Opinion: How an SSD can change your life

Have you ever had or seen a laptop that was so unbelievably slow that the erosion of rocks is quicker than the amount of time the thing takes to start up? I’m sure we’ve all had this experience with our laptops from school, at work or wherever else. Since I’m involved in tech (but no expert by any means) many people come to me with their laptops with the same issue: “It’s slow, can you, like, remove the viruses so that it’s faster?” I’m here to tell you that it’s not the viruses, my friend. It’s your hard drive. Though you should really stop going to dodgy sites to watch Friends. Just get Netflix like the rest of the world.

The standard of the hard disk drive – or HDD for short – has been one we’ve been stuck with for almost 70 years. Hard drives used to be as big as aeroplane hangers, these gigantic metal monstrosities that can hold the same amount of data that you used as you were watching YouTube videos on the toilet. It’s frankly ludicrous how far we progressed with storage technology. Phones are even starting to break the 1 TB mark and SD Cards get bigger every year. We can cram more than ever into even tinier spaces. However, sheer capacity may be nice, but it comes at a cost.

HDDs work pretty simply. There’s a “disk” inside the drive which is often called a platter that holds your data and is coated in a magnetic material. There is a moving actuator arm that reads and writes your data using magnets found in the arm’s head. It’s a simple process, but it wields many drawbacks. Firstly, it can be broken extremely easily and you can’t even open up a hard drive without breaking it instantly because any speck of dust on the platter will brick the whole thing. Secondly, it uses moving parts. Moving parts are awful news for any sort of hardware since, with time, they deteriorate.

That’s not some super computer. That’s the hard drive. It can hold two songs and a movie.

HDDs also have a limit to their speed. The speed is measured by RPMs and generally the higher you go the faster it’ll be. However, standard HDDs that you’d find in say, cheap laptops, have relatively slow speeds. Once you use an HDD for over 5 years, you’ll find your Windows experience to be much slower than it used to be. Everything takes time and it’s not as snappy as it used to be. Many people blame some unseen force or if you’re a 60 year old dad, the dang kids that installed the computer games. But your HDD is just getting old and it sucks.

HDDs are the old way of storage. They’re a relic of a bygone age and the future is paved in SSDs. SSD stands for Solid-State Drive. Their advantage comes with the fact that they have zero moving parts. Since there are no moving parts or magnets to worry about, speed is not limited to hardware capabilities. Also, they are very tough to break. You’d have to snap an SSD in half or do some real damage to it instead of an HDD that you can just drop and lose forever.

Actual depiction of what happens when you drop a speck of dust on an HDD.

Skipping all the technical mumbo jumbo, the short and skinny version of all this is that HDDs are slow and break easily because of moving parts and SSDs are incredibly fast and have almost zero physical drawbacks. They’re also significantly smaller in physical size. Normal SSDs are about half the size of HDDs and new form factors like M.2 drives turn your SSD storage into something that looks like a RAM stick. The main problem that still plagues SSDs is that they’re expensive.

SSDs used to cost an arm and a leg, just like HDDs in the old days. However, their cost have slowly dropped to a point where they’re affordable for an average consumer. It has become a standard in the PC gaming world to have some form of SSD in your machine and that’s because you need to install Windows on it. When you install Windows (or more accurately, your operating system) onto an SSD, the computer can execute commands and run the frontend of your system extremely quickly.

The easiest example to use is when you switch on your PC. With an HDD, while loading Windows 10, it takes about 30-40 seconds on average depending on the HDD’s specifications and speed. An SSD, also depending on brand and type, can boot to your desktop in 10-13 seconds. Often less. (Shoutout to MiniTool for the information)

Your standard SSD form factor.

I have an SSD in my PC and after decades of using an HDD, it’s a whole different world. I switch on my PC and before I can even take a seat, the PC is already on the desktop, ready to go. I have all my important apps on the SSD too so anything I open is blazingly fast. With just an HDD, everything would hang, take time to load or just be cumbersome. None of that exists with an SSD.

Since SSDs don’t have the biggest capacity for the price, most people get fairly low capacity SSDs that only houses their OS and important apps. That’s perfectly fine for general use and I am a firm believer that this should be the standard moving forward in terms of stock laptops and the like. Most PC gamers still have their huge Steam libraries stored on HDDs because of their capacity, but the loading times suffer because of it.

Loading times are also a thing of the past with SSDs. With the recent PS5 details that we’ve received, they used the example of Spider-Man‘s loading times between fast travel points. With the regular HDD version, it takes 15 seconds to load everything. With an SSD it’s 0.8 seconds. That’s how dramatic the difference is with an SSD. Loading times on PC games with an SSD are the same.

When Sony announced that the PS5 was getting an SSD, I started to understand that our old standard of storage is now getting replaced. SSDs will allow for untold gaming performance and while some people may say that you can already hook up an SSD to a console, the fact that this comes as the new standard is the huge news. Most people don’t yet know the power of SSDs, but believe me, once you see it in action, you won’t believe your eyes. It takes every inconvenience that we’ve grown used to and erases it entirely.

When people think of “performance” they think the graphics card, RAM, the CPU and how many pixels something can push. But when that is all loading from a spinning disc with a magnetic needle, it doesn’t feel very revolutionary when you have to wait 2 minutes to get into your game (*cough* Anthem *cough*).

SSDs are important because they are the future. They will take over as our standard for storage once we figure out how to reduce the pricing. The jump in technology is like jumping from a Nokia 3310 to an iPhone and once it gets you, you can’t go back. A few days ago I worked on a relatively new laptop with just an HDD inside and the thing was so slow that I wanted to throw it out of a window. It still pains me to play on my PS4 knowing that these stupidly long loading times are just because of the HDD inside of the machine.

Here you can see the platter and needle up of an HDD up close.

This was just a little crash course on SSDs and HDDs for people that aren’t in the know and saw the announcement with the PS5. I could have gone a lot more technical (for example I didn’t go into the recent development of using SSDs via PCi Express), but it basically just turns into alphabet soup at some point. All you have to know is that HDD is big but slow and SSD is small and lightning fast. HDD is an elephant, SSD is a cheetah. And please, get laptops with SSDs in them. If someone brings me another laptop full of torrents and tells me it’s slow, I will lose it.

I am way too tall, played way too many games and I love to write about what we love about games. In the end, I'm just being #Thabolicious

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