Mecnote : What Is a Solid State Drive?

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

What Is a Solid State Drive?

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This might be hard to believe, but Solid State Drives are actually fairly old technology. SSDs have been around for decades in various forms. The earliest were RAM-based and were so cost-prohibitive as to make appearances only in ultra high-end and super computers. In the 1990s, Flash-based SSDs made an appearance but were still far too expensive for the consumer market and made hardly a blip outside of specialized computing circles. Throughout the 2000s, the price of flash memory continued to fall, and by the end of the decade, consumer Solid State Drives were making inroads in the personal computer market.
So what exactly is a Solid State Drive? First let’s go over what a traditional Hard Disk Drive (HDD) is. An HDD is, at its most simple, a set of metal platters coated with a ferromagnetic material. Those platters spin on a spindle (much like a record spins on a turn table). The surface of the magnetic platters is written to by a tiny little mechanical arm (the actuator arm) with a very fine tip (the head). Data is stored by changing the polarity of the magnetic bits on the surface of the platters. It is, of course, quite a bit more complicated than that, but suffice to say that the analogy of an automatic record player arm seeking out a track on a record is not far flung from the actuator arm and head of a HDD seeking out data. When you want to write or read data from a magnetic HDD, the platters spin, the head seeks, and the data is located. It’s as much a mechanical process as it is a digital one.
Solid State Drives, by contrast, have no moving parts. Although the scale is different and the size of the storage significantly larger, an SSD shares so much more in common with a simple, portable flash drive than it does with a mechanical HDD (and certainly far more than it ever would with a record player!). The vast majority of SSDs on the market are of the NAND variety, a type of non-volatile memory that doesn’t require electricity to maintain data storage capacity (unlike the RAM in your computer, which loses its stored data as soon as the power goes off). NAND memory also provides a significant increase in speed over mechanical hard drives, as the time wasted spinning up and seeking is removed from the equation.

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