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The PC Storage Guide for the Masses

  1. Introduction
  2. Internal Drives Connectivity Options
  3. External Drives Connectivity Options
  4. Storage Method: Mechanical Drives
  5. Storage Method: Solid-State Drives
  6. Stuff to check before purchasing storage
  7. View All

Solid State Drives are to have significant benefits over traditional hard drives to a point that it reinvigorated the PC experience. SSD technology has been improved a long way since the first consumer class variants came out. In general, SSDs have no moving parts and uses a series of NAND chips on the PCB for storing data, while mechanical drives rely on a series of moving parts- platters for writing/accessing data, actuator, spindle motor and actuator arm.

Because of the versatility of NAND, Solid State drives offer much higher speed that any mechanical drive users will begin to appreciate. Since SSDs do not need a series of internal mechanical components to store or retrieve data, the boot-up time is much quicker, higher file transfers with low application loading times. Another advantage is that SSDs consume lesser power compared to its mechanical alternatives.

Because of a slimmer, newer and lighter form factors, these are not just ideal for PC desktop users, but also for notebook, ultrabooks and beyond.

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The NAND chips’ lifespan is usually measured using the unit “program/erase per cell”. NANDs can wear out based on the number of data its written on the SSD. Higher the number, the more worn out it can become eventually. The lifespan of the NAND chip has improved a lot, but many types of users do heavy write-and-erase specific tasks. This means that such users could wear out their SSDs much quicker than standard users, gamers and many other types of users. This depends more on the user and the type of NAND chips SSDs are using. There are three types of NAND which works differently and is known to have different amount of wear levels. Like mechanical drives, there are variants. We will start with two types of NAND memory chips used in SSDs- SLC, MLC and TLC.

There are three types of NAND which works differently and is known to have a different amount of wear levels. Like mechanical drives, there are variants. We will start with two types of NAND memory chips used in SSDs- SLC, MLC and TLC.

  • SLC (Single Level Cell)

These type of NAND storage stores one bit of data per NAND flash (one storage block within a NAND chip). This is primarily done to have a much higher cell endurance during write, a lower power consumption and even higher read/write speeds. SSDs with such NANDs are ideal for many industrial purpose systems and for critical applications. These NANDs are well known to have the highest P/E cycles of 90,000- 100,000 P/E cycles per cell.

  • MLC (Multi-Level Cell)

These can store more than two bits of data per NAND block. By doing so, manufacturers are able to have a lower manufacturing cost. These are aimed towards mainstream users, but due to improvements and easier on the budget for many user types, they are pitched towards gamers and hardware enthusiasts as well. The wear leveling has improved over the years. These have a wear level of 10,000 P/E cycles per cell.

  • TLC (Three-Level Cell)

TLC NAND based SSDs are the cheapest of the bunch, but have the least amount of endurance of 3,000- 5,000 P/E per cell. These NANDs can store up to 3 bits of data per cell. For lower-end users (mostly casual users) would be tempted to buy SSDs for a much lower price tag.

Life expectancy of a Solid State Drive was a concern at one point, but drives now have a much higher endurance enough to keep users happy for many years. Casual users and even gamers may not have as much as heavy load compared to content makers, those who very regularly benchmark or stress test their storage and certain power users. In any cases, most drives have a non-usable space to provide performance and stability by providing redundancy.

Newer SSDs in 2.5″ drive are also compatible with previous generation SATA interface (SATA I and SATA II which provides bandwidth up to 1.5Gb/s and 3.0 Gb/s). Many manufacturers believe that SATA III bottlenecked SSD performance, which is why manufacturers including chipmakers like Intel have been making alternate standards. M.2 is one of them which is widely provided a low-profile installation and also much higher interface speeds via PCIe lanes. The newer generation chipsets made for LGA 1151 socket processors ‘Skylake’ is known to provide a much higher PCIe lanes keeping such storage in minds. Because of this, a fully utilized Intel Z170 chipset based motherboards can allow a user to user up to 3 M.2 SSDs and even make a RAID setup.

There are other interfaces that are made primarily for SSDs, such as using PCIe slots and a newer SATA Express. Though many PCIe based SSDs are around, SATA Express haven’t really picked up.

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