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March 2, 2011

Ben and Ryan Explain: Hard Drives vs. Solid State Drives

Ryan and I are proud to announce the start of a new video series on the Windows Experience Blog, one that we think will be a lot of fun, and really helpful for those of you in the market for a new PC.  Called “Ben and Ryan Explain”, the series will explain the technology that powers today’s computers in plain English and demonstrate what it can do in ways that anyone, even someone who’s brand new to computers, can understand.  Basically, our goal is to arm you with as much knowledge as possible about the tech inside your computer so that when you’re faced with techno-babble like this –which comes from an actual retailer website, BTW…

AMD Phenom II Quad-Core N950 (2.1GHz); 15.6″; 4GB Memory; 640GB HDD 5400rpm; DVD Super Multi; ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5650

…you’ll actually know what the heck they’re talking about! 

We’re going to cover topics that we think are important, but if there’s a technology that you want explained, just email me, leave a comment or find me on Twitter and we’ll try to make it happen!

For our first video we wanted to dig into the difference between traditional spinning hard drives – the kind of drive that is in the vast majority of today’s desktops and laptops – and new, solid-state drives that have no moving parts.  To test the difference between the two, we took two identical Toshiba Portege r705s, one configured with the original 5400 rpm 500GB spinning drive, and one configured with a brand new Corsair Performance 3 256GB SSD, and imaged them with Microsoft Signature.  Then we compared the speed of common, everyday tasks like starting up, shutting down, and loading applications.  Check out the video to see how the tests panned out:

It’s pretty clear from these tests that solid-state drives blow traditional spinning drives away in terms of performance, but that doesn’t mean that “spinners” are all bad.  First off, they have much higher storage capacities – for example, you can find laptop hard drives that hold up to 1TB of data or more, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a laptop SSD that holds more than 256GB (they do exist, but they’re pretty hard to find).  Second, spinning hard drives are much, much cheaper.  The Corsair SSD that we used for our testing costs $749, while a 500GB 5400 rpm drive similar to the stock drive in the r705 is widely available for only $59!

The key takeaway from today’s video: If you want maximum performance and don’t mind paying for it, go with an SSD.  If you need massive storage and are working on a budget, stick with a traditional spinning hard drive.