There's no mechanical inertia in an SSD. Things happen instantly. Or so they say.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Can a solid-state drive make your computer faster?

Sept. 18, 2011

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2011, The Post-Standard

You might call it the ultimate tweak -- swapping out your computer's hard drive for an SSD, a solid-state drive. Or buying a new computer with an SSD already installed.

An SSD is just like a memory chip, more or less. It has no moving parts -- no spinning drive that has to come up to speed before it can work and no magnetic head on a swinging arm that has to dart around the disk looking for files.

If you remember what you learned about physics in high school, you'll see the advantage right away. There's no mechanical inertia in an SSD. Things happen instantly.

Or so the proponents of SSDs say. Are they right?

Mostly. But there are a couple of things you ought to know if you're interested in moving up to SSD.

First, make a note of where you can get the best prices on SSDs. New Egg, at www.newegg.com, is a reliable Internet discounter which usually has the lowest prices on computer drives. 120 GB SSDs cost $80 or less at New Egg. (Search using "SSD" at the site.) Amazon, at www.amazon.com, also has low prices, although lately its service has slipped below New Egg's.

Now onto the good stuff. I've been running an SSD in my MacBook Air laptop since early this year -- it comes equipped that way -- and I'm ecstatic at the overall improvement compared to my other Mac laptop, a MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air have similar processor speeds and run the same mix of software. The only significant difference is the SSD in the Air. (The MacBook Pro has a standard hard disk drive.)

I've come to enjoy three big improvements in the SSD-equipped computer:

   Bootup is very fast, about 8 to 9 seconds from a completely off state. That's even counting the time needed to recognize and sync my Bluetooth mouse. With no need to spin up a disk drive, the computer is ready for work quickly.

   Video playback is smooth and free from jerkiness, even when I'm watching high-definition movies.

   The laptop is totally silent. There's no noise from mechanical operations. Yes, there's a fan, but because there's no traditional hard drive heating up the inside of the case, the fan almost never has to run.

But not everything is a plus. Saving files sometimes seems to take longer on the SSD laptop, no doubt because SSD drives aren't yet as fast at writing files as they are at reading them. And really huge files of 10GB or more can bog down the solid-state drive, a problem I note sometimes when I'm editing video.

An undeniable bonus you'll see if you swap an SSD for your laptop's old-fashioned drive is increased battery life. Using a smaller-capacity battery than the one in my MacBook Pro, my SSD-equipped MacBook Air runs at least twice as long before needing a charge.