The first real computer I bought came with a 100 MB hard disk drive. At the time it was a large amount of storage capacity and lightning fast. How times have changed!

These days most PCs must have at least 500 GB hard disk capacity, 4 GB memory and the latest Intel or AMD CPU. But while CPU, memory and graphics performances have been tweaked and upgraded recently, the bottle neck in computer performance now seems to focus on hard drives.

Consider how much software has increased in size since those glory days. Windows 3.0 required just 6 – 7 MB disk space, while Windows 7 will eat up 16 GB of your hard disk drive. Many other popular software suites take equally massive amounts of disk capacity.

One obvious impact of this increased disk capacity is the increased load time to get this software up and running. Who hasn’t sat around and cursed waiting for Windows to start up, or that photo editing software to load?

The reason for the increased start up times is the necessity for the program to be read from the hard disk into the computer memory. The modern hard disk drive is a wondrous thing, but the technology stills relies on a spinning magnetic disk and a mechanical read/write head moving to various locations on that disk to access the data.

No matter how fast the disk spins, or how quickly the head can be positioned over the disk, mechanical limitations become the ultimate factor in data retrieval speed.

This is where solid state drives, SSDs, have their ultimate advantage. Because they use microchips to store data, rather than rotating disks, there is no waiting for the disks to spin up to speed, or for the head to move to the correct position. In essence, an SSD is comparable to a USB flash drive.

The absence of moving parts gives SSDs another great advantage; they are considerably quieter and cooler than a conventional HDD.

But it is not as one-sided as it may appear. The biggest drawback currently with SSDs is their cost and relatively small capacities, so you’ll need to think long and hard before rushing out and swapping your HDD for a SSD.

While costs remain high, it may not be worth the expense unless you are a computer professional. A good compromise might be to go for a smallish SSD and use that as your boot disk, install your operating system on it, and retain your data and other less frequently used software on a conventional HDD.

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