Need for Speed: New Generation of Computer Hard Drives have Raw Speed

By Charles Kelly, President, Computer Exchange

The first hard drives were physically enormous, about the size of two refrigerators standing side by side. The IBM Model 350 disk storage unit held a whopping 3.75 megabytes (see photo).

For comparison, consider that it would take 4,272 of these IBM Model 350s to equal the 16GB storage of an average smart phone today. It would take 26,700 of these Model 350s to equal a one Terabyte drive (1TB) available on an average computer today.

So, hard drives are faster, enormously larger and tremendously cheap by comparison. Through all of these changes in storage size and speed, the basic electro-magnetic structure of the hard drive has remained, meaning spinning platters that have billions of sectors that are magnetized or not magnetized with an armature and magnet system, designating a 0 or a 1.

That is the type of hard drive that is most likely in your computer today.

All of that is about to change.

The Solid State Drive (SSD) is here with no moving parts and is all electrical in nature, not electromechanical.  These SSDs have been around in the PC and laptop market for several years, but were relegated to game rigs or expensive, super thin, ultrabook-class laptops. The failure rates weren’t good at first and they were very expensive.

Today, SSDs are very reliable and becoming cheaper every month. They’re found in more and more brand-name laptops as standard hardware. In our retail store, what used to be special order is now stocked in several sizes, allowing us to offer customers with failing laptop drives the option of a standard mechanical replacement or a super-fast SSD.

One of the primary advantages of the SSD is raw speed – watching a computer boot in less than 10 seconds is a refreshing example of that. Another advantage of the SSD is that because it has no moving parts, it is less susceptible to temperature changes and G force damage. So, in a consumer laptop they are more reliable in that they can take the everyday abuse that some laptops go through.

One would think that since they don’t have moving parts that they would be perfectly reliable, but they are still electronic devices and over time, they still have a substantial failure rate, just like mechanical drives.

For customers who need speed – like architects, graphic designers and gamers – we like to build desktops with a SSD as the boot drive, in a 256 or 500GB size, and install a 1TB or larger mechanical drive for storage.

So, one more pretty large step in the evolution of the computer is upon us and it will be a pretty good, yet still incremental, movement towards the speed we all crave as we consume and manipulate vast amounts of digital data. It won’t happen overnight, but by the end of 2017 expect most laptops to come with SSDs. Desktops won’t be far behind.

We have been building desktops with SSDs for three years now and have deployed several high end workstations with a hybrid SSD/standard hard drive configuration and customers are astounded at the speed. If you have purchased a high-end computer and are disappointed at the performance, the weak link is often that name brand computers will use low RPM mechanical drives in theses supposedly fast computers.

If you have a need for speed, just tell us just how fast you want to go.

Charles Kelly is President of Computer Exchange, with four locations in the CSRA: South Augusta, North Augusta, Martinez and Grovetown. Computer Exchange specializes in computer solutions for home and business. For answers to your computer questions, email him at

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