State of solid state wrings more from old equipment
by Alan Zisman (c) 2012
published in Business in
Vancouver 6 November, 2012 Issue #here High Tech
many people, I’m increasingly using mobile devices – smartphones and
tablets – for much of my high tech life. But there are times when those
gadgets just won’t do for more than writing a short email reply or
social networking comment. For PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets,
web page, graphics or video editing and uploading, it’s back to the
In my case, the computer that I go to most is a laptop from late 2008 –
almost four years old. Since then, laptops have gotten more powerful
processors and have longer-lasting batteries, but nothing I’ve seen has
offered a big enough improvement to make me want to replace it.
Some current models, though, particularly ultra-light laptops like PC
ultrabooks or Apple’s MacBook Air come with solid state drives (SSDs)
in place of traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) with spinning magnetic
These have several advantages. With no moving parts, they’re much less
likely to fail; hard-drive failure affects laptops far too often. And
there’s no lag time waiting for the computer to spin its hard disk
platter around to find needed data – computer boot up and time to start
an application or read a data file are much quicker on a computer with
Two big disadvantages, though. As a relatively new technology, SSDs are
much more expensive than traditional HDDs, and capacity is lower. Order
a current version of my laptop from Apple – a 13” MacBook Pro – and you
can opt to replace the standard 500 GB HDD with an SSD with half that
capacity – and add $500 to the cost of the laptop.
SSD prices have dropped and capacities increased, however, and Apple isn’t the cheapest way to go.
For instance, U.S. memory and drive manufacturer Crucial (www.crucial.com)
online offers a 256 gigabyte (GB) SSD compatible with my laptop for
about $200. That’s more like what I might be prepared to spend to
upgrade this four-year-old system.
The 256 GB SSD is half the capacity of the HDD in the laptop, so that
means putting my collection of stored applications and data files on a
diet and deciding what I really need to keep onboard.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Nice bonus: Crucial includes a special cable with the drive that makes
it easy to connect the new drive to a USB port to set it up. It also
lets me later connect the old drive if I find I need anything stored on
Many PC models – and a few Apple models – make it easy to access the
drive inside the case. Mine is one of them – unlatch the battery cover
and the drive is right there. Take out one screw and it pops right out.
In some models, though, getting to the drive can be a major undertaking
(and perhaps not something you’ll want to do yourself).
For me, though, it was easy to connect the new SSD with Crucial’s handy
cable and install the operating system. Also easy – plugging it in
place of the old hard drive, closing up and booting to the new, faster
Next steps: installing the applications I really need, then plugging
the old hard drive in with the cable and copying over the data files I
wanted to keep on the new drive.
The result – with the old hard drive, it took about two and half
minutes for the system to start up. With the new SSD, that’s down to
about 20 seconds. Before, Microsoft Word took 52 seconds to start up.
Now it’s about five seconds.
Not everything is 10 times as fast – the Internet is no faster and the
computer doesn’t process data any faster. But anything that involves
reading or writing stored information is dramatically faster. And that
accounts for a lot.
Even if you don’t do the work yourself, replacing the traditional hard
drive in your computer with an SSD might be a cost-effective way to
make your old computer feel better than new.