David Dynes is a computer engineering freshman and the Mustang Daily technology columnist.

Computers nowadays are becoming so fast there is a new bottleneck starting to rear its ugly head: Hard Disk Drives (HDDs). Processors, graphics cards, memory and transfer rates are all becoming so fast that the longest time is spent actually searching for, reading and writing data on the HDD. No one likes waiting on file transfers and loading, and luckily there is a solution: Solid State Drives (SSDs).

Basically a large flash drive used as a hard drive, these new storage devices offer performance at unbelievable levels. Whereas HDDs have moving mechanical parts, SSDs have none, which speeds up its access times and reduces possibility of shock damage. Hard drives also need a spin-up time, which requires a large power draw as well as a few seconds before they are ready to perform. Larger hard drives have multiple platters (these are where the data is stored), which means it takes longer to find the data. Solid state drives have none of these problems, nor do they suffer from fragmented data, shock or power failures (though that can still mess up data).

Another major advantage of this expedited read speed is startup of the operating system. With an SSD, startup time can be reduced to less than 20 seconds (from hitting the power button to login screen). This is extremely impressive, and it is clearly the next step in data storage development. Don’t get me wrong though, HDDs will be around for quite a while longer due to cost and size limitations of SSDs.

There is another major change coming to the computer world and it is something that has remained static for more than 20 years, which is a long time in the technological world. Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) is what the motherboard loads at startup, which checks the hardware and then calls the operating system to start. While this system works fine for now, there are some problems with it. The most up-and-coming problem is its inability to read storage devices more than 2 terabytes, which are becoming more and more common. The BIOS has never been easy to use, especially for those who do not know the settings well.

Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is set to replace some of the BIOS functions that are considered legacy. One major change will be the addition of a Graphical User Interface (GUI) beyond just a text based cursor menu. This will make changing settings a lot easier, as well as improving users’ ability to troubleshoot problems occurring at a pre-operating system level.

While I can’t expect everyone to be excited about these changes, they will be affecting you all fairly soon. For those of you with an Apple computer, you are already using an EFI boot system, and the new standard MacBook Air comes with an SSD instead of a HDD.  These changes are coming and coming for the better.

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5 Comments

  1. I approve of this article, I have a SSD in my MacBook Pro. Super fast, will never go back to a HDD with moving parts. Technology is improving to improve wear leveling, and prices will continue to drop.

    1. I also recently upgraded to an SSD in my desktop, and my boot time has dropped to around 20 seconds, with about half that in BIOS. Shutdown time is almost instantaneous.

      I am glad you like yours as well. Only disadvantage is lack of space and prices, but those will gradually drop. I can’t imagine what a 250Gb SSD in that MacBook cost, knowing Apple’s pricing.

  2. SSDs can still suffer from fragmented data. You see, fragmentation is an artifact of how the filesystem works, not how the device works. In fact, in some early SSDs and with operating systems that do not support the TRIM command, fragmentation would result in a significant loss of preformance over time. (http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/storage/2010/02/04/windows-7-ssd-performance-and-trim/1). The good news is this is mostly a settled matter at this point.

    1. You’re right that fragmentation is a filesystem issue, but SSD’s have effectively zero seek time, so a filesystem that has become fragmented will perform at or near the same as a degramented filesystem for read operations because the performance penalty due to seek times is effectively negated.

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