Speed up your computer with an SSD

What’s an SSD?

If you’re buying a new computer or looking to upgrade an existing one, you may come across the term SSD. An SSD (which stands for “solid-state drive”) is a device that stores data on your computer, much like a mechanical hard drive. A hard drive is where your computer’s operating system is installed, as well as any personal documents, pictures, music, etc.

An example of an SSD (Image courtesy of D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons).
An example of an SSD (Image courtesy of D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons).

A traditional hard drive stores data on a spinning magnetic disk. While this is a cheap way to store lots of data—hard drives are currently much cheaper than SSDs when looked at in terms of cost per gigabyte of storage—mecahnical hard drives are susceptible to damage if dropped.

SSDs do the same job as traditional hard drives, but instead of using a spinning disk, they use flash memory, similar to USB flash drives. There are no moving parts, which reduces the risk of accidental damage. Because of their flash memory, SSDs are also much faster than mechanical hard drives.

A computer with an SSD will boot up much quicker than it would with a traditional hard drive. Programs will load faster, and any tasks that involve reading or writing data will be performed more rapidly. In fact, according to many tech journalists and websites, an SSD is the best way to improve the performance of your computer.

How to Get an SSD

You can get an SSD in two ways: Buy a new computer that comes preinstalled with one, or purchase one yourself to add to an existing computer. The latter option is by far cheaper than buying a completely new PC, but it does require you to open up your computer and connect the new drive to your system.

To find new computers with SSDs, pay attention to a PC’s technical specifications. SSDs are normally found in high-end laptops, but they can also be found in smaller ultra-portable devices such as Chromebooks.

If you’re interested in adding an SSD to your computer, refer to the manual for your PC. You should find a guide on how to open up and replace your current hard drive. If you have a desktop, this will be very simple. It can be more difficult to work on a laptop, but with patience, a screwdriver, and a willingness to follow instructions, the average person should be able to pull it off.

The following video from Kingston provides a basic tutorial on how to install an SSD, in this case alongside an existing hard drive in a desktop PC:

You’ll also have to either clone your hard drive or completely reinstall Windows on your new SSD. These are both fairly advanced tasks, so only undertake this option if you’re comfortable with it. (Refer to this article for more information on installing Windows if you don’t have the installation disc—many new laptops don’t come with one anymore.) And as always, remember to back up the data from your old hard drive to avoid losing personal documents.

What to Look for in an SSD

If you’re shopping for an SSD, there are two main factors to consider: Storage capacity and price. Storage capacity for SSDs is measured in gigabytes (GB), with the largest SSDs topping out at one terabytes (TB; equivalent to 1,000 GB). Samsung has also recently announced 2 TB SSDs will be available to consumers.

Determine your current disk usage by looking at the size of the C:\ drive in Windows Explorer.
Determine your current disk usage by looking at the size of the C:\ drive in Windows Explorer.

To figure out how large of an SSD you’ll need to buy, determine how much data you currently have on your computer. The easiest way to do this is to go to the Start Menu > Computer and look how full your computer’s C:\ drive is. Consider deleting unnecessary files or programs to get a more accurate representation of how much space you’re currently using.

It’s a good idea to give your SSD room to breathe, so if you currently have 100 GB on your computer, it would be a better idea to spring for a larger 250 GB model rather than a smaller 120 GB one.

Once you’ve determined what size SSD you’re in the market for, go to online retailers like Amazon or Newegg for the best prices. Because SSDs are a newer technology, you’ll generally pay more per gigabyte than you will for a mechanical hard drive. As of the time of writing, 120 GB SSDs have fallen into the $60-$80 range, while 250 GB models have ducked below $100. To put that into perspective, just two years ago, 250 GB SSDs were in the $200 range—twice as expensive!

Prices continue to fall, with rumors that 250 GB SSDs will reach as low as $70 later this year. When it comes to newer technologies, waiting always saves you money.

Manufacturers such as Samsung, Crucial, Kingston, and Intel are among the more popular, but there are a large number of brands to choose from. Read professional reviews on tech websites to get a sense of what’s good, and scan customer reviews for trends that might indicate a particular model’s quality.

-Jesse

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