Why You Need a Solid State Drive

Everything on your computer — your photos and documents, the programs you use, and even the operating system itself — is stored on your hard drive. If your hard drive is too slow, you get frustrated when your computer and programs take multiple seconds or minutes to open completely. For many users, a slow hard drive affects performance more obviously than any other component. Luckily, there is a solution: a Solid State Drive (SSD).

Traditional Hard Drives

Most computers use traditional, spinning hard drives (HDD) to store your files. These drives function similarly to CDs or records: They store all your information on a disk/platter inside the drive casing, and an arm inside reads the data as the disk spins.

Compared to records, which stores music on physical groves, hard drives store data on the disk with magnetic bits, 1s and 0s. Hard drives spin at up to 7200 rotations per minute. This allows them to store a lot more data than records and CDs, and access it all relatively quickly.

7200 rpm seems fast, but reading data from traditional hard drives is a physical process. It takes time to locate and read the data you need, and if the data isn’t stored in a consecutive line on the disk itself (which commonly happens as the computer stores new data in sectors where old data was deleted), the arm has to skip around to find and retrieve everything.

Because this is a physical process, friction causes wear and tear over time. Devices with moving parts — especially fast-moving parts — always wear out more quickly than those without moving parts. There’s also trauma to consider; laptops get moved and bumped a lot, further decreasing their lifespans through inadvertent damage.

Solid State Drives

SSDs are an entirely different form of storage technology. These drives have no moving parts: think thumb drives versus CDs. Because of this, SSDs are more resilient against damage, and much faster than spinning drives.

For spinning drives, the speed at which data can be read from a single continuous track on the disk generally peaks around 200 MB per second. For SSDs on the other hand, read speeds typically range from 400 MB/s to 3500 MB/s, depending on the drive’s technology. This means that SSDs can be more than 15x faster than spinning drives depending on the brand and its technology!

Random access times, the time it takes to find disjointed files on your drive, tell a similar story. Spinning drives can take anywhere from 2.9 milliseconds to 12 milliseconds to find your data on the disk, because the arm has to physically jump around and spin through other data to find what it needs (think searching for an odd sock in a drawer full of socks). SSDs can find data randomly stored on the disk in under 0.1 ms! These times may not sound like much, but your computer has to randomly access data constantly, and it adds up fast.

SSDs are also significantly quieter and more efficient. No moving parts means there’s no whirring and clicking. And with no motor needed to spin a drive, SSDs use a lot less power, which means your laptop lasts longer between charges.

SSDs are also significantly quieter and more efficient. No moving parts means there’s no whirring and clicking. And with no motor needed to spin a drive, SSDs use a lot less power, which means your laptop lasts longer between charges.

Do I Have an SSD?

Apple laptop users are in luck! All Apple laptops since late 2012 come standard with Solid State Drives. It has also been a configuration option for almost all their devices for the past decade. Desktop users and users of older MacBook Pros are not so lucky. Many iMac models — even the latest models — still feature the slow, spinning drives of yesteryear.

You can check the type of drive you have in macOS by opening “About This Mac” and navigating to the “Storage” tab. Under your drive, if it shows “Flash Storage” or “Solid State SATA Drive”, you’re using SSD technology. But, if it lists “Fusion Drive” or simply “SATA Disk”, you have a spinning drive installed in your system.

There are still options for you, however. Spinning drives can be replaced with SSDs relatively quickly and inexpensively.

Upgrading to Solid State

You can breathe new life into an older MacBook Pro® laptop by replacing its drive with a Solid State Drive, and it will be the best decision you’ve ever made for that machine. Find a 2.5" SSD from a reputable brand like Samsung, WD, Kingston, or Crucial, and it’s basically a drop-in replacement for your old drive. They use all the same connectors and screws, making replacement a breeze.

Replacing the drive in an iMac is much more daunting, especially the thin iMacs from 2012 to now. You have to open them especially carefully so you don’t ruin your very expensive liquid crystal display.

Reputable independent repair providers like Experimax work with the machines the Apple Store won’t. They provide warrantied installation and data transfer from your old drive, an important step if you want to keep all your data!

External Drives

Another application for Solid State Drives are external drives: portable storage for extra files or backups.

Resiliency is important for external drives, you move them around often. Spinning external drives risk damage every time you bump or drop the drive, especially if it’s in use or powered on. You don’t have to worry about those issues with a portable SSD. They’re virtually shockproof, because they have no moving parts to damage.

For content creators, especially video professionals, portable Solid State Drives are an excellent option for taking your work on the go! Because of the fast performance of even portable SSDs over USB-C or Thunderbolt, you can easily work on files on the SSD directly, with no performance hit. No need to copy the files you’re working on to your machine to get good performance.

The Benefits

The performance benefits of Solid State Drives significantly effect the time you spend on your computer: It turns on faster, applications open quicker, and the snappiness of your system overall is greatly improved.

If you are thinking about upgrading your computer, switching to an SSD should be your first move. When it comes to performance for most workloads, your spinning hard drive is almost always the bottleneck, more so than either your CPU or RAM.