A ‘Solid’ Solution for Your Work Laptop?

By now, most people with an ear toward the technology world have at least heard the term solid state drive.  And with prices actually falling, it may be time to consider investing in one of these super-fast, incredibly-reliable drives for your business.

What is a solid state drive, you may ask?  The best way to explain that is to think about all the portable, lightweight devices used today that store music, movies, and any other files: from an iPod to a video-game system’s memory card.  These all have one thing in common: they all use flash memory.

FOX Business tested out a solid state drive manufactured by Samsung and here is an in-depth review of the device.

What does a solid state drive mean to consumers and small-business owners?  According to Samsung’s Consumer Memory and Storage Division Marketing Director Shane Higby, it means a laptop that can boot in as little as 15 seconds to show that impatient client a proposal; it means loading Microsoft Excel in mere seconds to crunch financial numbers, all while having tons applications running simultaneously; and, finally, with extended battery life, it means fewer races against the clock to write up and send out that crucial report before your out of juice.

Now back to flash memory chips, which is what solid state drives (SSD for short) use to store information in lieu of a literal moving disk which, especially in portable situations, can be prone to mechanical damage, putting your data at risk.

Because there are no moving parts like with a traditional hard drive, Higby said, laptop users can see some battery-life improvement.  The Samsung 470 Series drive, for example, which has particularly-low power-consumption, can boost life by as much as 30 minutes, he said.  Flash memory also reads and writes information much faster than a traditional drive, he said.  In fact, when FOXBusiness.com took SSDs for a test drive, write speeds were more than twice as fast and read speeds were over three times faster.

Of course, all this speed does come at a cost, and a hefty one at that.  For example, Samsung’s three capacities, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB come with price tags of $129.99, $259.99, and $519.99, respectively.  Compare that to a Seagate 500GB hard drive also tested by FOXBUsiness.com, which Amazon.com has for sale at $65.

The more tech-inclined may have heard concerns over the limited number of times a solid state drive can be written to, a non-issue on traditional drives.  Samsung’s Consumer Memory and Storage Division Senior Product Marketing Manager Chris Geiser explained, Samsung uses a technology (as do other manufacturers) to mitigate this SSD drawback and guarantees a 3,000 cycle of endurance, meaning each cell in the memory can be written to at least that many times before wearing out.

To put that in perspective, said Geiser, if a business user were to write 20GB of data every day (that would be really high for an average user) on a 64GB drive, for example, it would take over 26 years for that drive to completely wear out.  And how many people do you know that use a 26-year-old computer for more than nostalgic purposes?

Business users, in particular, could also benefit from the reliability of SSDs.  Laptop drives are particularly susceptible to damage because of how they’re moved around a lot, compared to desktop computers, but SSDs aren’t affected by motion.  Geiser explained, traditional hard drives have a mean failure time of 100,000 hours.  Compare that to 1 million hours (100 years) on a solid state drive.

If you’re concerned about the limited space on a solid state drive, the clouds could answer your prayers.  Well, cloud computing, that is.  Higby said the rise of storing information on the Internet is certainly playing into the adoption of SSDs, as users don’t necessarily need to fork out tons of money for the largest capacities when they can access music files and photos on the “cloud” as they need it.  Geiser added that the mobile gadgets these drives are showing up in are all aimed at accessing the cloud.

While Higby said he doesn’t see the flash-memory prices falling as far and as fast as traditional hard drives any time soon, he expects the two to co-exist for some time.  He also said in 2011, more computers will come with solid state drives pre-installed, something Apple just started with its redesigned MacBook Airs.