If you follow technology or have friends who are computer enthusiasts, you have likely heard of solid state drives, or SSDs. But what is an SSD? What does it do? And should you go and get one?

 

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Your computer has a variety of components that work together to process, store, and relay information. One part of the system is the memory, which has two components. The first is RAM, or Random Access Memory. This is the computer’s short term memory, which is used while the computer is active. It is used for all of the data the computer is currently handling. However, when the computer powers off, all of the information in your RAM will be lost. Long term data storage is accomplished using a drive. Traditionally, this is a Hard Disc Drive, or HDD. These drives have physical discs, which can have information stored on them, kind of like a CD. However, they typically can store much more, and read and write more quickly. But disc drives are not without their share of problems. As they have moving parts, they are subject to eventual mechanical failure. Additionally, they are not particularly fast. Booting your computer from a disc drive will take noticeably longer than if using a solid state drive.

 

Solid state drives, on the other hand, can retrieve information from their storage much more quickly. Installing a solid state drive is one of the most noticeably changes you can make to your computer. Suddenly, everything is so much faster. Additionally, storing things in flash memory does not require moving parts. This eliminates mechanical failure from the equation, and also means that your drive runs silently, vs the whirring of a disk drive. However, solid state drives still have downsides. The technology is still relatively new, and so they are much more expensive per byte of storage. Additionally, they suffer from a few issues unique to them. They only have a limited number of rewrites, so over time, their performance will suffer. While the technology is improving rapidly, there are still a few trade offs.


If you have a desktop PC, it is actually possible to install a SSD without removing your HDD. This means you can load critical programs and your operating system onto the SSD, creating a much faster computer overall, while maintaining the large backup of cheap storage from the HDD. This is a popular option among hobbyists who want the benefits of speed, while retaining access to cheap file storage.