Should I put a solid-state drive (SSD) into my new PC?

Should I put a solid-state drive (SSD) into my new PC?

Summary: The answer to this question depends on what you're after - capacity or performance.

TOPICS: Hardware

Question from today's mailbag:

I'm building a new PC and I'm wondering whether I should fit a regular hard drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD)? What hardware would you recommend?

The answer to this question depends on what you're after - capacity or performance.

If you're looking for capacity in the 1TB or above region, and you happen to have very deep pockets, you should not install an SSD. Even with the recent price bump following the Thai floods, high-capacity hard drives are still the most economical option.

Shop around and you can pick up a 2TB bare drive with no retail packaging for around $130, such as the Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EARX. If you want 3TB of capacity then you're looking at spending $200 for something like the Seagate Barracuda ST3000DM001. If you want a 4TB drive then you'll have to pay a premium and spend around $370 for the Hitachi H3IK40003254SW.

If you want performance then you need to go for a solid-state drive. These things vary tremendously in price and since you've not said that you are building a 'monster' high-performance PC, I would keep the budget to a sensible level.

You can pick up a good all-purpose 120GB SSD for around $160. Forget terabyte SSDs unless you've got a huge amount of money to burn. I recommend looking at either the OCZ Vertex 3 VTX3-25SAT3-120G or the OCZ Agility 3 AGT3-25SAT3-120G, as both are excellent drives. Anything much larger than 120GB, and the drives start to get really expensive.

If you were looking for a compromise, then my advice would be to fit one of each type of drive. Load your operating system and applications onto the SSD for maximum performance and use the HDD for storage. That way you get the best of both worlds while keeping the budget at a manageable level.

Image creditsWestern Digital/OCZ.


Topic: Hardware

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  • Both is definitely the way to go

    If you're building your own computer, the best solution is to opt for both. Let's face it, if you're even considering an SSD right now, the extra HDD isn't going to put too much of a problem on you're wallet, and it's the best option. There's absolutely no reason to save files (movies, documents, music, what have you) on a solid state drive.

    And if anyone hasn't used an SSD before...they're definitely worth it. The boot time on my desktop makes my laptop (which is by no means a sloth. It's packing an i7 and similar specs) look downright ancient. An HDD is the biggest bottleneck you can have right now.
    • Price difference remain huge imho

      I always seem to lack storage, so for me storage is a big concern. Of course just using the ssd as boot/os device makes sense, but then again if it is boot time, that one is nailed with Windows 8 just by using your run of the mill sata disc.
    • Totally Agree

      I got a good deal on a OCZ Agility 3 120GB SSD for $89.99 after rebate and replaced my 300GB Raptor boot/OS drive with that and the performance on boot and running applications is definitely worth it. More worth it now since spindle Hard Drives are fairly expensive. I also have two 1TB data drives in my computer where I install some applications like my games and such but the performance difference is astounding. Spindle hard drives are probably the biggest bottleneck in today's computers.

      My brother just bought a OCZ RevoDrive off of Amazon for a 1TB that I believe has a 120GB SSD part for $229 after rebate which looks like it could be good for someone looking to get SSD performance but still only have 1 drive partition. Allegedly that hybrid drive will load the OS and frequently accessed data into the SSD portion. I am interested to see how the performance is on that.
      • can't

        You can't replace a 300 GB drive with a 120 GB drive. While I'm sure everything else you said is true, you can't just replace a larger drive with a smaller drive unless you throw something away or if the larger drive wasn't full.

        You can ADD an SSD as a second drive but I don't see replacing any of my drives with a smaller SSD.
      • RE: Can't

        The larger drive wasn't full. I always had more than one hard drive in my main desktop and since SSD was smaller I offloaded some of my games to another drive but the primary applications I use are on the SSD. I replaced the drive by simply taking out the raptor imaged it to the SSD. Of course I had to compensate for the smaller size so I fail to see the necessity of your post for something so obvious.
    • I agree

      Use the SSD for executables and a swap partition, then store data on a platter drive.
    • Great idea

      The OS on the SSD and data on a high capacity, traditional HDD.

      I'm way behind the times as i'm still using PATA drives, but my next buying move, as far as mass storage goes, will be to SSD's. I'll definitely take that hybrid setup approach too: SSD (OS & Swap) & SATA/PATA (Data only).
  • Two years ago, I went with the compromise option in my iMac desktop PC

    My boot drive is a 251 GB SSD. My other internal drive is the 2 TB Hitachi HD.

    So far, after two years of daily use, both drives have performed flawlessly. Also, the latest version of OS X has TRIM support for the solid state drive.

    If a person's budget can afford a SSD boot drive, than I would highly recommend that option.
    • iMac logic

      How did you connect 2 internal drives to an iMac logic board?
      • Remove the optical drive

        He may have removed the optical drive
      • The two drive option was a factory build-to-order purchase

        Since 2010, Apple has offered a "build-to-order" option whereby a person can order his iMac with a primary SSD boot drive and a "traditional" HD as a secondary drive. Both internal, of course.

        However, OWC (Other World Computing) offers a turn-key, factory warrantied upgrade program that offers that option plus an installation of a e-SATA port for my particular model. Plus OWC can install up to three SSD drives internally in the iMAC

        As you are aware (or suspect), removing the iMac's front glass panel to perform internal hardware upgrades is something consumers would be best advised to avoid - at all costs. However, I would trust companions that have the experience and specialized equipment to perform those upgrades with my money.

        Although the iMac was designed as a "finished" product for the consumer without very many options for hardware updates outside of RAM options, hardware upgrades, either ordered as a BTO option or thru third party vendors are available to the consumer.
  • I recommend going non-SSD for capacity reasons.

    The SSD improvements in speed do not offset the drastically reduced capacity for most people. Yes the PC will boot a little faster. Applications will open slightly faster. But it's not worth the loss of capacity.
    • Even in a PC?

      I'd agree with your statement if it was a laptop but in a PC with lots of room for two (or more) drives, then for most people, a SSD for the OS and related files, and a HDD for data is a no brainer - depending on your budget.

      If there are no other bottlenecks in your system, then a SSD for the OS is a very worthwhile investment.
      • Yes, even for a desktop.

        While the SSD offers higher performance it doesn't offer that much more performance over the traditional hard disk to offset the cost, or complexity, of having two disks.

        Yes, it's nice to have a PC which boots faster than it otherwise would with a traditional hard disk. And applications that load faster. But realistically how often are these things done compared to the time saved?

        As I already mentioned my traditional hard disk boots into Windows 7 in approximately 30 seconds. Is it really worth the smaller capacity to have it boot in 15 seconds? Applications take a couple of seconds to load as well. Is it worth the lower capacity to have them load in 1 second? 500 milliseconds?

        There are places where an SSD makes plenty of sense. And for enthusiasts I can understand their appeal. But for the average user? Not until the price/capacity ratio improves. It's surprising to see a 60GB hard disk being recommended in 2012. Yes, it's an SSD...but it's still 60GB. I don't think I can buy anything less than 320GB in the traditional hard disk.
      • Windows boot time is not everything

        Windows 7 may boot in approximately 30 seconds but after you log in a bunch of programs start as well making it a pretty slow experience on system with HDD. With SSD you are ready as soon as you login. You also can start a bunch of programs right away. With HDD things are not that simple. I have seen people starting 10 copies of firefox and 3 MS words only because of some Acrobat update running at startup. SSD eliminates all that. You turn computer on and you can use it. No need to wait.
      • That 30 seconds is to a usable desktop.

        @paul2011: But I agree...boot time is not everything...especially since it's not done very often. So why trade significantly lower capacity for a few seconds less boot / program load times?
      • Re: Yes, even for a desktop

        @ye, what do you mean? "It doesn't offer that much more performance over the traditional hard disk to offset the cost, or complexity, of having two disks"?

        Jeez, my OCZ Vertex 3 gives up to 560 MB/s for sequential reads when tested with ATTO on a SATA 6 GB/s interface - that's 93% of that interface's maximum theoretical bandwidth. The most I can get with my WD Caviar Black WD1002FAEX on the same interface is 140 MB/s. That's FOUR TIMES faster than my HDD. "Not that much performance"? For heaven's sake, how much would be enough for you???

        As for the "complexity," even if I had only one HDD (I have two, plus the SSD, not counting the external ones for backup), I'd still divide it into two partitions, in order to minimize the likelihood of data loss in case I need to reinstall the system. Given the benefits, I don't see how this could be a deal breaker for an SSD.
      • What are the real world gains?

        @goyta: Yes, SSD's move a lot of data. And for some applications the benefits definitely offset the negatives.

        But for the average user? Does it really matter much if a PC boots 100% faster when 100% translates into 30 or so seconds? And is an event which happens, relatively speaking, rarely? The same goes for application launch. My traditional hard disk loads applications within 2-3 seconds on first load. Does reducing those times really buy me anything? Am I any more productive if an application takes 500 milliseconds to load? I doubt it.

        So yes, SSDs are fast. But the trade off is significantly reduce storage capacity isn't worth it...IME.
      • Other way around

        SSDs are fantastic in laptops. They use less power. They generate less heat. SSDs are only 400% faster when running sequential operations, like playing a video at home. However, at least a Samsung 830 is about 10,000% faster is 4k I/O, which is the type of thing most people are doing on their laptops. It's a tremendous performance increase. It's not even really about capacity, it's about the capacity you can afford.
    • I'd say more than slightly faster

      But yes for most average people it is not worth it but overall the performance difference is more than slightly better. If I had SATA 3 in my computer mine would be even faster but I only have SATA2 but even then the performance difference compared to the 300GB Raptor drive I had before is night and day. Boot time and application launch and operation is much faster.