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by JB Burke

Q. I’m looking for a new notebook computer, and I see “solid state drives” available on some of them. They cost more than regular hard drives. Should I spend extra for that?

A. In 1956 IBM introduced the world’s first commercial disk drive, the RAMAC 305. It had 50 disks (24-inch diameter) in a cabinet twice as big as a refrigerator and weighing a ton. It held 5 megabytes of data. Since then disk drives have gotten vastly smaller in size, tremendously higher in capacity and much more reliable. But they still have some negatives – they still have spinning disks that are read by moving disk “heads” that almost, but not quite, touch the surface of the disk. Your computer has very few moving parts – but the fewer the better, because they are more likely to fail than the electronics in your computer. So while disks have vastly improved over time, they are subject to failure, and just about everyone will experience a hard drive failure at least once.

A solid state drive (SSD) has no moving parts. It’s built to fit like a hard drive in your notebook, but contains non-volatile memory chips that retain their information even when they have no power. Hence, no moving parts. The advantages: eliminating HDD mechanical failure (one of the big causes of system crashes and data loss), reducing power usage and speeding up the system. However, today SSD’s are more expensive per megabyte, but that will change over time. The question is – how valuable is your data today?

Published: Courier 1/17/10 - Page 5C