SSDs are faster and more reliable than regular hard drives (HDD), but they’re not for everyone. What are SSDs and do you need one?

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For years, these physical mechanisms in HDDs stood in the way of faster read and write speeds. With their new technology, SSDs eliminate this problem, so large files can be loaded much faster with an SSD than with an HDD. So how does a solid state drive work?

SSD stands for Solid State Drive , but what is it? A solid state drive is a storage medium without a moving memory that works much faster than an HDD. Unlike old hard disk drives (HDD), SSDs have no moving parts such as rotating disks and movable read/write heads.

This is how a solid state hard drive works

You probably know that the data you store can be written in all 1’s and 0’s. But how can we squeeze trillions of those ones and zeros into a tiny cell phone that fits in your hand? How does this solid state technology work? What do SSDs do exactly?

That’s what an SSD does

An SSD counts the ones and zeros using electrons – tiny particles even smaller than atoms. You can think of an SSD like an extremely dense abacus. Inside an SSD are micro-transistors that are stacked on top of each other in a kind of grid system. These transistors have a specific electrical charge that is reversed and held by so-called “gates”.

Control Gates and Floating Gates alternate the voltage flowing through the transistors to trap the electrons at specific points. Then the gates read how many electrons have been “captured” and return a “1” or a “zero” as a result. This is how data is read and written from an SSD.

The lattice arrangement allows for faster reading of data. No rotating disks or moving heads are required – only the bit in row X, column Y needs to be accessed. The arrangement allows an operating system such as Windows or macOS to start up much faster than if it were stored on an HDD.

The only major disadvantage is that SSDs are more expensive to manufacture and therefore more expensive to buy.

How is an SSD structured?

From the outside, an SSD looks like an HDD so it can be easily swapped out with parts that computers already work with. But the physical size of SSDs can vary. Yes, many SSDs offer enormous storage space and are only a fraction of the size of an HDD.

The evolution of computer storage from HDDs to SSDs.

The inside of an SSD looks like a circuit board with computer chips. The main chips are the flash controller and one or more memory chip(s). The flash controller sends a voltage to a group of cells in the memory chip and directs the electrons to the right gates.

The memory chip is a vast library of cells that traps millions of electrons in a specific order. The flash controller reads this order by identifying the charge in each cell. It processes this information so that the host computer can read it.

But this summary is not enough. To understand what goes on inside an SSD, let’s take a look at the history of solid state drives.

A brief history of SSD

Dynamic RAM-based SSDs have been around since the early 1990s, mainly in large server centers. However, the use of volatile memory in these drives meant that the data was erased as soon as the drives were turned off – not exactly practical for home computing.

In 1995, the Israeli company M-Systems developed the first modern SSD, although at the time this cutting-edge technology was only suitable for military applications. After the turn of the century, flash technology also spread to personal use, initially in digital cameras, which could use it to store photos of several tens of megabytes.

It wasn’t until 2006, when Samsung released a flash SSD with wear leveling technology, that the new storage system was also suitable for home computers.

But it wasn’t until 2006 when Samsung introduced a flash SSD with wear leveling technology, the new memory system was also suitable for home computers. Previously, the devices wore out too quickly. A memory cell can only be written to a limited extent and the new wear leveling technology prefers unused memory cells.

Wear leveling uses the garbage collection process to optimize how an SSD works. A modified file is stored on a wear-leveling SSD and at the same time a new file is created elsewhere on the disk while the old version remains in its original location. Garbage Collection periodically reorganizes information on disk and removes obsolete data. This is important because SSDs have to rewrite entire blocks when writing data, and stale data slows down this process.

Nowadays, SSDs are more robust and their price is also falling, making them a viable alternative to HDDs.

Choose the right SSD

In general, SSDs are much faster than HDDs. But how do these new storage media differ? Which SSD is the fastest? And how much speed does your PC really need?

More important is the question, which SSDs are compatible with my computer? Let’s take a look at certain things to consider before making a purchase.

Storage Interfaces

With SSDs, you should pay attention to the storage interface and its form factor (a fancy term for size and shape), compatibility and performance. Let’s take a look at some SSDs tailored for personal use and those used in industrial computers.

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Traditional SSDs such as mSATA III and SATA III

  • SATA: SATA was the standard interface for years, and early consumer SSDs were specifically built to fit most computer owners’ devices. These hard drives are often shaped like HDDs, so they can easily be installed in most PCs. And the data throughput of about 500 MB per second seems lightning fast to most users.

  • SATA III: This is the third generation hard drive that is the most widely used today, since the first and second generation are long gone.

  • mSATA: These hard drives offer similar performance in a smaller form factor. They are excellent for laptops, but are not compatible with all devices.

As SSDs continue to become more powerful, SATA is now also an outdated technology. So now let’s take a look at the interfaces that bring out the best in solid-state technology.

Three types of storage interfaces: an m.2, SSD and SATA drive.

PCIe and NVMe SSDs

While SATA was inspired by HDD technology, PCIe and NVMe were optimized and built from the ground up specifically for SSD use. The limited SATA capabilities weren’t an issue as the hard drives had their limits too. But now that storage devices can send data at a much faster rate, SATA drives are struggling to keep up.

  • PCIe: Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCle) interfaces are typically used for graphics cards. In other words: for powerful, high-speed components. They transfer at speeds that put SATA to shame: While SATA reaches a maximum of 500 MB per second, PCIe 4.0 transfers 32 GB per second. This matches the capabilities of an SSD much better. It makes sense to use a port type that can handle what SSDs deliver!

  • NVMe: Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is a new transmission protocol that takes advantage of the unique capabilities of an SSD. Imagine you have the latest storage technology available, but your PC forces it to transfer data on only one track, like a dusty HDD your grandparents used. Wouldn’t you want the SSD to do what it was made to do: transmit the data across a dozen tracks or more? Because of this, NVMe has replaced the old AHCI protocol. Even better, it connects SSDs via the PCIe interface discussed above.

With prices falling every year, NVMe will soon be the new standard. So if budget isn’t an issue, go with an NVMe drive over a SATA SSD.

Choose the correct storage type

In the product description of an SSD, you might stumble across terms like NAND or single-level cell (SLC). You should know these because they affect the daily use and longevity of your SSD. What is behind the terms?

Three types of flash memory in SSDs: single-level cells (SLC) with one bit per cell, multi-level cells (MLC) with two bits per cell, and triple-level cells (TLC) with three Bits per cell.

Single Level Cell (SLC)

In SLC memories, a single bit is written into each cell. These are the most expensive SSDs because they are the fastest, most durable, and most reliable. On the other hand, the cost per gigabyte is higher since each cell only takes up one bit.

Single-level cell SSDs last years longer than the others. Its track record of error-free reads and writes makes it the #1 SSD for large-scale multi-server operations.

Multi-Level Cell (MLC)

Multi-level cell SSDs take up two bits per cell, i. H. twice as much data has to be processed in the same amount of space. This makes reading and writing a little slower.

Triple Level Cell (TLC)

Triple level cells have three bits of information per cell, making them even slower and less reliable. But that’s the general standard for consumer SSDs, as they last for years and the performance gain over HDDs is huge.


The original layout of SSDs, NAND, consisted of memory cells arranged on a flat surface. As technology has improved, manufacturers have been able to pack more cells onto an SSD, but only up to a point. Cells became so densely packed that they started interfering with each other, causing errors and data loss. It seemed the storage space had reached a limit.

With 3D V-NAND (or simply V-NAND) technology, the cells are arranged vertically, which means that the potential storage space is larger. The row segments rise up like apartment buildings (instead of spreading out like suburban homes), allowing many more cells to fit in the same area. In addition, manufacturers no longer have to laboriously dig up space on the cell surface to fit more, which significantly reduces production costs. So choosing between these options is easy: 3D V-NAND is cheaper, performs better and lasts longer.

What are SSDs used for?

SSDs are used for different purposes and so far it cannot be said that they are the best option for everyone. Note that a traditional hard drive might be far more convenient for you. Before you decide to buy one, you should know the answer to the question: “What is an SSD used for?”

Enterprise data storage

The consequences of a data loss or file storage breach are equally devastating for a company employing 10 as it is for one employing 10,000 people. That’s why more and more companies are opting for storage solutions that store data quickly.

And increased productivity usually means higher profits and better business overall. The minutes that businesses save extracting data from an SSD versus an HDD add up. In addition, SSDs are more shock resistant and the lower power consumption keeps the electricity bill low.

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Gaming experience improvement

Everyone has a friend who enjoys playing video games. This friend may have improved the speed and cleanliness of their PC. Or they may have relied on solid-state technology for a long time. And you wonder why.

The biggest difference is the load time: SSDs have much faster load times than HDDs. But once the game starts, the storage drive’s work is done and that’s where the benefits of an SSD end already. Everything else depends on the graphics card and processor. In other words, don’t expect an SSD to improve your frame rate.

The PlayStation 4 was arguably the most powerful gaming console of its generation – and it used a hard drive. Even the PS4 Pro, the upgraded version from 2016, used a hard drive. HDDs still make it through blockbusters like Ark: Survival Evolved, Grand Theft Auto V and Dark Souls.

Of course, faster loading times are a good reason to upgrade to an SSD. For the PC gamer trying to build the ultimate machine, the answer is clear: the base PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X models both come with SSDs. Times are changing: load-time performance will soon be determined by solid-state technology, to the great disadvantage of HDDs.

No matter what hard drive you use, the gaming experience won’t get any better if your computer is full of junk. AVG TuneUp regularly cleans your PC of unnecessary programs and data garbage so that your computer runs like clockwork again.

Corporate server

Enterprise servers are used by thousands or even millions of users. For these servers to be useful tools, they need to work quickly and efficiently. System failures and data loss cannot be tolerated, and regular backups should take as little time and energy as possible.

These requirements make modern SSDs the best-performing solutions when it comes to storage on enterprise servers. They read and write data much faster than HDDs, and the most durable SSDs last much longer. These drives also use less power and are less sensitive to the elements. An HDD – with its cumbersome read and write head and the single-track SATA transmission protocol – cannot keep up here.

Should I use a solid state drive?

If you work with large programs and huge file sizes, then yes. If you often have to wait for a file to save or load, then definitely yes.

But is it worth the storage space? Although prices are falling, an SSD can cost more than twice as much as an HDD of the same storage capacity. So you should weigh up whether the benefits of an SSD are worth the extra money. For example, an SSD can drastically reduce the time it takes Photoshop to complete certain tasks. Paying twice as much for a device that reduces the wait time to a fraction of the normal time sounds like a pretty good compromise.

But if all you care about is data storage, think again. When the programs you use load and save files in seconds, it’s hard to justify the extra cost. And while the lack of moving parts extends the life of your data, SSDs aren’t perfect. They also fail at some point, so it may not make much sense to weigh the longer lifespan.

For most of us, buying a 1TB HDD is arguably a better deal than paying the same amount for a 250GB SSD. We don’t need the most advanced technology – just a computer to do its job.

What is the difference between an SSD and an HDD?

As mentioned earlier, an SSD has no moving parts, but why is that so important? Let’s look at a traditional storage format that has moving parts: the hard disk drive (or HDD). Unless you built your own PC or recently bought a brand new machine, you probably use an HDD.

Size difference between an SSD M.2 and two different HDDs.

A hard drive is a spinning disk. To access a file, the disk spins and the read head reads the data on it. Your files may be neatly organized in different folders, but that data is scattered all over the hard drive. Therefore, the read head has to comb through a huge amount of data until it finds the desired file.

Solid state drives work much faster because every point in the grid is instantly accessible at all times. They’re also more durable – if you bump into the hard drive and the platter comes off its platter, you could lose everything. This is a delicate system, which is why we are so careful with our laptops.

But most HDDs last for years, so longevity isn’t a big issue. In fact, both formats will last for years with normal use.

Some practical questions about the advantages of SSD over HDD:

  • Do I often move large files?

  • Would I materially benefit from faster load times?

  • Am I willing to buy a more expensive drive?

One thing that hasn’t changed since the transition to solid-state technology is the need for regular maintenance. This means keeping your programs up to date, clearing out directories and clearing browser cache files. Doing this yourself can be tedious over time because of the constant accumulation of temporary files. Luckily, there’s a program that can do this for you: AVG TuneUp. Whether you’re using an SSD or HDD, make sure you get the most out of it with AVG TuneUp.

Improve the performance of your SSD

Just like HDDs, SSDs need regular maintenance. The firmware in the flash controller and your operating system do their bit, but there’s more you can do to extend the lifespan and increase the speed of your SDD.

  • Free up space. This will keep the ratio of used to unused space at a reasonable level, giving the drive more unused space to write on. Overwriting used space on an SSD requires more steps and takes a little longer.

  • Update the firmware. Your SSD could have an error that prevents it from running a necessary process to ensure proper maintenance. Therefore, you should google the make and model of the drive in case there is an update for the bug.

  • Make sure TRIM is enabled. TRIM is an important process that helps erase old data. It’s probably already activated. But there’s no harm in checking that out.

  • Enable AHCI mode. Open BIOS and check if AHCI mode is enabled (not IDE) to ensure your machine is getting the most out of the SSD. But if you’re not sure how, leave this step to an expert.

  • Use a maintenance tool. A drive can’t do its job if temporary files and unused programs are cluttering up space. A dedicated cleaning tool like AVG TuneUp will help you get organized, improve speed and performance and extend the life of your PC .

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Improve performance with AVG TuneUp

AVG TuneUp knows exactly what your SDD needs. It is designed to detect issues that are slowing down your device and nip them in the bud. Say goodbye to bloatware, browser cache files and redundant background applications. Give your SSD a treatment with AVG TuneUp today and watch your computer run faster and more reliably.

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