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Should your next laptop have a solid state hard drive?

Now that you can get solid state hard drives (SSDs) on most laptops, it might be timely to consider purchasing one. These drives are somewhat of a misnomer: there is no rotating media, unlike the vast majority of hard drives that you have used since your first PC. Instead, they contain a bank of memory chips, like the ones used in PC memory (RAM). They have two issues: the capacity of the hard drive is generally less than the traditional disk. While it’s rare to find a laptop that has less than a 350 GB hard drive, it’s unusual to find SSDs with more than 256 GB of capacity. They also cost more money too.

In June, Apple announced new MacBooks with SSD options: previously, they were only available in the MacBook Air models. Here is an example from Apple’s website showing the options available and the SSD will cost you at least $200 extra):

Apple MacBook Pro hard drive options
Apple SSD Options

They are also available as options from Dell and other PC makers. Here is a screenshot from the Dell ordering website where you can see you’ll end up paying up to $230 extra for the SSD:

Dell.com Lattitude hard drive options

Dell SSD Options

So given that you will pay more for less storage, why bother? One big reason is performance. Your websites will load a lot faster. You can switch from one window to another in an instant. If you are doing tasks such as video or photo editing, you will notice that your computer works much faster when it has to save or read your files. To get an idea of the various manufacturers’ price/performance, check out AnandTech’s benchmarking page here.

You can also get a better-performing hard drive for less money than an SSD. On the screenshots above, you can see Dell offers a 7200 rpm drive for less than the SSD. This number refers to the speed of the rotation of the drive: traditional drives usually operate at 5400 rpm.

You can also buy a laptop with the smallest traditional rotating media and replace it with an after-market SSD too, if you are handy enough and patient enough to re-install the apps and operating system.

So, should you take the SSD plunge? If your storage needs are modest, or if you can offload your biggest files to an external drive, and if you want the lightest laptop and don’t mind spending the extra dough, then yes. Figure on spending at least $900 to $1,200 for current SSD-enabled laptops. If you need more than 128 GB of storage or are price-sensitive, then wait and stick with traditional rotating media for now.


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