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Memory goes solid

SSD memories are making their way into laptops. Should you go for one right now?

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: September 6, 2009

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are appearing in almost everything today-from music players to phones and even laptops. In fact, if you were to buy a decently specified laptop today, you will get the option of choosing an SSD instead of a traditional electro-mechanical drive-you know, the type that houses a rapidly spinning disc and a pointy needle, and is pretty much an industry standard. By contrast, an SSD houses several embedded memory chips.

Now, salesmen in stores will try and tell you a lot of stuff about why you should spend up to Rs 10,000 more to go solid. The biggest reason, according to engineers, is that the fewer moving parts there are in a product, the more reliable it is, simply because there are fewer things that can potentially go wrong. An SSD has no moving parts.

That doesn't mean that SSDs are a no brainer. There is the minor issue of SSDs costing more-in fact, lots more. For instance, Intel's X25-M (34-namometer), generally considered the best SSD available out there costs $440 (Rs 21,000) for a 160 gigabyte capacity model. That works out to Rs 132 per gigabyte. This does not sound like much when you pick up USB flash drives for upwards of Rs 500 for a gigabyte. But when you consider that a traditional electro-mechanical drive-one with 320 gigabytes of storage, which is bog-standard laptop equipment nowadays-costs around Rs 4,000 (for twice the memory, remember), you might want to question the rationale of an SSD.

Still, SSDs are getting cheaper. Apple, for example, constantly increases the capacity of the SSD-filled iPod Touch ever so often without a price hike. Plus, lower capacity SSDs, such as those on iPods, have much lower consumption, and they're also a lot lighter. That said, do not expect regular hard drives to give up their cost advantage anytime soon.

However, SSDs' main advantage, because of the lack of moving parts, is that they can access data far faster. They are also far more 'tolerant' than regular hard-drives-they have a higher temperature range and don't need fancy laptop body-shells to protect them. In fact, if you subtract the optical disc drive, a laptop with a SSD will have no moving parts at all. Which is why the US military, the world's single-largest consumer of tech-wizardry, has fallen in love with them.

Yet, unless you are the sort that really needs to have the latest and greatest piece of technology, or you work in an extremely hot and hostile environment, you really don't need an SSD in your laptop just yet. Regular electromechanical drives are still incredibly reliable given the amount of abuse they take. And the price premium is just not worth it right now.

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