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April 6, 2017

The Downside of the SSD

Filed under: Main — Tags: , — admin @ 12:01 am

“Do you want an SSD in that?” For a moment, the question tempted me. I was buying a new PC and as we worked down the hardware list, the dealer posed the question. The traditional, spinning hard disk drive (HDD) was cheaper, but the solid state drive (SSD) was so fast it was scary.

The demo PC has an SSD. When it started, Windows loaded in just seconds. Bam! There it was. So the notion of a PC that started so quickly, one that loaded programs and files faster, was severely tempting.

The choice wasn’t easy for me because I know the advantages and disadvantage of an SSD over an HDD. True, SSDs are more expensive, but SSDs — as well as memory cards and thumb drives — have limitations.

For example, you can’t defragment an SSD, not the same as you defragment an HDD. That’s because the SDD’s hardware relies upon fragmentation to extend the drive’s life. The issue involved is the limited number of read/write cycles that can be performed on flash media. The concept is memory wear and value of concern is the number of program/erase (P/E) cycles.

The technology in an SSD allows for only so many P/E cycles for each chunk of memory on the drive. Each time information is accessed, a P/E cycle is processed. The drive’s firmware ensures that access is spread out, so that the drive’s storage is used evenly and its lifecycle extended as long as possible. Still, the limitation exists.

The current crop of SSDs are good for several years on a typical PC. In fact, if you really use the hell out of the drive, it probably won’t run out of P/E cycles for at least 3 years or so. For more moderate use, expect to see more than 5 years from the drive. That figure jibes well with the lifecycle of a typical hard drive, so the limitation isn’t really anything to keep you up at night.

Another item of concern with an SSD is the amount of free space.

To manage the P/E cycles, a typical SDD requires at least 10 percent of free or unused storage. Some SSDs even lock away this 10 percent, preventing you from accessing it. That’s because as the drive gets more than 90 percent full, it’s more difficult for the firmware to manage the P/E distribution and extend the drive’s life. In fact, a nearly full SSD will fail more quickly than one with more than 10 percent available storage.

Some SSDs come with utilities that let you manage the free storage and preserve a certain amount. If you have a PC with that type of utility, ensure that the free storage is set to at least 10 percent of the drive’s total capacity.

In the end, I opted for the traditional hard drive, but I told the dealer that my next PC would have an SSD. I’m looking forward to the extra speed.

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