What Is an SSD? Exploring the Benefits

What Is An Ssd

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are a type of PC storage that is significantly faster than its predecessor, hard disk drives (HDDs). To put it into perspective, newer-generation PCI Express-based SSDs are at least four times quicker than the fastest platter-based single HDD.

But quicker data access times aren’t the only reason SSDs rule supreme. We’re here to help you understand the importance of solid-state drives. We will cover their workings, types, benefits, applications, purchase considerations, best practices, and future trends.

Understanding SSDs

Both SSDs and HDDs retain stored data when you turn off the computer system, unlike RAM, which provides temporary storage.

While both perform similar basic functions, their inner workings are different — SSDs are typically more rapid and reliable.

Solid-State Drives At a Glance

Unlike traditional HDDs, SSDs have no moving parts (like read/write heads to access data or spinning wheels).

Often dubbed NAND (you’ll learn why soon), an SSD stores data on interconnected flash memory chips, which help store and retrieve data quickly and efficiently.

These flash memory chips aren’t to be confused with the ones used in USB thumb drives — they’re better-rounded and more expensive.

Evolution of Storage Technology

HDD storage technology is prehistoric. In terms of computer history, the advent of HDD technology can be compared to the Jurassic Period!

Jokes aside, I’d like you to Google “IBM 650 RAMAC.” This hard drive was launched in 1954 and used 50 24-inch-wide platters to hold a meager 3.75 MB of storage data. That’s like building a castle for just one person.

The HDD was meant for governmental and industrial use only and was deemed obsolete in 1969.

Timeline of HDDs and SSDs
The IBM 650 RAMAC weighed up to 6,263 pounds. Today, the average SSD card weighs 0.1.

HDD technology developed rapidly over the following decade during the PC era.

The PC HDD form factor was standardized at 5.25 inches in 1980, with Seagate’s ST506 5.25 inch 5 MB HDD launch; 3.5-inch desktop-class (1983) and 2.5-inch notebook-class (1988) drives were launched soon after.

The latter form factors are still in use but support much more storage space. A current 3.5-inch hard drive, for example, can easily support more than 10 TB.

SSD technology is much more recent. The first primary SSD drives began appearing in netbook laptops in the late 2000s. For example, the Asus Eee PC 700 Series (launched in 2007) had two GB of SSD primary storage.

During the netbook era (2007 to 2014), Manufacturers began designing HDDs and SSDs around one driver bay. You could pop out a 2.5-inch HDD and replace it with an SSD.

With time, more compact form factors emerged for SSD technology, and the current standard is M.2 SSDs (PCIe is widely used as well) — it was launched in 2013.

Advantages of SSDs Over Traditional Hard Drives

For starters, SSDs are much faster than HDDs. Since they don’t rely on moving parts and use flash memory chips that enable near-instantaneous access to data and transfers, SSDs are associated with faster loading times, higher bandwidth, and shorter boot times.

They’re also smaller than HDDs, enabling greater PC design flexibility. Some SSD models can be mounted directly on the motherboard, for example, while HDDs must adhere to either the 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch form factor.

How SSDs Work

An SSD uses semiconductor chips (flash memory chips) to store data and provides non-volatile (permanent) memory storage. Data is retained on the system even after the computer device is powered off.

Flash memory chips have no mechanical parts and are built from components you’d find on a computer chip, making them less prone to mechanical failure. Failure of the moving parts of an HDD could result in severe data loss.


The components of an SSD include a printed circuit board (PCB), NAND flash memory, a controller, an interface, power capacitors, and an external casing.

M.2 interfaces may also include built-in heatsinks, as they generate more heat than interfaces like SATA, NVMe, and PCIe.

Overview of the components of an SSD:

  • Printed circuit board: A PCB houses all other components and supplies electrical connections.
  • NAND flash memory: The most common form of flash memory, NAND flash stores data in non-volatile cells.
  • SSD controller: A controller manages data transfers and NAND flash operations.
  • SSD interface: An SSD interface, like SATA, PCIe, NVMe, or M.2, enables the SSD to interact with the computer device.
  • Power capacitors: A power capacitor provides sufficient power to complete a data transfer operation from the cache memory to primary memory in case of power loss.
  • External casing: External casing protects all internal components of an SSD and connects it to the computer.

Some M.2 SSDs have built-in heatsinks to cool the system. Owing to their compact size, they can generate more heat than 2.5-inch SATA SSDs.

NAND Flash Memory Technology

Not-and (NAND) flash memory technology was invented in 1987 and remains the most popular type of flash memory.

It has a 3D-like architecture and contains blocks of either 32 or 64 pages with millions of memory cells arranged vertically, horizontally, or in both dimensions.

NAND flash uses an advanced floating gate cell design to retain data regardless of the computer system’s connection to the power supply.

Read and Write Operations in SSDs

Floating gate cells remember their state before the system is switched off. They have floating gate transistors that can “capture” electrons to perform read, write, or erase tasks, depending on where voltage is provided.

For example, to conduct a write task, the floating gate must be charged (a logical 0) or discharged (a logical 1).

Modern flash memory systems, like NAND, can process “pages” of data at a time (rather than cell by cell); A NAND flash chip links hundreds or even thousands of floating gate transistors together and uses an SSD controller to manage operations as a unit.


Dataram introduced the first solid-state drive in 1976. It was called Bulk Core and featured a rack-mount chassis that held a maximum of eight 256-KB RAM memory boards.

SSD technology has progressed significantly, and there are currently four primary types of SSDs on the market: SATA SSDs, NVMe SSDs, M.2 SSDs, and PCIe SSDs. Each possesses a unique set of features, and you must choose the right SSD type.


SATA SSDs use the same interface as traditional HDDs and are generally used to replace them in desktops, laptops, and other HDD-based systems.

SATA SSD example

They offer advantages such as faster file transfer speeds, application loading and boot times, lower power consumption, and less heat dissipation.

They’re limited by the SATA interface, though, and shouldn’t be considered a high-performance SSD option for modern computer systems.

For example, read and write speeds of 600 Mbps are much lower than the speeds NVMe SSDs can achieve.


NVMe SSDs can achieve speeds of more than 3,000 Mbps (capped at 3,500 Mbps), making them a viable option for almost any compatible system.

NVMe SSD example

The system must have an NVMe interface or an adapter to convert it into a compatible interface.

They’re one of the fastest SSD types, offer lower latency than SATA and M.2 SSDs, and are widely used for applications like data center workloads, gaming, and video editing.

They’re fairly expensive, though, and not compatible with all systems, as we touched upon earlier.

M.2 SSDs

NVMe SSDs generally use the M.2 form factor to latch onto a computer system’s motherboard directly.

M.2 SSD example

M.2 SSDs are more compact than 2.5-inch SATA SSDs and commonly come in three sizes: 2242, 2260, and 2280. The first two digits refer to the SSD’s width in mm, and the last two digits refer to its length.

They’re used in ultra-thin laptops, smartphones, and tablets and are best suited to high-performance applications (SATA-based M.2 SSDs have limitations, though).


If you think NVMe SSDs are fast, wait till you learn about PCIe SSDs!

PCIe SSD example

Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) SSDs offer read and write speeds in excess of 15,000 Mbps and are available as a PCIe card or in the U.2 or M.2 form factors.

While they’re the fastest SSD type and offer the lowest latency, they’re also the most expensive.

PCIe SSDs are used in high-end gaming PCs, workstations, and servers.

It’s worth noting they may require cooling facilities and additional power connections to perform at peak capacity.


This is more of a “why SSDs are better than HDDs” debate. SSDs are a magnificent option for traditional and modern system upgrades and are clearly better than HDDs.

To summarize the benefits of SSDs, they offer enhanced performance, power and energy efficiency, and increased durability and reliability.

The benefits of SSDs can be summarized by these points:

  • Faster boot times and load speeds: SSDs offer faster boot times, higher bandwidth, and more immediate data transfers. This means they can handle large quantities of data at ultra-high speeds, which is necessary today. It’s worth noting that SSDs are also extremely secure, ensuring the sanctity of stored data.
  • Improved system responsiveness: SSDs offer near-instantaneous data access, enabling applications to launch swiftly. Switching from HDDs to SDDs makes everything feel more fluid. Mechanical delays that may be associated with moving parts of HDDs are also eliminated.
  • Enhanced reliability and durability: Since SSDs don’t have any moving parts, they’re more reliable and durable than HDDs. To put it into perspective, SSDs can better handle everyday wear and tear, dissipated heat (the moving parts of an HDD generate more heat), and accidental drops, shakes, and shocks.
  • Energy efficiency: Along the lines of moving parts, since SSDs don’t have any, they require less power to operate. This contributes to better battery longevity, which is highly desirable. They also weigh less and are much quieter than HDDs.

SSDs minimize data access latency and improve the overall performance of computer systems.

This leads to a more satisfying user experience and helps maximize productivity — the last thing you need is to wait for an application to load or for your storage system to crash. While this sounds extreme, it’s a genuine possibility with HDDs!


SSDs are a fundamental component of modern computing due to their speed, efficiency, reliability, durability, and applications in numerous industries.

They’re of particular interest in personal computing, enterprise storage solutions, cloud computing, gaming consoles, and high-performance devices.

Personal Computing

If you own a modern laptop, you probably have a solid-state drive. My laptop, for example, has a one TB NVMe SSD with the M.2 form factor.

SSDs are preferred over HDDs in personal computing as they provide lower latency, faster data transfer rates, and better overall system performance. They’re ideal for demanding applications like video gaming, software development, and video editing.

Enterprise Storage Solutions

Enterprise data centers reliant on HDDs are likely to run into performance bottlenecks. They’re gradually shifting to SDDs to lower overall operating costs and improve their data center performance, reliability, and efficiency.

SSDs fuel some applications in enterprise storage solutions, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data analytics, media entertainment, electronic design automation (EDA), file services, and databases.

Cloud Computing

The combination of SSDs, virtualization, and cloud computing technology is powerful and efficient; SSD cloud servers are virtual machines (VMs) that use SSDs for storage instead of HDDs.

These servers can be accessed from anywhere and provide high-speed access to data for applications like heavy-duty websites, data centers, app developers, and eCommerce websites.

Gaming Consoles and High-Performance Devices

Video games and high-performance devices are resource-intensive.

Using SSDs over HDDs ensures faster loading times due to rapid data access speeds, improved performance due to reduced latency, an immersive experience due to reduced loading screens, quick installation, and greater durability.

Pro tip: We recommend using an NVMe or PCIe SSD for gaming or high-end application use and using hard disk drives for backups.

Factors to Consider When Choosing SSDs

While PCIe SSDs are the cream of the crop, not everyone needs them. My mother, for example, uses a laptop for basic tasks and doesn’t require a computer that loads applications at the speed of light.

Consider factors like storage capacity, performance metrics, form factor and compatibility, endurance and lifespan, and pricing when choosing SSDs for personal or professional use.

  • Storage capacity: The last thing you need is to delete files and applications to manage storage space constantly. While cloud storage helps, it doesn’t come for free; even if it does, it’s limited. Most modern laptops offer 256 GB, 512 GB, and one TB variants. If you feel you’ll download several movies and applications on your device, avoid going for the 256 GB variant — think long-term.
  • Performance metrics: Assess metrics like input/output operations per second (IOPS) and read/write speeds. A PCIe SSD, for example, offers faster read/write speeds than an NVMe SSD and a higher number of IOPS. However, it only makes sense to purchase a system with a PCIe SSD if you plan on running high-end applications.
  • Form factor and compatibility: The form factor decides the size and shape of the SSD, which in turn determines where and how you can install it on your system. Figure out the best form factor for you and ensure the SSD in mind is compatible with your system.
  • Endurance and lifespan: SSDs use NAND flash memory technology, which has four types: single-level cell (SLC), multi-level cell (MLC), triple-level cell (TLC), and quad-level cell (QLC). SLC is the most durable of the lot, and QLC is the least. Choose a NAND flash type accordingly. You can also evaluate SSD endurance by assessing terabytes written (TBW) and drive writes per day (DWPD).
  • Price and budget considerations: Last, prepare a viable budget and avoid exceeding it. Let’s explore the laptop example again; Pricing varies greatly between 256 GB, 512 GB, and one TB models of the same laptop (with perhaps some system configuration tweaks). Pricing will also vary based on the type of SSD you choose. Figure out exactly what you need, set aside a budget, and stick to it.

If you’re hunting for a new laptop and can’t decide which one to choose, I recommend visiting a good electronics shop near you and exploring models of interest. Take help from a salesperson, test all features, and select a device that meets your budget and requirements.

Pro tip: Don’t seal the deal immediately. Go back home, explore the laptop’s price on various eCommerce platforms, and go for the cheapest option!

SSD Maintenance and Optimization

Just like your car needs an interim service every six months and a full service every 12 months, an SSD needs periodic maintenance and tune-ups to perform at the highest level.

For starters, navigate to your system’s settings and turn off power savings. While your desktop or laptop will consume more power, you’ll reduce latency and reap the benefits of improved performance.

For optimal performance, though, follow these maintenance and optimization tips.

TRIM Support and Garbage Collection

Just like your gardener trims the bushes from time to time, your solid-state drive needs constant “trimming” to maintain maximal performance.

By enabling the TRIM command on your system, the operating system will inform the SSD of data blocks that no longer contain data. For example, when you delete a file, the block on which it was stored will be marked for future use.

TL; DR: TRIM support enables effective garbage collection and prevents deterioration of SSD performance over time.

Firmware Updates

You can think of firmware as the intermediary between physical computer hardware and the operating system (OS).

Firmware controls low-level computer hardware, enabling it to function and communicate with other software. Firmware updates improve SSD performance, compatibility, and stability, so always ensure your SSD runs the latest firmware.

While such updates aren’t regular, you can expect periodic bug removal and performance updates.

Over-Provisioning (OP)

You should leave a portion of your SSD unused, as it enhances performance, wear leveling, and endurance.

While some SSD manufacturers pre-configure over-provisioning (OP), you can manually allocate extra SSD space for OP if necessary. We recommend maintaining an over-provision of around 15 to 25%.

Quick tip: You can look at this article to learn how to set up OP on SSDs.

Data Backup and Recovery

Regular data backups are important, regardless of whether you use an SSD or an HDD. We recommend password-protecting sensitive files and storing them in the cloud or a hard drive.

If you plan on selling your computer system, load all important files onto an alternate storage solution and securely erase your drive using tools like ATA Secure Erase.

Additionally, if you have multiple drives, store heavy-duty files like movies on the HDD and applications on the SDD.

SSD vs. HDD: Making the Right Choice

I can’t think of many scenarios where a hard disk drive will trump a solid-state drive. SSDs are hands-down the better option, but if your system can support both drives, we recommend a hybrid storage approach.

Table displaying difference between SSDs and HDDs
While HDDs aren’t exactly obsolete, SSDs have definitely taken a front seat. (Photo source: Avast Academy)

As I mentioned in the previous section, HDDs are perfect for large file storage, while SSDs are better suited to application storage. Let’s reopen the SSD vs. HDD debate and declare an undisputed winner.

Performance Comparison

In terms of performance, SSD types like NVMe and PCIe display read and write speeds between 3,000 to 15,000 (or more) Mbps in optimal conditions. Even the slowest SSD type, SATA, displays read and write speeds of around 600 Mbps.

In comparison, a typical platter-based single HDD may clock in read and write speeds of around 250 Mbps. It’s clear to see that SSDs outweigh HDDs on the performance playing field.

Cost Considerations

In terms of cost-effectiveness, HDDs are much cheaper than SSDs, making them a good option for storing large quantities of data.

A typical one TB internal 2.5-inch HDD, for example, costs around $40 to $60. In comparison, the cheapest SSD of the same form factor and capacity will start at around double the price ($100).

The price difference is justified, though, as HDDs are much slower than SDDs. However, you could make do with a hard disk drive if you don’t need a high-performance system. To better understand which use-cases may suit an HDD, read on.

Use Case Scenarios

To say HDDs are outdated would be ignorant; they’re widely used and have applications in several industries. SSDs and HDDs can co-exist, so if you require ample storage space for your files and applications, you could use an SSD to run applications and an HDD for “cold storage” of files.

Here are some scenarios that show how to use SSDs and HDDs best.

Mission-critical applications: Mission-critical applications that require minimal latency and real-time updates should opt for SSD deployment.

Database workloads: SSDs are also suitable for database workloads that demand frequent writes and rapid data access.

Machine learning and analytics: Machine learning tasks and resource-intensive analytics process large amounts of data and can take advantage of the fast data access speeds and high IOPS SSDs offer.

Finance and gaming: Real-time financial transactions and online gaming applications thrive on the near-instantaneous response times SSDs provide.

HDDs, on the other hand, are a more trustworthy and economical choice, making them an ideal option for backup storage and long-term archival. Applications like extensive batch processing or data warehousing find HDDs a particularly attractive proposition as well.

The SSD market is expected to see a CAGR of 14.7%, which puts the market size at $6.57 billion.

The innovation of the critical components of an SSD, the NAND flash and the controller, are likely to shape its immediate future.

Artificial intelligence may play a key role in upcoming SSD editions as well.

For example, by integrating AI/ML technology with SSDs, the technology may be able to analyze workload patterns, accurately predict requirements, and optimize SSD performance in real time.

Advancements in NAND Flash Memory

While SLC and MLC NAND flash memory are the most durable and reliable NAND flash types, TLC and QLC technology offer increased capacity at competitive pricing.

Organizations are swiftly adopting TLC SSDs over MLC SSDs, as they offer data-driven, enterprise-grade benefits at reasonable costs. SLC caching is another fascinating technique that increases SSD performance — it involves assigning a portion of SLC NAND as cache.

Emerging Storage Technologies

3D XPoint and MRAM are worth mentioning. The former bridges performance gaps between NAND flash memory and DRAM. It offers better performance, lower latency, and higher endurance than “traditional” NAND flash.

It’s a sublime alternative for high-end apps that need low-latency access and ultra-fast storage. Magneto-resistive RAM (MRAM), on the other hand, uses magnetic elements for storage.

It offers high endurance, low power consumption, and fast read and write speeds. While it can potentially replace NAND flash and DRAM in certain applications, widespread adoption is unlikely anytime soon.

Impact of SSDs on the Computing Industry

SSDs have revolutionized data storage and retrieval in numerous industries and increased system performance, reliability and energy efficiency.

They’ve also enabled the development of lightweight, compact computing devices and contributed to reduced noise in computing environments (for example, the “whirring” sound of an HDD at a library can be distracting!).

Last but not least, the cocktail of SSDs, virtualization, and computing technology spells danger for HDDs (hello hello, SSD cloud servers) — SSDs are getting cheaper and are finding increasing adoption.

The SSD Advantage: A Faster, Smarter Computing Experience

While HDDs aren’t old-fashioned by any stretch of the imagination, they aren’t meant for modern systems anymore. They can serve as a supporting cast member at best or for niche purposes (like backup storage) only.

SDD technology offers a more enjoyable computing experience, is continuing to advance, and, most importantly, is getting cheaper

The advantages of SSDs over HDDs include blazing fast read and write speeds, quick data access, improved multitasking, enhanced durability and reliability, energy efficiency, compact form factors, and silent operation.

I’m excited to learn how AI/ML technology will mold upcoming SSD iterations and see whether emerging technologies like 3D XPoint and MRAM will replace SSDs one day.

An encouraging future awaits.