If you’re up to date on Flash memory technology, then you’ve no doubt heard of a Solid-State Drive (SSD) by now. If you’re like the average consumer, however, then the term probably raises more questions than anything.
To give you a firmer grasp of what SSDs are, why you need one, how they work, and how to determine which one is right for your PC, laptop, or desktop computer, we’ve provided a full guide for you below.
Table of Contents:
- What is a Solid State Drive (SSD)?
- Why Should You Use a Solid State Drive?
- How Does a Solid State Drive Work?
- 3 NAND Flash Memories to Consider
- Choosing An Interface
- Finding the Right Solid State Drive For You
What Is a Solid State Drive?
In its most general sense, an SSD is a small device that connects to the motherboard of your PC, laptop, or desktop.
There are many types of SSDs, but their primary function is essentially the same:
They improve the data transfer rate of your computer, making your booting and loading times for specific applications run noticeably smoother and faster. They can also act as a storage device, just like a traditional Hard Disc Drive (HDD).
By now you might be thinking, “So, what’s the difference between an SSD and an HDD?”
The main underlying differences between the two are the physical components that comprise each device:
HDDs rely on a spinning magnetic hard disc to store data — also known as a platter — and a mechanical arm called a read/write head to read (load) and write (save) data.
SSDs use a totally different technology called NAND Flash Memory, which utilizes tiny flash cells to store your data and requires no physical moving parts at all.
Why Should You Use a Solid State Drive?
Do you really need an SSD?
If you’re simply internet surfing, streaming a TV series, or using basic internet applications, then you wouldn’t benefit that much from one.
However, if you’re frequently using high-end software that demands fast transfer speeds to run smoothly (think Adobe Premier Pro, CAD, or heavy gaming) you might want to consider purchasing an SSD — it will certainly be worth the high price tag.
So, what do you need to know to help you determine which drive is right for you? We discuss more about the inner workings of the device below.
How Does a Solid State Drive Work?
To get a better idea of how SSDs work, you need to take a look under the hood and break down the device’s three main components:
1. Controller: The controller communicates with your computer or device and is responsible for maintaining the longevity of the NAND Flash cells within the drive by performing maintenance techniques like Wear Leveling and Error Correction Code (ECC).
2. Cache: Also known as a Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) Cache, the cache is the component in your drive that stores short-term data for commonly used programs and applications so that they can be accessed faster upon a future request.
For example, say you are using demanding gaming software like Steam.
The first time you click and open Steam, it takes awhile to boot.
However, if you close and reopen the application, you will notice that it loads much faster the second time around.
This is due to the cache, which temporarily “remembers” data that is transmitted to it.
3. NAND Flash Memory Chips: This is where your long-term data is stored. Within every NAND Flash chip lies a specific number of memory cells, each of which has the capacity to store a certain number of bits.
The cell’s capacity to store bits determines the quality of the drive, making it one of the key distinguishing factors between an average consumer drive and a high-performing, enterprise drive.
Each of these parts work in concert to bring you a faster, robust drive, the end goal being to improve your overall user experience.
Now that we’ve covered the basic parts of the drive, the next step is to discuss the different types of memory available to you on the market.
3 NAND Flash Memories to Consider
There are three types of NAND Flash memory you should be aware of:
1. Single-level Cell (SLC) – SLC cells hold one bit of data per cell, meaning they demand less power, are much faster, and can survive more read/write cycles (between 90,000-100,000) than other NAND Flash types.
Because of their superior quality, they are also extremely expensive, making them more accessible to enterprises than average consumers.
2. Multi-level Cell (MLC) – MLC cells hold two bits of data per cell. While this increases storage capacity, it also demands more power from the cells, which decreases read/write speeds (around 10,000) and longevity.
3. Triple-level Cell (TLC) – TLC cells hold three bits per cell and, as you may have guessed, they use up more power, resulting in slower read/write speeds and less read/write cycles ( in the ballpark of 3,000-5,000).
What MLC and TLC lack in endurance, they make up for in capacity and price. That’s why they are the go-to drives for consumers.
Confused about SLC, MLC, and TLC NAND Flash memory? No worries! We answer all your questions and more in our SLC, MLC, and TLC NAND Flash guide.
Choosing an Interface
First of all, what is an interface? In computing, it refers to how you connect your drive device to your motherboard. Features like data transfer speed, or read/write speed, are affected by the interface, so it helps to understand what’s out there so you can determine which one is best for you.
Currently, there are four main types to consider:
1. SATA III – Short for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, SATA , or Serial ATA, is the connection interface that allows your drive to transfer data to and from your system. Depending on flash type, most consumer grade SSDs with a SATA III interface reach read/write speeds of 550-520 MB/s.
2. PCIe – Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) drives bypass SATA interfaces altogether and instead plug straight into the PCIe lane of your motherboard, which helps them reach much higher transfer speeds than their SATA counterparts.
It’s important to note that there are several generations of PCIe interfaces available. As of this writing, the latest generation PCIe interfaces, the Gen 4, can achieve read/write speeds of up to 2,600/1,600 MB/s.
3. M.2 – M.2 SSDs have a smaller form factor than their peers but do not sacrifice storage space. They are typically used with laptops and are available with SATA III and PCIe interfaces.
4. NVMe – Non-Volatile Memory Express is an interface that utilizes existing PCIe technology to support enterprise-level bandwidth demands. Designed specifically for SSDs, NVMe interfaces are considered the next generation of Flash drives.
Finding the Right Solid State Drive For You
As we mentioned earlier, the type of drive you purchase really depends on your needs. At a consumer level, you most likely won’t require a top tier PCIe drive for your computer. To help you make an educated decision, keep reading:
Laptop – The beauty of laptops is their portability. But because of their size, form factor can be an issue. Fortunately, size and weight are arenas that SSDs excel in: M.2 drives have a very small form factor and can handle any intensive software you use throughout the day.
If you’re a regular laptop user constantly on the go, then something like Silicon Power’s 240GB M55 M.2 2280 SSD would suffice.
Netbook – Netbooks are used solely for basic internet applications, so you are less likely to run demanding multitask applications on these. In this case, Silicon Power’s 120GB M55 M.2 2280 SSD would significantly decrease boot and load times, which would definitely improve your internet browsing experience.
PC/Desktop – This is where you can really get creative. Most savvy end users use an HDD in conjunction with their SSD. A typical and effective setup would be to transfer the OS to your solid state drive of choice and to use the HDD as your main storage device.
Such a rig utilizes the exceptional transfer speeds of an SSD (as opposed to its storage capacity), and gives you plenty of room for storage on your HDD. If this sounds like the setup for you, then the 256GB Ace A55 SATA III SSD will do.
Finding the perfect drive is all a matter of understanding what’s out there so you can make an educated decision. Hopefully, after reading this guide, finding the perfect drive won’t be such a daunting task.