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Should You Upgrade? From A Hard Drive To An SSD

Should You Upgrade? From A Hard Drive To An SSD
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Should you buy a new processor for your next machine? How about a new graphics card? Have you given any thought to the status of your storage subsystem? We're making a case for incorporating solid-state technology the next time you're upgrade-shopping.

Should you buy a new processor for your next machine? How about a new graphics card? Have you given any thought to the status of your storage subsystem? We're making a case for incorporating solid-state technology the next time you're upgrade-shopping.

The verdict is in. Enthusiasts who've gotten their hands on an SSD and felt the difference don't want to go back to using a mechanical hard disk as a system drive. The advantages of flash-based storage cannot be ignored. Their weaknesses (significantly higher prices and comparatively lower capacities) are gradually being addressed by smaller manufacturing nodes, which help drive down cost and increase storage density.

On the flip side, negligible access times, very high data rates, and excellent I/O performance are some of the benefits that SSDs introduce. You can't forget mechanical robustness, low power consumption, and silent operation, either.

So many vendors are crowding the SSD market today, though, that the average user has a difficult time separating the wheat from the chaff. That's why we came up with our Best SSDs For The Money column. Flip over to the sixth page of that story, though, and you'll see a chart that demonstrates how all modern SSDs blow away mechanical storage. Even though you can pit a handful of solid-state drives against each other and extrapolate performance differences, even the slowest model is many times better than a spinning disk.

SSDs: Pros and Cons

Here's the problem, though: it's difficult to demonstrate the benefits of an SSD using the benchmarks we typically run to quantify the gains tied to processors and graphics cards. As a result, the folks who don't consider themselves hardcore hardware aficionados have a tough time placing the reason to spend more on a lower-capacity device, especially if they've never used one.

Case in point: I recently asked to look over a wish list of PC parts for a good friend's son's birthday. It was armed with a Sandy Bridge-based processor, 4 GB of RAM, a nice graphics card, and a few nifty accessories. But, of course, it included a hard drive with no sign of solid-state storage. I tried to get the message across that, given a certain budget, it could actually make more sense to give up a couple hundred megahertz of clock rate on the processor and the factory-overclocked GPU in favour of adding a 64 GB boot drive, keeping the hard disk as the data drive.

A few days later, the PC was configured and built at a local PC store, without the SSD. Instead, it came with a hard drive two times larger.

Fact Check

Perception is generally based on tangible, comparable numbers. A 2 TB hard disk spinning at 7200 RPM sounds impressive when the old office PC came with a 120 GB, 5400 RPM model. And even the evolutionary path of the interface sounds more awesome than it really is. "Wow, 300 MB/s was old, and now I can get 600 MB/s?" If only it were that easy, right?

There are two issues in play here. First, there are too few folks who believe that putting an SSD into a system will yield a noticeable gain their applications. And second, limited capacities and still-high prices discourage a large number of folks from even giving the solid-state technology a shot.

Let's say it again, though. An SSD, regardless of which one you pick, runs circles around mechanical storage. And in order to illustrate that, we're going to compare an SSD to a popular hard drive in the same test machine.

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  • -2 Hide
    illusio12 , 7 October 2011 19:02
    So, the game level loads quicker, but i cannot achieve the same resolution or quality or overall game play experience because of the lesser cpu and gpu i had to get to get a ssd?

    Whats the point again?
  • 1 Hide
    MockingbirdUK , 7 October 2011 20:48
    @illusio12 - Just beyond your grasp, apparently.
  • -2 Hide
    mactronix , 7 October 2011 20:59
    So you proved water is wet well done. We all know a SSD is faster than a HDD Why not try again but with some real world applications and benchmarks that people use day to day and then we can talk.
  • 0 Hide
    MockingbirdUK , 7 October 2011 22:34
    What exactly about the video test makes it anything other than a "real world benchmark"? Starting your PC and opening some commonly-used programs, including email, internet browser and part of the MS Office suite... sounds like what most people in my office do every single day.

    I'm all for more testing and better demonstrations, but perhaps you'd be better to give more specific advice.
  • 0 Hide
    illusio12 , 7 October 2011 23:42
    @ MokingbirdUK....... from page 1!
    "Case in point: I recently asked to look over a wish list of PC parts for a good friend's son's birthday. It was armed with a Sandy Bridge-based processor, 4 GB of RAM, a nice graphics card, and a few nifty accessories. But, of course, it included a hard drive with no sign of solid-state storage. I tried to get the message across that, given a certain budget, it could actually make more sense to give up a couple hundred megahertz of clock rate on the processor and the factory-overclocked GPU in favor of adding a 64 GB boot drive, keeping the hard disk as the data drive."

    My point again... lesser cpu and gpu for ssd = lesser resolution and potentially gaming experience for faster level load times.....

    Whats the point.......AGAIN?
  • 0 Hide
    Djentleman , 8 October 2011 03:56
    It all depends on the computer user. I would rather have a good Gpu and Cpu. Than a SSD; although it may be an option for the future!
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 8 October 2011 06:34
    The problem with SSD's is exactly the same as my 300gb 10k rpm raptor. Yes it helps boot time and it's pretty quick, but my Steam folder is 350gb, so that has to go on my 1tb 'barracuda. Until an SSD is big enough to store my O/S *AND* my games (or if Steam let you split installs across multiple drives), what's the freaking point? I'd rather have 2 x 1TB drives in RAID0 (or 4 in 0+1) than one tiny useless SSD.
  • 0 Hide
    knossos , 8 October 2011 07:55
    As an SSD buyer who abandoned any thought of vacation for a long time, I can assure all professional doubters, that buying one of the most powerful CPUs combined with one -then- good GPU in a Notebook didn't really compensate me for my sacrifice, it was the SSD (and the display). i7 940QM, for example, was expensive and had high benchmark ratings, but makes only sense if you have one of those rare applications which make use of quad/eightcore, so, 800,- or more were paid only to watch the CPU mostly at 13% max. Thing is, with SSD, every action, every click anywhere is simply answered immediately, where you once had to wait until the red HD light finally flickered off. That came, partially indeed, from OS fragmentation, when countless updates and fixes put their files in areas of the plate, where the heads need longer to jump to, as one can hear easily during every Windows start sequence. With SSD, fragmentation of any kind is not a question anymore, and paying 10 times more for that alone was a real breeze compared paying three times more for a nearly sleeping CPU (while at maximum load!), which can of course turbo boost but gains only 30% performance with that poor one boosted core, while 400% or more could be possible with proper threading.
  • 2 Hide
    illusio12 , 8 October 2011 14:56
    @ Djentleman ... Agreed :-)
    @ kyzar7th ..... Agreed :-) my primary concern too, when prices drop and capacity increases, then yes a ssd makes sense as knossos points out.

    UNTILL THEN, the more powerful cpu and gpu makes sense over faster application/Os load times!
  • 0 Hide
    mactronix , 8 October 2011 20:19
    MockingbirdUKWhat exactly about the video test makes it anything other than a "real world benchmark"? Starting your PC and opening some commonly-used programs, including email, internet browser and part of the MS Office suite... sounds like what most people in my office do every single day.I'm all for more testing and better demonstrations, but perhaps you'd be better to give more specific advice.

    Oh come on please, SSD's in an office ? What i am saying is that people who test machines on a regular basis don't use any of the benchmarks used here. Ask around, ask what people use to test their machines, i bet you get a very different set of programs. just check out a whole machine review on Toms to see what the always use to test a PC. For any testing of any specific hardware as part of a PC to see what difference it makes they should be using the same tests.
  • 0 Hide
    Silmarunya , 8 October 2011 22:07
    illusio12So, the game level loads quicker, but i cannot achieve the same resolution or quality or overall game play experience because of the lesser cpu and gpu i had to get to get a ssd?Whats the point again?


    That's true if you are part of that tiny, tiny group of people that only use their PC for gaming. For gamers that also use their PC for things like photo and video editing, productivity use, programming, database management, scientific applications,... an SSD is a must have.
  • 0 Hide
    illusio12 , 9 October 2011 01:42
    @ Silmarunya

    Laptop actually :-), got so pissed off with building my own pc,s that after 15+yrs finally got a laptop. I use my laptop generally, net, gaming, music, movies. I have yet to find the need in my life to do photo and video editing, programming, database, scientific apps etc. Did install foding at home once, does that count?

    I take photo,s with phone, convert videos to phone, and music, never did go beyond java basics, to retentive. Your assumption is false!
  • 0 Hide
    mactronix , 9 October 2011 16:37
    Its all subjective really and every user has specific needs i guess. I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet regarding "True" and "Consistent" bench marking. Hence my comments.
    Truth is the base components of a PC, that's the bits it just wont work without to be clear,are the only must have parts.
    The rest of it is nice to have. If you trans-code a lot then it would be nice to have a fast Intel chip fast Ram and an SSD. A HDD and standard Ram with an AMD chip get the job done and to be honest the time difference really should not matter to day to day consumers.
    Professional encoders or pirates who run lots of conversions/copies might consider saving a few minutes "Must have" personally i don't.
  • 0 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , 10 October 2011 01:33
    I am thinking of buying an 120GB SATA 3 SSD because, sometimes i really hate when my HDD Led its always on and my hard drives spin like crazy trying to overcome the masive amount of task that i have given to them. The point of SSDs is the same as the point of having more then 8 GB Ram in a gaming machine...seriously, my ram never exceeds 40 -45 % ina any game that i have tested and that with the browser open, music playing, torrents in the backround, messenger open. Game developers make the use os SSDs in gaming less intresting because they dont load much data to the ram, i really wanna see more ram usage from games like, 4 -6 GB, and then see how loading times are goint to be a bit disapointing from an HDD.
  • 0 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , 10 October 2011 13:26
    Fix the comments Tom :)  yesterday this article had 5 pages of comments now it has 1 :) 
  • 0 Hide
    illusio12 , 13 October 2011 15:21
    Hi Toms, any chance of you requiring a ip or mac address from users who logon to post comments so these spam can be stopped from ruining the comments threads?
    really ruins the reading experience!
  • 0 Hide
    Diablo13 , 4 November 2011 02:56
    When SSD's are so fast, why do manufacturers insist on using the old 3gbs interface, when clearly the newer 6gbs transfer rates would benefit them?
    Surely the fastest storage requires the fastest interface, but no one bothers about that!
    Is it because a SATA 6gbs would make SSD's even more ridiculously expensive, or is it something they are working on, which would make buying the current crop pointless to buy at this point?
    Thing is I needample storage space, much more than I needthe increased speed over a hdd!