Is it time to buy that SSD?

Is it time to buy that SSD?

Summary: Perhaps you noticed that SSD sale prices are dropping to $1/GB and even less. Is now the time to buy?


Here's how to tell if you are ready to take the plunge.

You prefer quality to quantity. The biggest knock against SSDs is that the cost per gigabyte. The easiest way to fix that is to know how much data you are currently using. Then add 15% to allow for some limited growth and swap space.

For example, if your notebook's 320GB hard drive is only 1/4 full - not uncommon for primarily business use - that's 80GB. Add 15% or 12GB to get to 92 and then round up from there to the next largest SSD. Instead of a 300+ GB SSD @ $300+ you'll be fine with a 120 at ≈$120.

Don't buy unless you plan to buy for all your systems. Once you get used to an SSD on one system all your other systems will seem maddeningly slow. Happened to me.

Battery life is a problem. Notebook drives are very power efficient and a small part of total notebook energy consumption - screens are much worse - but unless your sleep mode is very efficient you'll find that you're also chewing up battery life doing nothing.

SSD bootups are so fast that you won't mind shutting down for lunch - or booting up to check something for a couple of minutes. And an SSD will add 15%-20% to your battery's current life - not a strong reason to buy - but it helps.

You back up regularly. SSD reliability varies a lot by by brand. And even good brands have failures - which with SSDs tend to be sudden - that aren't preceeded by clicking noises. So back up your data regularly

You'll do it yourself. Install costs make an expensive proposition that much worse. SSDs are carefully made to install just like disks. But you also need to migrate data and that is trickier on Windows.

You use it for business. Your notebook will be noticeably snappier and you'll be happier. That should make it a no-brainer.

Here's why NOT to buy now. My friend Jim Handy of semiconductor research firm Objective Analysis notes that flash prices have

. . . been declining at a pretty steady 60% annual rate for a whole year now.

That means that today's $1/GB SSD will be next year's $0.40/GB SSD.

Which is the best reason I can think of to wait.

The Storage Bits take Don't obsess over performance numbers when comparing SSDs: they all do small I/Os so much better than disks that you'll love whatever you get.

If now isn't the right time for you, then wait a while. Prices will only get better.

Comments welcome, of course. My first notebook SSD cost $400 for 10MB back in the early 90s. Maybe that's why $1/GB sounds good!

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Storage

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  • SSD is the Way to Go

    I'm definitely using an SSD in my next build. I'm undecided as to whether or not I'll also include a traditional drive for data storage or not. That will depend mostly on prices.
  • still buggy

    I went through 2 OCZ Agility SSDs both if which were only seen by the bios about 25% of the time. The fast boot time was useless as I had to ctr-alt-del 4 times just to get it to boot. Funny thing is, it works flawless as a data drive. Its always there but as a primary boot drive there were to many issues. Firmware and bios updates didn't help either.

    I'll try againw when I purchase a new mobo and the prices come down a bit more.
    • a local big box store had a certain brand of 120GB model SSDs for 40% off

      Then I read peoples' comments on the drive and the drives were frequently failing... needless to say, I did not buy.
  • ORLY? 160GB SSD is still around $250+

    And 160GB is pretty much a minimum for a boot drive with Windows, Office, Visual Studio, SQL Server, and a few games. Am I asking too much for a 160GB SSD to cost about the same as a 2TB performance (baraccuda or black series) hard drive?
    • 160 minimum?

      I have all that and a few other things, and Clearcase stuff, except the SQL, and thats about 52GB.
      Hardrock Davidson
    • That's a lot of space

      Take away the gaming, and - as HD said - you can get by with 50GB or less.

      I've got, in a XP VM, Office 2010, Visio 2010, Project 2010, Visual Studio 2010, but not SQL Server, for 40GB (with roughly 10 to spare). A VM server 2008 w/SQL Server I connect to is about 50 as well.

      Net size for all is 90GB, but if I didn't use Server 2008 I could use SQL on the same XP VM and be 25~30GB ahead. For testing for certs, one needn't have a 50 zettabyte database. Just the structure and a handful of sample entries to prove the DB works as intended.

      Bare bones configs, of course, but when saving to the host's partitions it becomes a moot point.
  • Yes I want one!

    "Is it time to buy that SSD?"

    Yes, please wire me the money.
    • Wire?

      Dude, haven't you heard of Paypal?
      R Harris
      • SSD's \ Wire . . . LOL!

        It's a play on words. I got it. Very quaint.
  • Awesome

    For those that have a desktop and can add multiple drives, I recommend adding one now. The price per GB will continue to drop, and that will also happen. 2 years ago it was up near $3 pGb.

    The problem with laptops is that they usually only have one drive bay which means you'll have to buy a larger drive. On desktops you can add the drive and move your C partition onto the SSD and have your system boot off of htat drive and programs load off that drive, but you can use cheaper sower space to store you files, et. VEry cost effective
    • mSATA

      My Thinkpad has a 320GB hard drive. I added a 30GB mSATA drive. The OS is on the mSATA drive with big data files - including videos on the hard drive. Works great!
  • migrating

    is easy. There is free software around and external disk enclosures that allows one to clone the existing drive to ssd. Some ssd manufacturers even provide both cases & software with the purchase.
    • Migrating is not so easy...

      ...if you're migrating to a drive that's smaller than your current drive. Many of the drive cloning tools out there won't clone to a smaller drive, even if new drive is smaller than the used part of the original drive. I ran into this while migrating to an SSD. (I think I ultimately used Clonezilla to clone to the smaller SSD).

      Personally, I think the optimal solution (not for a laptop, but for a desktop) is the SSD caching capability (Smart Response) in the Z68 and later chips from Intel. Put in a reasonably sized SSD (say, 60GB) in front of a relatively large rotating dive, and you get most of the best of both worlds. And the SSD decaying over time (in capacity) is a performance issue, not a functionality/data loss issue. It makes me crazy that they haven't put the capability in lower-end chipsets where it would be more useful to more people, but... it's Intel.
      • Shrink the existing partition to under the new SSD size

      • You'd like to believe that works, but it doesn't ...

        @Patanjali, because most of the cloning software out there wants to clone the whole drive, not the partitions, and if the destination drive is smaller than the source drive (as it usually is when moving from rotating storage to an SSD), the cloning software refuses to copy the drive. (I spent a very frustrating weekend dealing with this while clong a drive for my laptop...)

        My point is that if you're going to do the move to an SSD, you should get your ducks in a row and assume the cloning process won't work the first time - because it likely won't. That said, I love the speed of my SSDs, but will be addressing the wear issue for SSDs by moving to the Smart Response capability in Z68 and Z77 motherboards.
  • Have RELIABILITY improve?

    SSD drives tend to die around month 9 of professional usage (ie: not just web browsing). Have that fact changed in any way?

    I haven't heard of any improvements to the technology .... so the answer is probably a huge NO. It is still a expensive gamble.
    • See the Warranty...

      OWC SSD's have 3year warranties for standard products and 5 yr warranties for business grade problems. Either they believe in their well build made in USA products, or they will be bankrupt in less than 2...
      • mmmhhhh

        May be they hope that professional users are a few percentage of their customer and may be they are right.
        Flash memory used in SSDs has a limited write cycle count.
        When a cell becomes defective the SSD builtin algorithm assigns a new cell to replace the defective one, but the cell spare area has a limited size and when it's exhausted, the drives fails.
        If your swap file is located on the SSD, expect a high failure rate if you're heavily using your computer with a lot of programs runing concurrently.
      • Warranty doesn't cover the lost data

        When an SSD drive dies, it takes the data with it. There is very little change you will be able to recover any data once the SSD is gone. And even with daily backup, data from a 24hr period can cost MILLIONS to a company.
      • Write exhausted drives do not fail. Reads still possible

        The write elsewhere scenario is not just for write-exhausted blocks, but is what the wear-levelling algorithms do ALL the time.

        Server grade SSDs are typically the more expensive SLC type, with 100,000 writes per block, rather than the 10,000 for consumer MLC devices.

        As for swap files, MS telemetry data shows that while there are lots of tiny reads, writes are 1MB and relatively rare, due to write caching, which in their words makes SSDs the 'perfect' swap drive!

        Too many here are still spreading a lot of FUD and misunderstandings about SSDs.