Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Just Can't Commit to Hybrid Drives

As the moonlighting computer tech that I am, I've both helped clients and personally experienced hard drive failures. It is a fact of life that within 5 years, a drive will likely die. In my experience, a small chunk fail right away and the rest fail within the 5 years. Beyond that 5 year period, your drive is living on borrowed time.

Enter Solid State Drives, aka SSDs. The current market for SSDs is a bit more expensive than your standard platter drives. For the same price as one TB SSD, you can buy several hard disk drives, or HDDs. The price of a 240 GB SSD is comparable to a 2 TB HDD.

Solid State Drives have an additional limitation, other than price, in that they have a finite number of writes per cell. You can only store a bit in an SSD cell so many times before it wears out. The drives are smart enough to spread the wear around evenly to avoid burning holes in your storage. But, they also inevitably fail, although for the average user this will take many years. For this reason, you are better off buying the largest SSD storage you can afford. This way you can spread the wear over more area, which adds up to a longer lifespan for the drive.

For some time, we have had hybrid drives that offer the best of both worlds. You get solid state chunks of your most frequently accessed files, which improves the speed of your computer. I forgot to mention earlier that SSDs can speed up your computer. So, after running your computer a few times with a hybrid drive in place, the drive will cache your most popular files for quicker access. Everything else lives on the HDD portion of the drive.

The problem that hybrids have, in my opinion, is that they offer the worst of both worlds. The SSD portion is too small, which all but guarantees you'll wear out the NAND cells that much faster. And, the HDD portion will either fail soon after installation, mostly within 5 years, or very soon after the fifth year, leaving the SSD portion wholly inadequate for your needs.

If I'm going to go SSD, I would need cloud storage to overcome the space limitations and leave tons of local storage available to reduce wear on the SSD. I think in this way I would extend the life of the drive significantly.

I think a hybrid drive would be used for a quick boost in speed; but, not necessarily for drive longevity. I would install an SSD on an old computer to extend its life, through faster booting and operation, a few more years. I would not want to sabotage those gains with a hybrid drive that would definitely fail again soon.

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