How to Upgrade Your Laptop’s Hard Drive to a Solid State Drive
It’s the tech equivalent of a dead pool. Some pundits claim the days of the hard disk drive (HDD) are numbered, while others insist it has plenty of life left. The HDD—which dates as far back as the mid-1950s—uses magnetically coated platters that spin at high speeds, with read and write heads located so close to the platters that you can’t see the space between with the naked eye. Because of their construction, HDDs are prone to overheating and breakage, sensitive to vibration, and saddled by performance limits due to sheer physics.
Enter the solid state drive (SSD), looming as the technology that deep-sixes the HDD. An SSD has no moving parts, instead using flash memory to store data, much like the USB flash drives so many of us use daily. Because the SSD is not mechanical, it's far less susceptible to the weaknesses that HDDs are. SSDs also tend to consume less power, which means modest improvements to battery life for mobile devices.
Like any device, SSDs have their speed limitations, but unlike HDDs, the SSD’s limits are not a byproduct of a physical mechanism. Many of today’s SSDs are already capable of faster data transfer rates than mainstream HDDs, with speeds getting faster all the time. In many ways, SSDs simply make more sense than HDDs—especially in laptops.
The trouble is, the mainstream market for SSDs is still in its formative years, with a ways to go before it can overtake the HDD market in terms of cost and storage capacity. For instance, you can find 500GB HDDs for laptops (2.5-inch, 5,400rpm spin rate, Serial ATA interface) selling for less than $80, but you’ll spend more than $300 for a mere 120GB SSD. Manufacturing advances are helping lower SSD costs and increase their capacities, but it will be years before SSDs are truly cost-competitive with HDDs.
Depending on the situation, though, an SSD can be worth the storage-capacity sacrifice and the premium price. For starters, SSDs can give a noticeable performance boost, and for the road warrior or anyone who uses a laptop in an environment where laptops are frequently jostled, an SSD is a wise investment. And swapping out a laptop’s HDD for an SSD results in a quieter-running laptop.
Our example might not be the most practical real-world exercise, as it represents a loss of about 380GB of storage capacity and a significant cost increase. (The SSD we used sold for about $350 at the time we wrote this.) For some, however, the performance and durability benefits of such an upgrade will outweigh the sacrifices. A more practical approach for most folks might be to upgrade a smaller-capacity HDD in an older laptop. Regardless, though, the process would remain the same.