James E. Gaskin
May 26 2011

A Solid Case for SSDs

If you're seeking more speed and reliability from storage, look no further than solid-state drives.

About one or two solid-state drives are sold for every 100 regular hard drives with rotating media. And far more minivans are sold than Corvettes, but which would you rather have If you need capacity over speed, go for the minivan. But if speed matters most, you can't say no to the Corvette.

Few users think their computers are fast enough, and it doesn't help that data access speeds are becoming a bottleneck for many applications. Luckily, organizations have discovered they need really fast access to only a small portion of their data. In those cases, SSDs make good sense today and will make great sense tomorrow.

If you measure data storage in dollars per gigabyte, you'll never buy an SSD. But if you define your data storage needs based on speed, reliability, low energy usage and small size, you should open your hardware catalog to solid-state drives.

For example, the new Intel 510 SSD almost fully saturates the new SATA 3 pipeline, at more than 500 megabytes per second, compared with the maximum transfer speed of 600MBps. Most important, during real data usage, the latency figures for IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) is four times faster than the fastest hard drives.

More Storage for the Money

On a medium-duty server, using a 40 gigabyte SSD plus a 500GB spinning drive will add $100 or $200 to what might be a $2,000 server. SSDs in the 40GB to 80GB range cost about a third of what they cost two years ago, and their price will keep dropping.

Still, don't expect SSDs to drop as low in price as consumer-level hard disks, which cost as little as $200 for 2 terabytes of disk space. High-performance rotating drives, those spinning at 10,000 or 15,000 rotations per minute, are still wildly expensive compared with most hard drives.

When factoring in reliability, with spinning disks failing 9 to 10 times more often than SSDs, the choice to go solid becomes much easier. There are good reasons why millions of gamers have updated to SSDs, and speed and reliability top the list. Video studios and other organziations that run bits in and out of storage as fast as possible can improve performance and even save money by using SSDs rather than 15,000 rpm hard drives.

Because SSDs are made of chips, manufacturers aren't limited to making plug-and-play replacements for existing spinning disks. Intel's 310 is a few chips on a small board, making it about one-eighth the size of the 2.5-inch drive found in a notebook computer.

In fact, they're small enough to fit inside a notebook along with a spinning disk. Would you like to boot your notebook in less than 7 seconds and run it 153 percent faster, according to system speed scores? Keep your eye out for SSDs directly on motherboards, coming soon in notebooks and tablets.

And if all that doesn't add up to enough value to move to SSDs, consider their low energy use. Hard drives spin most of the time, but SSDs are in the lowest power state 90 percent of the time because they're not moving. Imagine that Corvette getting three times better gas mileage than a minivan, and you'll have an idea of what SSDs can do for your data storage performance.