years ago, and spent less than the difference in price between a mainline video card or CPU and an enthusiast model.

And you do notice the difference, even in routine things. Beyond the computer booting in 20 seconds and applications loading in 1-2 seconds, routine stuff goes faster. Web browsing is noticeably quicker, because writes to the browser cache happen quickly and they don’t interrupt the task of actually displaying the pages. Reads from the cache happen several times faster, so when you visit sites that you frequent, the static, unchanging elements of the page pop up immediately while the browser downloads the day’s new content. The difference isn’t quite like the difference between a fast, modern web browser and Internet Explorer 6.0, but that’s the closest thing I can think of to describe it.

And on those insane days when there’s a ton of stuff going on, and you have 14 browser tabs open, 12 documents open in Word, a couple of worksheets open in Excel, and a couple of other applications running, each with multiple documents open? Well, maybe only I have those days, but I doubt it. You know what normally happens when you get into that situation. You may have a couple of gigs of RAM, but the disk just keeps grinding away under that load anyway, and any time you switch applications, the disk light flashes and you get that noticeable pause while you wait for the application to switch? That doesn’t happen with an SSD. Whatever data the system feels the need to swap out to disk happens in an instant. Sure, there’s still a delay, but if you blink, you’ll miss it.

I already want another one. Two, actually. One for the other desktop computer my wife and I use, and one for my server. The question isn’t whether I get another one or two. The question is whether I wait for a sale.

Yeah, I’m obsessed.

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