Business of Law

Solid State Drives Can Bring Magic to Your Computer

Posted Dec 1, 2011 4:00 AM CDT
By Dennis Kennedy

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Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, there’s a new technology becoming more popular that is almost magical both in how it works and in its impact on computer users. Let me introduce you to the amazing world of solid state hard drives.

Solid state drives are electronic flash memory hard drives that replace traditional hard drives. They represent a category different from thumb drives or flash memory cards used in digital cameras. SSDs typically range from 64GB to 256GB.

Hard disk drives have mechanical components—spinning disks and movable read/write heads. They take a few seconds to spin up to speed, can be noisy, require defragmentation from time to time, and can crash catastrophically. They also offer huge amounts of storage at low prices. It doesn’t take much effort to find a 2-terabyte version for less than $100.

SSDs, however, do not have moving parts. They generally use NAND-based flash memory (in simplest terms, a memory chip). This memory is nonvolatile, which means that it retains memory even if there is no power. As a result, SSDs are very fast, start instantaneously, run silently and will not suffer the traditional mechanical hard drive crash.

SSDs cost much more than hard disk drives: A careful shopper can now find a 128GB SSD for around $200. A bargain shopper might be able to get 6TB of hard drive storage for the same $200.

So why might you pay a premium for SSD storage? Take a test drive of a computer using an SSD. I found myself recently saying I will never again buy a computer for myself without an SSD. The difference is, well, magical.

Think about the annoyances you have with your current computer. Coffee-break-inducing slow boot-up time? A noisy hard drive? Slow-loading documents?

All of these annoyances go away with an SSD. Computers can be lighter and use less power. And whether or not the time you save covers the extra cost, you will definitely feel the benefit every day.


The harder issue is whether you can live with a drive having less storage. I struggled with that before buying mine, and I decided SSDs force us to rethink how we use hard drives.

In 1998 I was at a law firm with 100 people (40 attorneys) on our network. All of the firm’s data totaled about 2GB and fit on a 4GB hard disk drive. Today one person commonly has a 1TB or 2TB drive (and for $80, why not?)—1,000 times as much data as my whole firm had. Yes, we now have audio, video and much larger files, but do we really need to hold that much data on the computers we carry?

We typically have two types of data—active data, including documents we are working on and other files we want to have immediate access to, and archival data. Archival data is everything else. With online backup, storage and file-sharing tools, we can keep archival data on the Net and external backup drives.

The smaller size of an SSD can be more than sufficient for what we need, and we get all the benefits an SSD brings. Less storage indeed can be more useful.

It’s worth mentioning that litigators and e-discovery professionals are finding SSDs to be a new frontier. SSDs store, move, erase and access data in completely different ways than do hard disks, often with significant implications and almost magical explanations.

Solid state drives give us a glimpse into the superfast, quiet future right now, and trends are running in the SSD direction. The benefits are significant and satisfying. Especially for a new laptop, money spent on an SSD will be money very well spent.

Dennis Kennedy is a St. Louis-based legal technology writer and information technology lawyer.


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