By: Richard Read – Bayshore Solutions Web Development Team

A Solution to a Slow Laptop

The Dell laptop I’ve used to develop web sites since 2009 is not much of a speed demon compared to high-end desktop development PCs. However, it provides the portability I need and gets the job done. By the end of last year, my laptop speed became infuriatingly slow. I had to brainstorm ways to make best use of my time during its five minute boot up sessions. I ensured that a virus scan or Windows Update ran while I attended meetings or was preoccupied with other tasks, where access to my development tools were not needed. Opening large projects in the development tools were also a huge time strain. I caught myself continuously reading printed copies related to my latest web site projects in efforts to pass the time.

Why the slow laptop?

My laptop has gobs of memory to load all of the applications I could possibly need and its processor is fairly respectable to do all the number crunching I demand of it. Why the slow laptop? Inevitably, the cause of my slothful laptop speed was the pokey hard drive that shipped with it. I contemplated purchasing a solid state drive (SSD) as a solution, but their costs were never too friendly. Though, recently, with other technology advances and production increases, prices for SSDs are gradually dipping. With that being said, I finally made the SSD purchase and put my sluggish laptop speed to rest.

The need for Laptop Speed: What is a solid state drive?

For years, I have been following the evolution of solid state drives, also known as an SSD, because I think the concept is absolutely fascinating. What is an SSD, exactly? An SSD is a data storage device that uses giant chunks of super fast memory to store all of the computer’s programs and data. The computer is able to access these files much faster than a regular hard drive. This idea isn’t all that new, as I used this proven technique in the 1990s, while developing mapping software at UPS. We would allocate blocks of the PC’s internal memory (called a RAM Drive at the time) to preload map data that resulted in dramatic improvements in application performance.

The thumb drive, though slow and with limited capacity, is one type of SSD that people carry around to transfer files between computers. Today’s SSDs are built with a form factor and storage capacity plug-in replacements, for laptop hard drives.

Crash and Burn

Sales of laptops outnumber desktop PCs, these days. People prefer portable access involving business apps, music, photos, videos, etc. The mechanical components of a standard laptop hard drive puts users’ valuable data at risk. The rotating disks and mechanical arms are subject to damaging bumps and drops, which are frequently encountered at TSA checkpoints.

Fortunately, SSDs are different and have no moving parts! Once a user’s data is stored, it is safe from damage. Strong magnetic fields can corrupt an HDD, where as SSDs are unaffected by magnets. An SSD is impervious to the types of physical abuse a laptop may encounter. Their lifespan is limited by the number of times data can be written to the same block of memory. Manufacturers employ a balancing algorithm to monitor the number of times data is written on each disk block. This extends the overall lifespan of an SSD to several years, equal to that of a gently handled hard drive.

Life in the Fast Lane

How fast is fast? Typical laptop hard drives read and write times are respectively around 100MB/50MB per second. An SSD is able to read and write data at speeds closer to 250MB per second. Keep in mind that users must wait a few seconds for a hard drive to spin up before reading and writing can even begin. SSDs also require only 2 watts of power, instead of 7 watts, which helps extend battery life. An SSD does not generate any noise and produces about two-thirds less heat than an ordinary laptop hard drive.

It is never cheap to live in the fast lane, but it is getting more affordable. SSDs cost around $1.70 per gigabyte, compared to $0.10/GB for a hard drive. Users should expect to pay $200 for a 120GB SSD. It is a great way to pump some new life into that slow laptop you’ve been carrying around for a year or two.


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