Accordion Al - image by Ivy, age 10

Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

State of solid state wrings more from old equipment

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2012 First published in Business in Vancouver 6 November, 2012 Issue #here High Tech Office column

Like 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 computer.

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 platters.

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 an SSD.

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 it.

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 drive.

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.