Solid state hard drive buying guide

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The growth of the Netbook computer market and the need for smaller and smaller storage devices for digital data has led to a revolution in the form of small, solid state hard drives that are now used in just about every electronic device that requires long term storage of data.

Even the now ubiquitous flash drives and SD cards fall into this category of solid state hard drives, and sorting through the many different types and options can be confusing. This buying guide to solid state hard drives is intended to clarify some of the common misconceptions about what these drives can and cannot do as well as what they do better (or worse) than their platter driven siblings.

Solid State Hard Drives For Computers

There are several reasons why solid state hard drives may be preferred over magnetic platter hard drives when being used in a computer: power consumption, no noise, low weight, and small size. The power consumption of most modern solid state drives (SSD’s) is often much lower than traditional drives.

There is no spindle to spin and no magnetic arm to move back and forth over the platters. Because of the lack of mechanical parts SSD’s are very energy efficient and now allow laptop owners to get many hours of run time before needing to recharge.

Since there are no moving parts the drives are completely silent. Finally, in terms of weight and size, SSD drives measure up at the same or less than traditional SATA hard drives, allowing laptop manufacturers to shrink the size of their devices even further or leave additional room for more batteries.

On the down side, solid state hard drives still have one big limitation, storage space. The largest SSD’s still clock in at around 256 to 512 gigabytes of space and this is while paying a premium compared to platter style hard drives.

In other words, a top of the line Corsair 256 gig SSD (at the time of the writing of this article) sells for around $700 while a one terabyte traditional drive sells for less than $80. That having been said, prices are coming down, but not very quickly.

Best of Both Worlds- New Hybrid Solid State Drives

For those that simply cannot afford the high costs of large solid state hard drives a good alternative is the hybrid solid state drive. These marry the large capacity of magnetic platter drives with the speed of the SSD. Essentially a hybrid drive is two drives in one.

Just like in a hybrid car the SSD portion of the drive caches data that is often used to prevent the magnetic drive from having to spin up and do repeated reads of the same information. This makes hybrid SSD drives almost as fast as pure SSD’s but also allows for greater capacity at much lower cost. To use a similar example, the Seagate Momentus 500 gig hybrid drive sells for just $120 and has received very favorable ratings.

If true speed, lower power consumption, and size are the most pressing issues in a new hard drive purchase then buying a solid state hard drive is still the best (albeit very expensive) option. However, if the user is willing to give up a little speed and deal with a slightly less than silent drive spinning up from time to time a hybrid drive marries the best of both worlds at prices that will not break the budget.

Firewire Hard Drive Enclosures

For many years USB was to the PC as Firewire was to the Macintosh. Today it is very common to find both kinds of ports built in to most name brand computers, and for those that do not Firewire adaptors can be purchased very cheaply to add a Firewire port to almost any computer running almost any operating system. Firewire hard hard drive enclosures are an excellent example of how this technology can be used to extend the life of old components as well as to expand the capabilities of the computers they are attached to.

What Is A Hard Drive Enclosure

Hard drive enclosures are small boxes into which a typical computer hard drive can be installed. Once secured inside the enclosure and connected to a PC or Mac the new Firewire or external USB hard drive can be mounted and used on the computer exactly as if it was mounted inside the actual computer case.

Hard drive enclosures make almost any drive portable and allow users to move hundreds of gigabytes of data from place to place simply by moving the drive from PC to PC. Most hard drive enclosures come with Firewire and/or USB connections and most require their own power source.

What Is Firewire

Firewire (also known as IEEE 1394) is one of many different protocols that computers may use for transferring data to and from the motherboard and processor. In the beginning stages Firewire was an incredibly fast, efficient way to move data. For many years the maximum throughput of the Firewire standard made it superior to USB (recent changes to the USB standard have made the two protocols almost equal).

The original 1394 standard moved data at up to 400 megabits per second while the most popular current version called 1394b doubles the available bandwidth to 800. At this speed Firewire800 has the potential to blow USB away in terms of throughput however few products are able to utilize the full 800 mb/s bandwidth.

Why Use A Firewire Hard Drive Enclosure

At one time Macintosh owners were almost specifically limited to using Firewire based external hard drives due to the Mac being built around the Firewire standard. Now that Apple has moved to an Intel architecture for the Macintosh line of computers, USB or Firewire hard drives work equally well.

Another convergence of a sort is the fact that now almost any kind of hard drive can be placed in a Firewire enclosure such as SATA, PATA, SCSI, etc. Always check the specifications of any enclosure prior to making the purchase to make sure it will work with a specific drive style.

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