What Is a Solid State Drive (SSD)?

Learn all about SSDs and discover the nuances of internal vs. external SSDs, types of SSDs, form factors, and more about Intel® SSD technology.

There are many advantages of a solid state drive (SSD) for computer data storage: Performance, reliability, silent operation, and smaller and lighter form factors. The future of SSDs is promising, especially as their capacities increase while costs decrease.

If you use a laptop for work, personal hobbies, gaming, or as the hub for your entertainment and media, sooner or later you’ll need to consider the ways of storing all that data. Most of us are familiar with the capacity of our computer hard disk drives and how we need a backup drive as insurance against losing any of our irreplaceable files, but storage goes beyond that and is constantly evolving. Today, solid state drives—or SSDs—are smaller, faster, reliable, and affordable.

What Is an SSD?
An SSD is a type of computer storage. It got its name because, unlike a hard disk drive (HDD), the SSD has no moving parts. HDDs have spinning platters that move to locate and retrieve data from memory, while an SSD stores and accesses data using integrated circuits—silicon chips on a circuit board. Because they have no physical moving parts, SSDs serve up data faster, so you can boot your system, switch between tasks, and launch apps quicker than with an HDD.

There’s good news about cost. When measured by cost per amount of storage, SSDs have traditionally been more expensive than HDDs. But recently, SSD prices have dropped, and SSDs are now closing the gap on HDDs. This has led more and more people to switch from the traditional hard disk drive to the reliable performance of an SSD. For a more detailed discussion comparing the two types of computer drives, read the related article, SSDs vs. HDDs.

Advantages of an SSD
SSDs can help you work more efficiently, create media, and play without the distractions and frustrations of slow performance. From performance to reliability to capacity, an SSD smooths the way for a better experience.

Performance
Across the board, SSDs can save and retrieve your data faster than accessing data from an HDD. In fact, SSDs have nearly instant data transfer speeds. When looking to improve the performance of your system, you might first think that buying more RAM or upgrading your processors will solve your performance problems. But don’t forget SSDs. You can experience an amazing improvement in application load times by switching to an SSD.
Reliability
When measuring whether data is stored and kept uncorrupted and whether it can be accessed as expected, SSDs shine. Today’s SSDs also offer a longer life span and greater endurance because of better engineering. And because they’re available in smaller sizes, there’s virtually no vibration or heat output, which improves the life of the drive.
Capacity
Storage capacities in SSDs are growing exponentially. The technological innovations made over time with each new generation of SSD have improved capacity while driving prices down. SSDs with much higher capacity are available today than were on the market even six months ago—up to 2 TB—and they’re even more affordable than before.

Another variable to consider when looking at the advantages of SSDs is performance boosts when paired with Intel® Optane™ technology. Advanced SSDs with Intel® Optane™ technology and the latest Intel® processors can exponentially improve your system performance. That’s because no matter how advanced the processor, it remains underutilized if the computer is slow to access data from the storage device. With Intel® Optane™ SSDs, your system can access data faster, allowing the SSD to feed the data to the processor more quickly, which means the processor is empowered to work to its full potential.

What Types of SSDs Are There?
SSDs can be used as internal or external drives. And because they don’t have moving parts when retrieving data, they are getting smaller and smaller. Currently, the most common small form factor is the 2.5-inch SSD, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Smaller yet, the M.2 form factor is about the size of a stick of gum and other SSDs are scaled down to the size of a postage stamp. The sizes of SSDs will just get smaller as the technology evolves, just as we’ve seen happen in the evolution of processors. Today, SSDs come in several form factors, can be external or internal, and are available with different interface connections.

External SSD VS. Internal SSD
When choosing an SSD, you may ask, what is the difference between an external SSD vs. internal SSD? They are generally the same device, with the external SSD serving as a portable drive that can be plugged into different computers. It’s often used for data backup or additional storage and is not integral to the computer’s boot-up sequence. An internal SSD, on the other hand, is connected within a computer using SATA or PCIe* connections.

When comparing the performance of an internal vs. external SSD, the internal SSD has the advantage as far as speed. External drives usually connect to computers via an external USB, which generally has lower bandwidth speeds. They can also connect with a Thunderbolt™ interface, which provides somewhat faster speeds. But the SATA and PCIe* interfaces used by internal SSDs have bigger bandwidth and transfer more data much faster. Digging deeper, internal SSDs with a PCIe* interface will provide faster interface speed than SATA. The SATA 3.0 standard provides 6.0 Gb/s. The fastest internal SSDs generally connect via a PCIe* 3x4 interface.

Cost-wise, while the SSD remains the same technology whether it’s external or internal, external drives have additional costs for the case, cable, packaging, and other factors.

The Future of SSDs
At Intel, we’re always trying to improve computing at all levels and anticipate our customers’ needs. With our most advanced Intel® Optane™ SSDs, we are working with companies that design and manufacture computing systems for businesses, content creators, and video games to identify and support new ways of improving storage and the overall user experience. For example, the advanced Intel® Optane™ Memory H10 with Solid State Storage combines Intel® Optane™ technology with Intel® QLC 3D NAND Technology for amazing responsiveness and high-capacity memory in a small (M.2) form factor.

Because Intel® Optane™ SSDs access data so quickly, game software designs can evolve so that the game can access new assets on a frame-by-frame basis while the game is happening. That means less waiting for game players and dramatically reduced delays.

Every new generation of SSDs will allow you to store more data per bit. As the per-bit storage increases, data density increases, and costs continue to decrease. Smaller, faster, and more affordable, SSDs will continue to be the storage solution of choice by computer users who need reliable performance.

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