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Tech blog  September 14, 2015

SSDs vs HDDs | A Flash Perspective

Introduction

The technological leap from hard disk drives (HDDs) to solid state drives (SSDs) is tremendous and akin to when the jump was first made to cassettes from records. The sheer amount of core upgrades brought about by SSDs ? stability, noise-level, speed, power consumption ? allow the user to feel as though their device has been supercharged. When considering overall performance, choosing to switch to NAND flash memory is the best available upgrade.

NAND Flash vs. Spinning Platters

If you have ever seen the inside of a traditional HDD, you will find that they resemble a tiny record player. Looking back, it seems as though record players were eventually replaced by cassettes because of the record players’ relatively low reliability, mainly stemming from the various mechanical structures. If you are unfamiliar with how record players work, here is a quic k explanation: sound vibrations are etched onto a record and played back via an arm resting between the grooves of the spinning record. Traditional HDDs behave and work in a similar manner: the arm and magnetic head read the spinning platter by physically moving around the platter. A major difference is that records are by nature created to be read sequentially and linearly ? the tracks on an album are laid out linearly both physically and artistically. When reading user-generated data on a HDD, there is a large percentage of data that is strewn about the platter haphazardly, causing a major delay in retrieval of data.

Record players were large and fragile. Source: Wikipedia

When booting up programs, HDDs spin up, get loud, and must physically seek out the relevant information. This inherent flaw means HDDs are slow to boot up, are slow to read/write, and also get slower the fuller they become. They get slower because as the user fills up the platter, the reading arm must now move across larger areas creating much larger seek times. The inherent benefit of using SSDs stem from this entire concept ? they do not contain mechanical parts to bog them down.

Almost looks like a more sophisticated record player. Source: Wikipedia

Instead, SSDs are made up of semiconductors and integrated circuits to create what is known as NAND flash. The difference between the two mediums is rather stark, with SSDs winning the performance battle in every measurable metric. The main difference is that with NAND flash, solid state disks can cut out “seek” times, meaning the entirety of the drive is accessible at all times. When compared to HDDs, this cuts out a significant portion of time, resulting in much snappier performance. ?Everything from booting up the operating system, to writing tiny 4KB of data, to writing and copying large files gain a quantifiable jump in performance. Overall SSDs provide exponentially faster speed in both random and sequential reads and writes.

The simplicity of the innards of an SSD

Long-Lasting

We have established that SSDs benefit from blindingly-fast speeds, but it is also important to note that they are also much more reliable than their mechanical counterparts. As we discussed earlier, record players fell out of fashion not only because they were large and cumbersome, but because of their inherent flaw of being worn down after use. HDDs are somewhat similar in that they are much more prone to physical wear and tear ? there are simply too many parts that need to work in conjunction for them to be viewed as a reliable pieces of hardware. Omitting moving parts from their design means SSDs are much less likely to fail. This also means they have the added benefit of being much more resistant to bumps and movement.

Power Consumption

When considering the switch to flash, it is disingenuous to simply look at the dollar per gigabyte ratio and conclude that hard disks will save your company money. Total cost of ownership of a drive should always include maintenance and usage. One of the biggest costs to owning an array of HDDs is the large power draw. Luckily, a lack of moving parts means less power draw for solid state drives. When an HDD is actively working, it is drawing loads of power to move all the pieces that are tasked with finding the correct data being requested by the user. SSDs do not need to “se ek” its data, it is all instantly available, and by being able to skip this process, they enjoy a much lower power consumption rate. And as an added bonus, SSDs are able to spend more of their life in the “idle state” (when power is not actively being drawn) because of its inherent speed.

Density

Price is always king when it comes to choosing the right disk, but storage capacity is often just as important. It is still commonly believed that HDD’s have a higher stora ge capacity than SSD’s -- either because HDD’s have grown extremely dense over the years, or because most SSDs, up until recently, were really small. The truth is that HDDs are beginning to reach their t heoretical limit; there is only so much the engineering process can do to squeeze more data out of the same magnetic platter. SSDs on the other hand are now hurdling over traditional HDDs and if trends continue, it will not be too long before we see SSDs toppling HDDs for density supremacy.

Fixstars' very own 3TB and 6TB SSDs

Conclusion

With advantages that make HDDs seem like outdated tech, it becomes increasingly clear that SSDs will become the main medium of choice for all new devices. And if you have gone this long without upgrading, do yourself a favor and go flash.

Article by: Israel Imru

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