What are solid-state drives (SSD)?

Solid-state storage is a type of computer storage that uses electronic circuits to store data instead of moving parts.

For over 50 years, hard disk drives (HDDs) have been an automatic choice for computer users interested in proven technology. But while HDDs have steadily improved in terms of storage capacity and form factor, they continue to have limitations in other areas. As electromechanical data storage devices with moving parts, HDDs can suffer from performance issues over time, especially after facing physical stress. In addition, HDDs can slow down because of the way they read and write data. This is where solid-state drives (SSDs) come into the picture as a strong alternative for storage.

What does solid-state storage mean?

Solid-state storage is a type of computer storage that uses electronic circuits to store data instead of moving parts. It’s unlike conventional electromechanical drives that may use rotating disks and magnetic material. Solid-state storage usually employs non-volatile flash memory. In computing, non-volatile storage is a type of storage that retains data even without power. Compare this to random access memory (RAM) —which loses data after losing power.

What is flash memory?

Flash memory is a non-volatile and long-life computer storage medium that stores data even without power and can be erased electrically. There are two types of flash memory, NOR Flash and NAND Flash. NOR Flash has faster read speeds but takes longer to erase. Meanwhile, NAND Flash typically has greater capacity for the same cost and is faster to write.

What is a solid-state drive?

Here’s a brief solid-state drive definition: A modern solid-state drive, also known as SSD, is a solid-state storage device that typically uses flash memory. Although most SSDs nowadays use NAND Flash, any drive without moving parts is technically an SSD, even if it uses a different storage medium. For example, the earliest SSDs were based on EAROM (electrically erasable read-only memory). 

Brief solid-state drive history

SSDs have been around since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that manufacturers of SSDs began considering flash memory for SSDs. While the first SSDs used EAROM, later ones were also RAM-based. Both mediums were either too slow or volatile. Things changed when flash-based SSDs began attracting the attention of computer enthusiasts in the 90s.

While offering excellent performance, SSDs were unfortunately too expensive to earn widespread adoption until the 2010s. In fact, by 2012, SSDs only had 6 percent of the PC storage market, according to IHS. However, things rapidly changed as prices fell. Today, SSDs outsell HDDs as consumers enjoy better performance at more competitive prices.

SSDs vs. HDDs

So what is better, SSDs or HDDs? To help answer this question, you can read our overview of HDDs here: What is a hard drive. SSDs have a number of advantages over HDDs, but both are useful for different reasons. Here are some factors to consider: 

Speed

The primary advantage of using an SSD over an HDD is that it’s significantly faster — while an HDD takes time to move its parts to read and write data, an SSD does it more quickly through its electric circuitry. In fact, a mid-range SSD can be 5 to 20 times faster than its HDD counterpart. This means that a computer with an SSD will boot faster, load apps faster, and offer fewer delays when handling heavy tasks than a computer with an HDD.  

Energy Efficiency

SSDs are more energy efficient. You’ll notice that more laptops are offering SSDs instead of HDDs these days for this reason. Although the difference of a few watts may not seem like much, it can increase a laptop’s battery life by as much as 20-45 minutes on average.

Durability

SSDs are less prone to breakage from falls, shock, or high temperatures than HDDs because they have no moving parts. On the other hand, a typical HDD platter (the disk that stores data) can break more easily from a fall. Dust can also negatively impact an HDD’s performance and give it a bad sector or two.

Advantages of HDDs

Although SSDs are more affordable than before, they’re not as cost-effective as HDDs yet. A typical hard disk is still cheaper per gigabyte, and the difference can add up. So much so that many computer users looking for larger storage capacity pick up HDDs instead of SSDs.  

Is SSD better than HDD for gaming?

SSDs are better than HDDs in almost every way, including playing games. The faster speed of a typical SSD helps boot and run your games faster. That's why so many new gaming PCs, and even the PlayStation 5, use an SSD instead of an HDD. But whether you use a gaming SSD or an HDD, we do recommend that you take advantage of a top antivirus for gaming to secure your data from phishing, malware, keyloggers, and exploits. Unfortunately, gaming security threats nowadays can quickly ruin any gamer’s day.

Can an SSD get a virus?

Any device that stores data can theoretically have a malware infection like a virus, whether it's a hard disk drive or an solid-state drive. Some dangerous malware, like a kernel rootkit can be quite challenging to remove. We recommend you use intelligent cybersecurity software to shield your drive from all kinds of malware proactively.

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