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Pareto’s Best SSD: Transform Your Computer From Slowpoke to Speed Machine For About $100

Vilfredo Pareto

More Memory and More Speed? Yes Please!

Today we use computers for countless tasks: work, games, listening to music, watching movies, shopping online and even video calls. As new features and applications are introduced, they require more speed and data storage.  So do operating system and application upgrades. This all means that after only a few months of owning of a new laptop or desktop PC, its performance can decrease to a snail’s pace.  At the root of this problem is the hard drive (HDD).  Read on to learn how to swap out your aging drive and replace it with cutting edge technology that will make your computer seem like new again, all for about $100. Learn how after the break.

SSD to the Rescue

A new device called a Solid-State Drive (SSD) can replace the hard drive inside your computer.  Unlike a traditional hard drive, an SSD contains no moving parts. Hence the name “Solid State”. Testing has shown that these devices can transfer data at rates over 2000 times faster than traditional hard drives. However, they are still relatively expensive compared to HDDs.  The cost per gigabyte for an SSD is currently about $2/GB compared with approximately $0.12/GB for a HDD. The prices are decreasing, but large drives are still relatively expensive. Fortunately, there is a way to reap the benefits of this new technology and achieve incredible speeds on a tight budget.  But first, let’s examine exactly why your existing hard drive slows down your entire system.

Virtual Memory: Why is My System So Slow?

Your computer can run hundreds of processes at once through a process known as multitasking. The programs that you choose to run are just a few of these numerous processes. The computer also runs lots of background tasks, such as antivirus software, email notifications, firewalls, wireless hotspot locating etc. Each process stores data on a portion of your physical RAM and when all the RAM is being used  (which can happen quickly if you are doing a complicated task such as rendering an image in Photoshop or watching an HD movie) the computer will take advantage of a system called Virtual Memory.  This means that your system will use hard drive space for memory.  Hard drives are much slower than RAM and when relied upon excessively will often cause hourglasses to appear on a Windows PC or a multicolored beach ball to appear on a Mac. An SSD is a superior substitute for RAM as its overall speed is much closer to RAM than to a hard drive. An easy first step to increase your speed is to upgrade your RAM, but that is not always an option. RAM can be expensive too and motherboards have preset limitations on how much RAM you can add. For example, my netbook is already maxed out at 2GBs of RAM. Even if I wanted to increase to 4GB (and believe me I do), it’s just not possible without buying a different (larger and heavier) computer.

Reliability: Three Years Ain’t What it Used to Be

The old rule of thumb was that you should upgrade your computer once every three years. However, according to a recent PC World article, hard drives are failing at much higher rates than previously estimated by the manufacturers.

The hard drive in my wife’s Macbook Air failed in just a little over a year and when I brought it in to the local Apple Store for analysis, the “genius” told me that he had seen several users’ hard drives fail within the first week of operation.  (Note: When we purchased the computer, the model with the SSD was nearly twice the price of the model with the HDD, which is why we purchased the inferior model. Currently the Macbook Air only comes with an SSD and is highly recommended.) Since SSDs don’t use any moving parts, they are much less prone to failure than hard drives. Additionally, they don’t require time-consuming defragmentation. (This process can actually damage your SSD and should never be performed on any solid-state device.)

Pareto’s Principle: How Much Memory Do You Really Use?

Pareto's Best SSD

For a solution to your overflowing folders of mp3 files and QuickTime videos, let us turn to the past. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist that famously observed that 80% of the land in Italy circa 1906 was controlled by 20% of the people.  Coined the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle has been applied to numerous fields such as mathematics, business and software design.  It also holds true in regards to disc usage.  A small percentage of the files of your computer are accessed a large majority of the time.  How many times have you watched that episode of The Office that you downloaded from iTunes in 2008?  Probably less than five times as often as you consult your iCal file or your Microsoft Outlook file. Subsequently, if you are currently pushing the boundaries on a 250 GB you are probably only accessing 50 GB of data 80% of the time.  Buying a 256 GB could set you back more than the cost of a brand new netbook, but an incredibly speedy 60 GB SSD, such as the OCZ Vertex Series can be purchased for about $100.

Speed, Low Cost, and a Portable Backup System All For About $100

You can install the new SSD in your computer and load it with the operating system and your most frequently accessed files. Then put your old 250 GB hard drive in a cheap USB enclosure (widely available for less than $10) and connect it to your computer when you need to access the files. You could even backup your SSD files to your newly created external hard drive. Your overall storage capacity will increase, your speeds will go through the roof and you will only spend a fraction of the money that you would spend on a larger SSD.  When it’s time to upgrade, the cost/GB will have decreased enough that you will easily be able to afford a bigger drive. As more users are storing their files online with services such as DropBox, Google Docs and MobileMe, your requirements for local storage capacity may even begin to decrease.  You really can have it all.

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