Solid-state drives: 10 questions, 10 solid answers

As solid-state drives (SSDs) are becoming more and more mainstream, with 64GB-128GB models well below the $100 price point, it's time to go behind the scenes, solve some mysteries, and give you some answers on how to treat SSDs right.

Here, in no particular order, are answers to your burning questions around flash storage.

[ STUDY: Non-geeks prefer solid-state drives to cloud ]

1. Do SSDs really wear out?

SSD cells do have a limited lifespan. They lose their ability to charge and discharge after many thousands of read/write processes. Practically speaking, however, average users will have replaced their computers before the SSD gives up. Today's SSDs can be rewritten with an average of 30TB-50TB in total, which means you could write at least 15GB-20GB per day over the course of five years before you hit that limit. In a test conducted by a forum member of the Corsair board, an SSD lived way beyond that spec, finally giving out after 250TB of data was written on the drive.

New wear-leveling algorithms and "spare" cells should increase an SSD's lifespan. But SSDs have another thing going for them: They are more shock-proof than regular mechanical disks. I can't remember how many (external) HDDs I dropped, both powered or not, and just heard them do the dreadful "Click, Clack, Click, Clack" noise. That’s not likely to happen to SSDs.

2. What are the main benefits of SSDs compared to HDDs?

  • There is next to no spin-up time, latency and seek time when compared to traditional HDDs.

  • Average IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) are 10 times higher than HDDs.

  • They're more resistant against shock and heat.

  • SSDs are less prone to cluster errors

  • No moving parts means lower power consumption.

  • They're silent

3. The web is full of tips to boost speed and increase the lifespan of SSDs. Should I follow the advice?

The tip: Turn off Disk Defragmenter

Should you do it? Yes.

On SSDs, defragmentation is not really necessary as the controller is capable of accessing all bits and bytes equally fast -- if you launch a program, there's no delay when collecting pieces of fragmented data. Even though your SSD isn't likely to "die" from excessive defragmentation, it might be wise to simply turn this feature off and get rid of the unnecessary, resource-consuming task. In Windows 7 and 8, SSDs should be detected automatically and defragmentation should be turned off. However, in many of my tests, that was not the case: To turn off defragmentation, go to "Disk Defragmenter" in Windows and uncheck "Turn off schedule" for your SSD.


The tip: Disable SuperFetch, Prefetch, ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive:

Should you do it? Yes.

Starting with Windows Vista, Microsoft included some caching mechanisms that will increase performance on traditional hard disks. These are SuperFetch, Prefetch, ReadyBoost, and ReadyDrive. On their Engineering7-Blog, Microsoft stated: "If the system disk is an SSD, and the SSD performs adequately on random reads and doesn't have glaring performance issues with random writes or flushes, then Superfetch, boot prefetching, application launch prefetching, ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive will all be disabled." Unfortunately, that's not always the case. While these features may be useful on non-SSD systems, they cause unnecessary overhead, CPU cycles, and memory, which in turn may also have an effect on your PC's responsiveness. To turn off SuperFetch, go to "Control Panel", "System and Security", "Administrative Tools", and "Services". Find the SuperFetch service, right-click on the entry and select "Disabled". To turn off Prefetch, go to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters", double-click on "EnablePrefetcher" and enter "0" to disable the Prefetcher.

The tip: Move the page/hibernation file to a mechanical drive:

Should you do it? No.

This tip I do not recommend. While it may reduce the wear and tear of SSDs (which, again, you likely won't ever notice), both files are frequently accessed and do matter to day-to-day and boot-up performance -- especially on Windows 8, which uses the hibernation file for its sped up "Hybrid boot". I would NOT move these critical files from the SSD.

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