Speed up your computer with an SSD

Most of today's current computers are being slowed-down by the HDD (hard disk drive) -- an old data storage technology dating back to the 1950s!

If your computer is decently spec'd, that is, it's equipped with a moderately fast processor and sufficient memory then it will benefit substantially from a fast SSD. I can help you determine that.


SSD stands for Solid State Drive.


Replacing a slow HDD with a SSD gives a substantial and immediate boost in performance for not much money. It can breathe new life into a slow computer. It will feel like a better-than-new machine, booting up many times faster and starting programs faster than ever. Even brand-new computers can be sped-up dramatically by installing a SSD. It’s unquestionably the best performance bang for the buck.

Because of all the positives SSDs offer, I recommend SSD installation in all new user computers, especially laptops. Servers are a different case and not discussed here.


Slower than Molasses in January

The picture here shows the hard drive activity as seen using the Task Manager. When the disk hits 100% active time (100% busy), that means it's maxed out on data transfer speed and can operate no faster - it does not mean it's full.

When the hard drive hits the max, or comes close, that means I/O requests have to wait their turn -- and there can be hundreds of them waiting. In this example, the average response time is over 10,000 milliseconds -- ten seconds! That's an eternity in computer terms.

This manifests itself to you as taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to finish booting up, for a program to load and become ready, etc. Your computer may not respond to clicks and it may appear hung or frozen until the backlog of disk I/O requests are cleared-up.

Why is the hard drive so bloody slow?

task manager displaying disk status

Inside Your Computer

A computer system has many components that all contribute to the overall apparent speed that you experience. The CPU, memory, graphics chips, hard drive, and more. All of these components have seen major increases in performance as new generations of computers are released. But of all those, the hard disk drive (HDD) has seen probably the least comparative improvement in speed.


Making things worse, operating systems like Windows have gotten far bigger and more complicated, with far more processes running than ever before. Windows 10 is a pig compared to Windows 7. I've seen otherwise decently spec'd computers take ten minutes to become useable after restart with Windows 10 and a hard drive. An SSD can drop that to 30 seconds!

A Primer on How Hard Drives Work

The core technology behind the hard drive hasn’t changed much since the 1950s when the hard drive was invented. A hard drive has multiple spinning magnetic disks that hold all your programs and data. Your data is stored on these disks as microscopic magnetic pulses — many trillions of them.

inside a hard drive

The data are read-from and written-to the spinning disks via a small movable read/write arm that extends into the stack of disks as shown in the adjacent picture.

When you start up your computer, click on a program, open a file, or do anything else, the HDD must read or write data to fulfill that request. Before it can do so, it must (1) wait for the proper spot of the disk to rotate under the read/write arm and (2) the read/write arm must move in or out to line up with the proper spot on the disk. The yellow lines illustrate this.

Hard Disk Drive - HDD

This all happens fairly fast but it’s still a rotating mechanical device so it takes time. In the context of computers, even milliseconds are a long time. When there are hundreds of read/write requests waiting to be carried out, then you have a bottleneck. This noticeably slows down your computer since processes (programs) have to wait their turn to read and write data to the disk.

Another disadvantage to HDDs are heat and wear. There’s a motor that spins the disks and bearings that hold the disks in place, just like the wheels on your car. Moving parts create friction, generate heat, and eventually wear out. This also makes HDDs use more power, so your laptop runs hotter and the battery goes flat sooner. All disadvantages.

Solid State Drives (SSD) Solves All These Problems.

  • There are no spinning disks so there’s far less latency (waiting for data to be found). Data flow begins as soon as it’s requested — no waiting for data on a spinning disk to rotate around under a read/write arm.

  • Since there are no moving parts, SSDs consume far less power and generate very little heat. Less heat means a cooler running computer and, for a laptop, longer battery life.

  • No moving parts means no friction. There are no moving parts to wear out.

As you can see pictured here, the SSD has no spinning disks, no read/write arm, no moving parts whatsoever. It’s just a big chunk of memory chips.

SSDs cost more per gigabyte than do HDDs. But that cost is coming down considerably and rapidly.

And cost is really only a concern if you have hundreds of gigabytes of data, which most people don't have. A 250GB SSD is plenty of storage for most non-media applications and costs less than $80 as of this writing. A 500GB SSD isn't much more. While this is more expensive than a similarly-sized HDD, it’s not that much more in absolute cost. And the benefits are substantial.

inside a solid state drive

Solid State Drive -- SSD

If you do have hundreds of gigabytes of media data (photo, video, music), such data can be stored on a HDD while your operating system, programs, and non-media data is stored on an SSD. This is the best of both worlds — cheap HDD (magnetic) storage for the space-hogging media files (video, especially), and super-fast SSD (solid state) storage for everything else. Your tower computer can easily contain both SSD and HDD for this purpose.

Some high-end "ultrabook" laptops today come with SSDs already installed but most laptops and pretty much all desktop and tower systems come with HDDs installed. I can replace the HDD with a SSD, giving the computer an immediate and dramatic speed boost.

If SSDs are so great and wonderful then why don't all new computers come with SSD now?


Because the benefits of SSD aren't widely understood or appreciated by non-geeks, manufacturers are hesitant to include them in their mainstream models due to cost. Increasing the price even by relatively little in order to include the SSD is a hard sell in a market where computer manufacturers want to cut every penny possible. But as SSD and HDD cost spread narrows, we're starting to see more factory-installed SSDs as a result. Mid-to-upper range "ultrabooks" (super thin and light laptops) starting around $700 all come with SSDs now.

True price parity is still a few years away and until then HDDs will still be preferred by manufactures wanting to cut costs. But you don't have to wait for that day to arrive, you can switch today and enjoy!