In the last post
I suggested that conventional hard drives deliver your data stuff much like building a sandwich from a Lazy Susan, one piece at a time. Perhaps that's OK for a sandwich, but there is a much more efficient method for accessing one's data stuff from the inside of a computer.
Even though bad manners when eating, it would be more efficient to place all ingredients on the table in static locations, then fire a starting gun. All persons at the table would reach for ingredients (almost) simultaneously, building their individualized sandwiches much faster, assuming all participants coordinate their moves. You can achieve similar efficiency on a computer without taking a magic pill or being born on Krypton. The magic device is a a Solid State Drive
, or SSD. With some exceptions an SSD can replace your old Lazy Susan hard drive.
All computer hard drives must retain their sandwich/memory bits when turned off, like leaving food on the sandwich table without spoilage. Although most SSDs may look like conventional drives on the outside, they're alien creatures on the inside, disguised to match the expectations of traditional computer hardware. Data stuff can be accessed from any location in an SSD without a single mechanical action, less power and almost no heat.
Some say, once you've tried an SSD you'll never go back. Plus, I predict that all computers will ship with SSDs within five years or less because the advantages are compelling. In fact that evolution occurs today; all iPads, iPods, smartphones, most dumb phones, cameras, many new computers, etc., now use some form of solid state memory. The only reason computers still lag is the capacity to cost equation, but that shifts to the consumer's favor every minute.
Enter the Caveats...
While many computers can benefit with an SSD upgrade, some will benefit more than others. If you purchased an entry level Macbook or HP, then upgrading to an SSD alone may not be as worthwhile. When Windows users buy a cheap device the clues are obvious (costs less than a toaster oven), but many Mac users ignore or don't understand the limitations of a base model, because they may have joined the pantheon of Mac snobs. Not necessarily their fault, Apple hides device understanding from the user.
SSD's cost more per unit of storage. My current favorite is a Samsung 830 series, the same SSD technology installed in the snazzy, new Macbook Pro. The 256 GB version costs about $230, while many conventional 500 GB (or larger) spinner drives can be had for around $100. So, in this example, you get about half the theoretical capacity for more than twice the cost. But wait, there's more!
SSD's can't be filled up. If you purchase the Samsung above you shouldn't stuff it with more than about 160 GB, perhaps 180, and only then if you don't use storage hogs like Microsoft Outlook, big pix, etc. So a 256 GB drive really isn't, because it must have blank space available. Are the manufacturer's lying about capacity? Sort of...
The little storage lockers wear out faster on an SSD than the storage lockers on a spinner drive. If you delete some old stuff on an SSD it isn't wiped away immediately, rather it's marked for deletion and cleaned up later. If new file additions get ahead of housecleaning the SSD speed grinds to a halt. Fill an SSD entirely and it will probably fail, an idiosyncrasy that requires some management discipline.
Discipline has always been the elephant in the room for storage (as it is for my verbosity). One solution is to move stuff out of the computer, or primary storage device. Not only is keeping all your data eggs in one, volatile basket (the computer's internal storage drive) a bad idea, it makes your old spinner drive work harder to move around the static chunks of useless stuff. Do you park your car outside the garage because it's full of old furniture?
But oh the horror! What does one do with all those seldom (if ever) used pictures, music, downloads that accumulate, and all other near-worthless stuff being kept on your spinner? Is organization even possible? As a first tactic I suggest you don't even bother with cleaning up, that could take a lot of time and you'll never get around to it. Instead, just move it, like moving furniture to a storage unit; get it and use it when you need it, but don't keep it in the living room.
One can purchase an external spinner drive storage device (roughly 55 bucks and up for 500 GB and up). The newest ones can be completely portable, require no external power and, because seldom used, very reliable. For portability try a USB stick, which can be found in a 64 GB capacity for well under $50 bucks, or for laptops an SD card, about the same cost as USB.
All Windows and Apple computers try to keep up with your demands, like having several windows, browsers, programs email, etc. all open at once, but they really can't, there's too much demand; it's like trying to simultaneously mow the lawn and make lemonade without cutting off your foot. To compensate our computers create an illusion, that is, they move relatively inactive stuff to a state of suspended animation by temporarily offloading it to the spinner, then re-retrieving when appropriate. But it's smoke and mirrors, perhaps your computer's biggest speed bump and called, appropriately, swapping.
In entry level, anemic computers a lot of swapping occurs, so as more stuff is opened at once, the device begins to crawl. In the old days the single biggest speed upgrade you could make to your computer was to add memory, because more memory means less swapping.
With the addition of an SSD even swapping is much faster, so there will be a significant speed improvement. But if the memory is still inadequate you'll be wearing out an expensive SSD much faster. The math is simple; more memory equals less swapping equals greater SSD life assuming no other variables.
So a simple upgrade example might be an entry level Windows laptop or Macbook that runs like a sleep deprived armadillo. Perform an upgrade for about $300 ($230 for a drive, the rest for memory). A new, bare bones, entry level Macbook Air will cost around $1000 and it will have a smaller SSD, smaller screen and less memory. Of course it will be a new computer and you won't need to chase down the neighborhood geek, or an actual, reliable, honest technician. The reward? You'll trade your armadillo ride for a rocket ship. The same expectation of performance upgrade can be expected on just about on any recent computer, perhaps three years old or newer, but of course your milage may vary.
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