Anandtech released their epic 31-page article on SSD hard drives last week. Let’s just say that it took me the better part of a day to read through it all; it was just that comprehensive. So, to spare you the same, I’d like to offer my thoughts on some of the highlights and conclusions from the article.
First, let me convey that just like many other realms of technology, there are varying levels of performance and quality with solid-state drives. The featured drive (pictured above) is Intel’s line of consumer SSD hard drives, considered to be the best-of-the-best. Coincidentally, they are also the most expensive. Go figure. And by expensive, try close to $400 for just 80 GB of storage. To put that into perspective, you can get a Terabyte magnetic hard drive (roughly 10 times as much storage space) for about a quarter of the cost of an Intel SSD. On a cost-per-gigabyte basis, SSD hard drives are orders of magnitude more expensive.
So, how could you possibly justify that tremendous cost increase? Well, there are two situations where an SSD might be more appealing, despite the cost. The first is for a mobile device. SSD hard drives consume less power, are virtually immune to shock damage, and and speedy as heck (at least the Intel ones). The second situation is for a boot/application drive. You’re not going to want to store your music or movie collection on an SSD; that’s just silly and a waste of powerful technology. Magnetic media (traditional hard drives) are perfectly suited to data storage, so the advantage of an SSD would be for running an Operating System and applications.
But although those situations could certainly benefit from the stellar random read and throughput of SSD hard drives, the costs are still a bit too high for the the budget conscious. The Western Digital Velociraptor (considered to be the fastest magnetic hard drive for consumers) has very good performance and comes at a price of roughly 1.5 GB per dollar. That’s compared to the Intel X25-M at 0.2 GB per dollar. It’s a sevenfold difference in price per gigabyte for a performance difference that arguably only an enthusiast would notice. But, the Velociraptor is only available in a desktop form factor and cannot be used in a laptop. So for mobile users, there really isn’t much of a more cost-effective substitute (7200 RPM 2.5 magnetic hard drives can help by shortening access times, but have a detrimental effect on battery life that an SSD would not have).
I would love to be able to purchase an SSD (preferably an Intel one, although OCZ should be coming out with an inferior but far less expensive model soon), but the benefit just doesn’t justify the cost, at least for me. With Intel jumping into the SSD fray, we as consumers can only hope for a price war to break out that could significantly decrease the cost of decent SSD’s. Time will tell, but the mobile market (laptops, mostly, but the increasing popularity of netbooks will help as well) will likely put pressure on SSD makers to target the budget-conscious market segment.
The future is flash-based, folks. And who knows; maybe magnetic hard drives will take the place of tape drives: useful for large volumes of data storage but increasingly marginalized to niche markets. But until that flashy future is upon us in a mainstream sense, I’m going to save my pennies and let the early adopters and people with money to burn enjoy those expensive sports-cars of the computer world. And while it might be a year before I buy an SSD of my own, the verdict is in for computer hard drives: SSD is the new black.