SSD – Solid State Drives Enter the Mainstream

by Mike McEvoy on December 31, 2011

SSD Solid-State Drives Intel SSD

Solid-state disk drives (SSD) are still in the early adopter stages, but with changes in the computing market they may well be about to take off.  What exactly is a solid-state disk drive?  A solid-state drive is a drive with no moving parts. Unlike a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), an SSD drive has no spinning platters, actuator arm or read/write heads.  Instead, solid-state drives rely on non-volatile flash memory. Since they don’t require the extra time to manipulate physical parts in order to read and write data, SSD drives are faster at both.

If you aren’t familiar with SSD drives, you may be wondering why they haven’t taken off faster.  The main reason for slow adoption is most likely pricing. Right now SSD drives are still expensive to manufacture, which is why companies need to charge more for them.  As more research is put into their development and they become easier to manufacture, prices will decrease.

Intel, one major manufacturer of SSD drives, has recently announced that its sales revenues will fall this quarter because flooding in Thailand has curbed HDD production.  You’d think this would be seen as bad news, but the company’s executives choose to see it in a positive light. The shortage in HDD production overseas will not only affect Intel but also Intel’s competitors. With less competition across the board from HDD manufacturers, Intel and other SSD manufacturers may finally be able to bring SSD drives into the mainstream.

Applications of SSD Technology

What form will SSD technology take as we see it enter the mainstream of computing?  Perhaps the most recognizable application already on the market is that of the ultrabook.  An ultrabook, or ultrathin, is a super-thin laptop computer with a long battery life, a keyboard, and no internal HDD.  An ultrabook is in a sense a compromise between a tablet and a laptop—it is lightweight and small, like a tablet, but has the approachability of a laptop.  Ultrabooks may also incorporate tablet touch screen capabilities, making them more user friendly.  The most well known example of ultrabook technology currently on the market is probably the MacBook Air by Apple, which is only 0.8 inch thick.  Many other manufacturers are starting to flood the market with ultrabooks as well now including Asus, Dell, Toshiba, Acer and Lenovo.

Ultrabooks contain SSD drives with flash memory chips.  This enables manufacturers to make them incredibly thin and lightweight.  Intel has stated that it intends to take advantage of the HDD shortage to increase the sales of Intel SSD drives.  While the company hasn’t discussed details relating to ultrabooks, we will most likely be seeing more and more of them on the market.

Changing Needs of High Tech Customers

The floods in Thailand are not the only global shift that is likely to propel SSDs into the mainstream at last.  The changing needs of high tech consumers also may have a positive impact on SSD sales.  In the past, consumers were concerned largely with storage space on their machines, but with the advent of cloud computing and mobile technology, many consumers are now becoming quite used to storing their data in the cloud.  This being the case, the swift retrieval of cloud data and high-speed playback of multimedia are increasingly more important to consumers than storage space on their computers.

SSDs don’t offer more storage capacity than HDDs, but this is less likely to be a deterrent now that consumer needs are changing.  If you use your computer primarily for audio and video playback, gaming and other performance intensive applications, you would almost certainly notice a difference with a solid-state disk drive.

Price has been an issue with solid-state drives for years now, but the good news is that while ultrabooks (and SSD drives in general) cost more than standard laptops equipped with HDDs, they still cost less than standard laptops did only a few years ago.  As consumers start to discover that tablets don’t allow them to do everything that they really would like to do, and that an ultrabook with an SSD can provide a high tech answer to their needs, it is likely that the sales of SSDs and ultrabooks will flourish in the coming years.



Phil Robins January 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

Good article – though I would add that it´s not such a good idea to try and make an old PC running an old OS (Windows XP for example) and expect it to fix all of your problems. XP does not support TRIM and this function is built into the later Operating Systems – though not all SSD models support it. It effectively cleans your drive as you use it. For external use USB 3.0 offers fantastic speed which will open up new possibilities for using SSDs.

Mike McEvoy January 4, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Hi Phil, Thanks for stopping by. Glad you found the post useful. I completely agree on the limited benefits with an SSD and Windows XP. My personal feeling is that Win XP is over 10 years old and it is time for everyone to move on. imho. Interesting point on the TRIM function. Yes, an external SSD with a USB 3.0 connection should really scream.

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