Why You Need A Solid-State Drive

SanDisk Extreme Pro, m'current SATA SSD weapon of choice

You might think the technical properties and real-world performance of your PC’s hard drive is pretty tangential to your gaming experience. After all, games are not rendered on hard drives. And yet you would be wrong. I view a decent solid state drive as one of the most important cornestones to any half-decent PC. And that includes half-decent gaming PCs. As why-you-needs go, then, this one is awfully easy.

In theory, the case for solid state drives or SSDs in a gaming context is tricky. Like I said, games aren’t rendered on hard drives. They’re rendered on processors and graphics chips. In practice, it’s pretty much a slam dunk in favour of SSDs.

But first, a quick recap on the basics of solid state and why it’s so much better simply as a storage technology. A lot of it is down to what SSDs are not. They’re not magnetic platters spinning around with read heads desperately trying to keep up.

Conventional hard drives are both marvels of engineering and a fundamentally batshit idea. We’re talking about a device with preposterously delicate moving parts that require quite phenomenal precision to operate correctly.

Think about it. Billions of tiny magnetic anomalies across the surface of a moving plate, which have to be located individually by a read head in order to be interpreted as data. It’s a recipe for both cataclysmic levels of reliability and catastrophically slow data recall.

That hard drives developed into something so reliable and relatively speedy in spite of all this is quite marvellous. In that sense, it will almost be a pity when they’re gone. Hard drive internals are quite beautiful if you’ve an eye for exotic engineering.

And yet magnetic hard drives with spinning platters only happened for one reason. It’s because, until fairly recently, the transistors in computer chips couldn’t be made small enough to allow a sufficient quantity for mass storage at a price mere mortals can afford.

But now they can and that has changed everything. I don’t want to be overly dismissive about what can be significant quantities of cash depending on your ongoing economics. But in the context of what any truly gaming-capable PC is going to cost you, current pricing of around $100 / £80 for a circa 250GB SSD is pretty piffling.

Beautiful, but basically borked…

Anyway, the point about SSDs is that they are storage done right. In simple terms, an SSD is mostly agnostic about where data is located in the drive. It’s all effectively equidistant, unlike a magnetic drive where attempting to pick up data from disparate parts of the drive is a major headache.

That’s why the very best solid state drives are perhaps 10 times faster than a magnetic drive at spewing out large sequential lumps of data, but more than 100 times faster at picking up little bits of data from here and there, otherwise know as random access. The typical random access speed of a decent magnetic drive is normally in the region of a single megabyte per second. Grim.

But how does this all square with gaming? Isn’t it the case that your hard drive really only has an impact when it comes to loading level data? Once that’s done, isn’t the game rendered on CPU and GPU and independent from of mass storage? If you can put up with slower level load times, isn’t an SSD redundant in terms of in-game frame rates?

There’s some truth to that. But it’s also not the whole story. Apart from the simple fact that glacial level loads can be a major bummer, drive performance can niggle away at gaming enjoyment in other ways.

For starters, if there’s any disk activity at all going in in-game, you are far better off with an SSD. In theory, Windows is bright enough to suppress non-game disk activity when you’re in full flight and full screen. But the reality is that even today’s sleeker Windows builds are pretty complex beasts and there is inevitably some disk traffic from time to time. If you’re running Vista, God help you in that regard.

Games themselves can also generate some disk traffic. For some that can be admittedly quite limited. For others – open world shooters, for instance – there can be level data being loaded on the fly.

What’s more, I generally find that in terms of overall responsiveness and feel, the subjectives of what your PC is generally like to use, the impact of an SSD comfortably outstrips the objective metrics. That’s especially true as your OS installation ages and your magnetic hard drive becomes fragmented. In that context, your storage tech becomes ever more likely to occasionally bork your in-game frame rates.

As things currently stand, one slight snag to all this involves some ongoing SSD tech developments I’ve covered previously, namely PCI Express SSDs and something called NVMe. But these are more concerns for those considering an upgrade from an existing SSD. If you’re running magnetic tech, it’s irrelevant. Do not stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 200 boxed copies of Windows ME. Just go directly to your nearest online or bricks-and-mortar outlet and buy an SSD. My most recent SSD buyer’s guide is a decent enough starting point if you need specifics. Things haven’t changed hugely since.

The odd exception aside, picking a half-decent SATA SSD is easy

As for the specifics of buying an SSD, they’re all much more reliable than before and there are few real duds out there. But drives from Crucial, Samsung, Intel and SanDisk are easy to recommend regards buying a no-brainer on the reliability front, notwithstanding the odd inevitable glitch, such as ongoing issues with the Samsung 840 Evo.

Having said all that, I don’t actually want to overstate my case. There very much are limits to the impact an SSD can have on gaming performance and enjoyment. Put it this way. The choice between, say, having Nvidia GTX 980 graphics and a magnetic drive versus Intel integrated graphics and an SSD would be no choice at all. But then you can contrive scenarios to make almost any basic proposition look ludicrous.

In short, it’s about setting priorities. You still need to heavily favour components like graphics, CPU and system memory when it comes to gaming performance. But the key point is that SSDs are now so affordable, you can have solid state storage without materially compromising your budget and overall component balance.

The impact on your gaming may not always be overwhelming. But you and your PC in general will be so much happier. That much I can promise you.

152 Comments

  1. airmikee says:

    I love my SSD boot drive, less than 20 seconds from pressing the power button to being able to press the Windows Start button. My next rig will include a second SSD for some games.

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    • darkhog says:

      You will also love when it fails and you lose all saves. There’s a reason server machines still are using magnetic drives. True, SSDs are getting better and better, but magnetic media are still more reliable… and have bigger capacities. 2TB HDD that will last for 20 years or 512GB SDD that will last maybe ten? You decide.

      • RayEllis says:

        That reminds me, must do a new backup soon.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        You do get warning before it fails, which is why we’re quite happy to use SSDs in production database servers at work (Samsung 840 Pro’s fyi).
        Sure, a harddrive will probably last longer, but in five years you’ll be able to buy an SSD that’s 5-10 times larger, for the same price you just paid, and you can just copy your saves over from your backup. You do make backups right?

        • darkhog says:

          You do get better and far in advance warnings with HDDs. You just need to be S.M.A.R.T. to see it. Also when you get so-called “warning” from SSD it is often already too late and only partial recovery of data is possible. With HDD warnings if you won’t ignore them you can recover 100% of data.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        Pfft, my saves are on the bigger mechanical drive I’ve got as well

      • Lanessar says:

        Actually, magnetic have been less reliable than SSD in my experience. I started using SSD about 5 or so years ago. Up to that point, I’d had (in five years) a WD drive, a Maxtor and a Raptor suffer catastrophic failure suddenly. I’ve owned three SSDs, started with a 60GB boot drive, a 128 and now a 256GB. The 60GB is still running five years later without issues. Purely anecdotal, I know. Maybe I lucked out on the draw. But at $200 for a 512GB HDD, I’d rather take my chances with faster speed and less moving parts.

      • frightlever says:

        I’ve had a bunch of spinning hard drives fail over the years. You’re more likely to lose your saves from being attacked by a hippo than from an SSD crashing. That’s a statistical fact.

      • Razumen says:

        Servers use magnetic media because they’re cheaper and have larger capacities, that’s pretty much it. At the rate they replace drives, I doubt the lifespan of either 10 or 20 years is going to make ANY difference at all.

      • tehfish says:

        I don’t think reliability has anything to do with it. From what i’ve seen, from IT support work to personal machines, there’s no noticeable difference in reliability between the two technologies.
        (The only negative i’ve noticed with SSDs in regards to failures is that a HDD will usually give you some warning of impending failure, whereas a SSD tends to brick itself utterly with no warning whatsoever.)

        There are huge differences between the two technologies, with HDDs winning the GB-per-£ rating and SSDs being far superior on speed, but i have not seen reliability to be different.

        • darkhog says:

          Can you say “Limited write cycles”? SSD has it, HDD doesn’t – that makes SSD less reliable.

          • Razumen says:

            Techreport put a bunch through a stress test and all the drives wrote at least 500TB of before dying, with some even reaching over 2 PETABYTES. That’s way more write cycles than the average user will ever get close to in their lifetime. In fact they will most likely have replaced the drive long before they reach those numbers unless they are really crunching a lot of data on a regular basis. That, plus the fact they are not nearly as prone to mechanical failures as standard hard drives, makes them more reliable in my opinion.

      • dangermouse76 says:

        There is an interesting final round up of TechReports SSD murder trial. That seems to go against your short lifetime claims – at least in terms or read writes. User experience will vary of course.

        link to techreport.com

        A snippet here from ArsTechnica.

        Tech-savvy buyers who might be worried about SSD lifetime decreasing even as SSD capacity skyrockets should have their fears assuaged by the ridiculous number of writes the tested drives endured; the drive that survived the longest survived more than 2.4 petabytes worth of sustained writes. That’s probably about 240x as much writing as a typical consumer SSD would need to endure over its lifetime.

        The winner…………….Samsung 840 Pro

        • darkhog says:

          $260? For 256GB? No, thanks.

          • dangermouse76 says:

            O sure they are not always cheap for a good one. I wont be getting one till I rebuild a new machine, 2-3 years. But reliability is on the up. Which was your main point. I admit I am still on the fence about replacing my 7500rpm drive as I am with the performance I have now.

          • Asurmen says:

            You can get way better price than that.

      • cederic says:

        SSDs cost more than spindle disks and most corporate data gets accessed once every eighteen weeks so performance isn’t a consideration.

        Where it is, servers have SSDs. Or just skip the disk form factor and find faster routes through the system – PCI Express cards with storage on them are bloody expensive, but rather fast.

        For gaming SSDs are probably adequate.

      • airmikee says:

        Your opinion is so fact free I’m not even going to bother making a solid reply to address your nonsensical comment.

      • SuicideKing says:

        I don’t use any 20 year old HDDs, so I’m more than happy with a 10-year lasting SSD.

        And yes, I’ve been using an SSD for games for 2 years now.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Also, all the big servers are shifting to SSDs and have been for a while. Enterprise SSDs don’t just vanish after being manufactured, they’re bought en masse by any company that can afford them.

      • El_Emmental says:

        It seemed to me SSD were (and still are) about processing data, not storing data. Data are processed on the SSD, then are regularly stored (storage+backup) on HDDs. If the SSD dies, the only loss is the current task, nothing else.

        Anyone storing vital data on a SSD would be like storing data in the Recycle Bin or RAM: that’s asking for a data loss disaster if someone/something empty the bin or if the power goes out.

        • Razumen says:

          Your analogy is a bit off, why would we need to process data on SSDs when we have MUCH faster RAM to do that? No to mention that SSDs today are as reliable, if not more than HDDs. I’ve had SSD’s survived incidents that would’ve bricked a HDD for sure. So in reality, there’s nothing wrong with storing important data on SSDs, you’re not going to lose it if the power goes out. In either case you’d want a backup anyways, no onesane only keeps one copy of important data.

  2. phelix says:

    Heartily seconded. It seems a bit preaching to the choir though.
    I have seen plenty all-but-dead, achingly slow PCs being completely revived by an SSD and a fresh OS install. It is also a nobrainer in that regard.

  3. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    Maybe some day, but not today. I don’t see the value in paying hundreds of dollars to save ~45 seconds when I start my computer each day. And if there is any r/w lag, I just can’t notice it. This matter seems akin to the 720/1080 resolution difference: higher numbers are better, sure, but where’s the cost/benefit analysis?

    • airmikee says:

      When was the last time you looked at SSD prices? 128GB’s are only $70, and I’ve even found a 60GB for $45, which is perfectly suitable for a boot drive.

      • Zanchito says:

        Not just that. General everyday usage is improved tenfold. Windows usage becomes silky smooth when system files, program libraries, registry access and pagination are done on an SSD. At current prices, it’s probably the single best upgrade for any computer.

        • wwarnick says:

          To me, a faster hard drive is pure luxury. It’s definitely not the bottleneck, especially if you’re not playing alot of open-world games and you’re patient with level loading time. If you have plenty of money and you’ve already spent enough on CPU, RAM, and video cards, then sure, go for it. Otherwise, I’d focus on those three.

          • airmikee says:

            What part of a computer, and computers in general, isn’t a luxury?

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            Harlander says:

            Perhaps ‘extravagance’ would suit you better

          • airmikee says:

            RE: Harlander

            A few years ago, when you couldn’t find one for under $150, yeah, they were an extravagance. But with a 1TB SSD being close to the same price as a GTX 970 card, the smaller size SSD’s are no longer unjustifiably expensive. $70 for a 60GB SSD boot drive is hardly an extravagance.

          • Razumen says:

            Are you serious? file I/O access times are a huge bottleneck with magnetic media. For less than a hundred dollars these days you can improve the general performance of your computer across the board. It’s really a no-brainer, well, unless you like waiting for some reason.

          • cederic says:

            Go from i3 to i7 or buy an SSD? SSD.
            Go from i3 to i5 or buy an SSD? I’d still buy an SSD.

            Go from 2GB RAM to 4GB RAM or buy an SSD? RAM.
            Go from 4GB RAM to 8G, or buy an SSD? SSD. Get the extra RAM next year.

            Go from Nvidia 7xx card to 9xx card, or buy an SSD? SSD.
            Go from Nvidia GeForce 98xx card to 9xx card, or buy an SSD? Go to the 7xx card and buy the SSD.

            The SSD will do more to boost a medium spec machine than anything else. A high spec machine isn’t high spec without one. A low spec machine is low spec whether you have one or not.

          • Asurmen says:

            Cederic, got to disagree. If you’re gaming any of those are better options. An SSD IS a luxury. A superb one but still not required and I’m not sure whether it will ever be.

    • Razumen says:

      It’s easy to say you won’t notice it, but once you’ve installed Windows on a SSD on your home machine you will never want to go back to having your programs on anything less. Everything, not just booting is just that much faster,, and everyone hates waiting (or they’re in denial about it). You don’t need an SSD for everything on your computer (most games and media can be left on HDD with marginal difference) but I highly suggest at least getting a 128GB SSD for your OS and any applications you use.

      • darkhog says:

        You will change your mind after your SSD fails and you lose important data that despite of backup will take weeks to restore since lot of work was done in last few days before the crash. And in case of SSD crash is sudden, out of blue, while HDD gives signals that something is wrong.

        Didn’t happen to me, because I’ve never bought into whole SSD fad, but it did happen to someone I know who is a game developer. Name of the man is Jens Blomquist and game he is making is called Blockscape. The exact same situation happened to him that I described in the first paragraph.

        • falconne says:

          I own about 7 SSDs I think, acquired over the last 5 years and the last 3 companies I worked for used SSDs on all developer machines plus on all build agents (and build machines perform some of the highest IOPS out there, especially in C++ development). Never seen an SSD fail in all the 100s I’ve been around. If you buy name brand SSDs you’re much safer than with spinning hard drives with their moving parts.

          And if you think SSDs are a fad and aren’t used heavily in servers, you’ve never worked in the software industry… at least not in an enterprise dev shop with high throughput. That’s like hearing someone say flat panel monitors are a fad and most users stick to CRTs.

        • Love Albatross says:

          “SSD fad”

          What are you talking about. This is so much nonsense.

        • Asurmen says:

          Er, HDD can die without warnings a lot easier than SSDs do.

          • frightlever says:

            He’s on a mission. Obviously HDDs fail as well. If your data protection strategy is to buy the drive that’s least likely to fail, whether that’s HDD or SSD – I don’t actually know which is more reliable these days – then your data protection strategy sucks. You need to back-up them both up, either to the cloud or some other redundant device.

        • Razumen says:

          Haha, it’s not a ‘fad’, SSD’s are here to stay, their performance gains over HDD are just too significant to ignore.

          I’ve bought about 4 SSDs over the course of three or so years, and not one has failed me yet. If anything, I’d say SSDs are more reliable these days than HDD, a good one is bound to last you longer than any other HDD. Just go look at some stress testing theyve done on the popular models, they can last for hundreds of terabytes.

          Anyways, you don’t buy just one good drive for your data, if that’s your plan, whether or not you use a HDD or an SSD you are going to lose data PERIOD. The only good plan to preserve data is regular redundant backups on multiple different media.

        • cederic says:

          There are two types of people in the world. Those that backup religiously because they’ve lost essential data, and those that are going to.

          Anybody losing days of development work because of a single disk failure needs to learn the basics of software engineering before going anywhere near a computer again.

          Anybody sticking with spindle disks for fear of SSD failure is truly an idiot. As other posters have noted, all disks fail. Use multiple disks, use multiple copies.

          Shit, my backups have backups. The type of disk is totally irrelevant to that.

        • kaosfere says:

          I’m coming in a little bit late here, but I had to log in just to respond to this silliness. There were a few oddball failures in early consumer SSDs, but that’s the cast with any new technology. These days it’s mature enough that I wouldn’t be concerned about recommending an SSD from any of the major manufacturers named above to anyone who’s looking for a solid bang for the buck improvement to their PCs.

          At this point I probably have 20 aggregate years of SSD time logged on my various systems. i just checked Newegg, which shows that I bought my first one in 2010, and I’ve added at least one more every year since. Knock on wood here, but not one has failed. I even had one get submerged in black water when our basement flooded, and allowed sufficient time to dry before use it was fine; every spinning disk I had in that machine failed.

          In that same time, not even counting the flood, I’ve had several mechanical drive failures. To be fair, I’ve had somewhere north of half a dozen mechanical drives running that whole time, on 24 hour duty cycles — right now, I think I’m at 11 mechanical drives going — but I think the odds still favor the SSD.

          Yes, it’s good to have sound backups for disaster recovery, but that is *always* the case. Your average user is more in danger of needing those backups because he downloaded some shitware that borked his Windows installation than because of an SSD failure, though.

          I was skeptical myself until I bought my first one (an OCZ Vector) and realized that the difference made in daily use is remarkable. You don’t realize what a tangible difference not having to wait an extra split second for every single thing you do on your computer makes. It’s measurable in ways other than clock time.

          Assuming you’re running a Sandy Bridge — or maybe even Nehalem — or newer processor, or whatever the relevant AMD equivalent is, and have sufficient RAM and video card power for your normal usage, there is no reason in my mind to spend what you can afford on at least enough SSD to put your OS and any daily use applications on. Then put some time into a sound backup strategy if you don’t have one already, because you *will* need it, and probably not because of an SSD failure.

          • kaosfere says:

            Er, there’s no reason *not* to spend the money, that is.

            And, FWIW, regarding backups, that flood I mention is a case in point. My SSD survived, so my OS and basic apps were fine, but as I said, every mechanical drive died. I was able to do a perfect restore, though, and lost not a single byte of data, simple because I’m a responsible computer user.

            (To be fair, I’m also a professional IT dork, and I probably over backup: I have a RAIDed NAS on a seperate floor from my main workstations which gets daily backups of everything, all my truly irreplacable data gets backed up to the cloud nightly via Crashplan, and on top of that I keep semi-regular backups of key stuff that I wouldn’t want to wait for a download restore of on a 4TB external drive I keep locked up in a 2-hour rated fire and water resistance safe. Yeah, I’m anal. But like any heavy computer user, I’ve learned from past hard experience. The point still stands: my backups have been needed, and proven solid, and not because of 20 years of SSD clock time. Knock on wood.)

    • tur1n says:

      It really speeds up everything non-gaming related significantly.
      But since modern games occupy dozens of gigabytes on the harddrive, installing them on a smallish SSD isn’t really an option. Unless you want to migrate them monthly based on your current gaming habits.
      Maybe make space for a few classics you keep coming back to, but those usually don’t take long to load anyway.

      I’ve noticed one odd thing since I have my OS on a solid state disk: The magnetic hard drive often goes to sleep, and occacionally games will lag for seconds when they have to wake it up because some hardly used sound file hasn’t been loaded into memory yet, but is required now.

      • Premium User Badge

        X_kot says:

        Therein lies the rub: my computer is primarily for gaming, and I have anywhere from 50 to 100 games installed at any time. When I can get a 1TB SSD for close to $120, I’ll consider it.

        • Synesthesia says:

          I have about 60 installed games at the moment, but i still love the SSD. What I do, is install fairly inconsequential, filler games on my HDD, and the heavy or recently bought ones on the SSD, like DCS or Kerbal, for example. It does make a big difference. Try it out!

          • Damn Rookie says:

            I do pretty much the same thing, splitting my games between my SSD and HDD, and it’s a good system.

            Additionally, when it comes time that I need to delete a game from my SSD to make space for a new one, I create a backup of it on my HDD (the Steam backup function works well), saving me from having to download it again if/when I want play it again. I’ve got ~200 GB of game backups on my HDD, and it only takes a few minutes for the Steam restore function to return them to the SSD.

          • cederic says:

            I cheat. One smallish SSD with Windows and other apps on it, one large HD with my data and steam games on it.

            But I also use a second SSD with Intel SRT (see link to en.wikipedia.org ) to cache the data/games drive. Which means whichever games I’ve been playing recently are cached on the SSD.

            My next computer will probably just go straight for a large SSD, it just wasn’t cost effective when I bought this one. But I’ve had Windows and apps installed on SSDs for around six years now, and even when the games are loading from uncached HD it makes a humungous difference.

        • Heavens says:

          ^This basically
          I’m just too lazy to sort my stuff which means on my current install I’d need at least around 400 GB of space to fit my Windows and programs/games partition on it, since I want to plan ahead the 512GB ones seem a tad bit small (given that SC will suck up 100GB ;D ) so I either need two or something bigger which currently costs too much for the gains I would get.
          Copying on demand from a HDD defeats the whole purpose, moving 10+GB from a HDD to SSD still takes forever so I want my things to stay on the SSD indefinitely.
          The only game/software which currently bothers me with it’s loading times is my heavily modded Skyrim, everything else loads up fast enough and the small amount of shooters I play loads up before the round starts so no need to improve the times there.

          In the end I guess I’ll get one large one and then wait for “real” new technology like MRAM, RRAM or PCM.

    • Premium User Badge

      Carra says:

      Hundreds of dollars? I bought a €50 128gb SSD for my second computer two months ago.

      As for speed, it speeds up everything, including loading of game levels. Really, it just makes your PC run a LOT faster. At work, it even doubled our compilation speeds of our main project.

    • WyldFyr says:

      If this is any thing like the difference between 720 and 1080, then I have been putting off this decision for too long!
      And I suppose you are right, I cant imagine getting anything less than a 1080 monitor now, regardless of size.The price difference hasn’t made sense for the past 5 years. Is there even a significant price difference now? How desperate would you need to be today to consider the trade off?

      • airmikee says:

        I don’t think 720 to 1080 is analogous to HDD to SSD. More like, EGA to 1080, possibly even CGA.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      I *only* have an SSD (250GB), it wasn’t even that much money. Just got it off overclockers for pretty cheap. I’ve probably paid more for a HDD at some point.

      It’s really more than just Windows booting up fast: Things install faster, things load faster. Anything that involves disc access is improved by an order of magnitude.

    • falconne says:

      Not only are SSDs fairly cheap now, it’s not like the difference between 720p and 1080p, it’s more like the difference between dial up and broadband. To find someone these days who doesn’t feel the need for an SSD is the equivalent of someone who is still happy with dial up… they either have very limited computer use or have no idea what they’re missing.

  4. WombatDeath says:

    I keep thinking about this, cos my PC is otherwise in reasonable shape, but the thought of spending precious hours over a weekend reinstalling everything puts me off. I gather that these drives often come with software for shovelling the bytes over to the SSD – does the process work with a high degree of reliability? I tend to get the impression that it’s a case of “well, you could try that, but you should really reinstall”.

    • Siimon says:

      You should really reinstall because there are many things that are done during installation specifically for an SSD drive. Plus, you’ll get a fresh OS without any lingering old drivers or clogged up registry ;)

      • WombatDeath says:

        Blast and damn, I thought so. Thank you for the information, in any case.

        Can somebody please alter the universe in such a way that I can easily and reliably add an SSD to my PC without reinstalling anything, while leaving every other aspect of the universe unchanged?

        • badmothergamer says:

          If you are really against reinstalling windows due to time constraints, you’ll still see strong gaming performance increases if you install an SSD just as a gaming drive and keep windows on your old drive. That being said, I imagine once you see the performance differences in game you’ll find the time to reinstall windows to get that same performance increase in non-gaming use.

          • Dale Winton says:

            takes like 30 minutes tops to install windows and from then on everything you do on your computer will be quicker. Its an easy choice

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          You can usually just clone from your harddrive to the SSD. Then try booting off the SSD, if it works great, if it doesn’t, plug the HDD back in, boot of that and start googling. If you still can’t get a clone to boot correctly, then try a fresh install.
          Another option would be to do a Windows Backup of your current install, and restore that to the SSD.

    • Lamb Chop says:

      I’ve had a solid state drive sitting on my shelf for a year because the prospect of reinstalling and then figuring out partitioning onto two drives is so daunting (and I keep buying and breaking backup drives by knocking them off my desk). Obviously I need to put it in my computer, but the prospect of doing so puts me off. Any tips for making this painless?

      • Jip says:

        One thing that will obviously help with any pain you may feel about losing any data, is to put your backup drives somewhere safe rather than perched on the edge of your desk. I’m just saying…

        Seriously though, and I know it puts a lot of people off because of how daunting it is, but despite how reliable Windows is these days, a fresh install can be a good thing. Back up your user profile, move your games somewhere safe, copy your Steam folder somewhere safe and it’s really pretty easy. Once you’ve done it once, you’ll feel comfy doing it another time.

        The move to SSD (and as only a 120GB boot drive in my case) is one I have never regretted. Right now, the MASSIVE PC bottleneck is magnetic drives. SSDs are the first step to getting something responsive back.

    • Borodin says:

      I earn a living by building and programming PCs and, while I’m far from being infallible, I can’t imagine what the many things that are done during installation specifically for an SSD drive might be. I installed my SSD (a 500GB OCZ drive hat I got for £140 in Curry’s) using the free and excellent EaseUS Partition Master to copy my C: drive from the HDD and it works absolutely fine.

      The biggest problem you will have is that you have to copy a complete partition image if you go down this route. That means you have to remove stuff from the current C: drive until you can shrink the partition to something that will fit on the SSD. You probably don’t want to just delete the files you remove from the partition, so you really some space in a second partition that you can move the files into.

      Once the amount of data is small enough, just use Partition Master to resize the partition to something less than your SSD capacity, copy it to the new speedy drive, and you will be able to boot from it.

      • Person of Interest says:

        Some reasons I can think of for doing a clean install on SSD:

        – enable TRIM by default
        – disable automatic defrag by default
        – make sure partitions are sector-aligned

        However, I believe all those things can be corrected on an existing Windows install, if Windows doesn’t detect and fix them automatically. (Full disclosure: I reinstalled Windows when I upgraded to an SSD.)

        • Borodin says:

          Oh those sorts of things! I was imagining that Siimon meant something much higher level, but yes you’re probably right.

          Partition Master by default does the right thing with partition alignment, and TRIM was already enabled when I checked after the copy. I’d forgotten about auto-defrag, but I looked just now and it’s actually impossible to enable it on SSD partitions, at least through dfrgui, because they’re simply not listed in the interface.

          So it all looks good for just mirroring your original C: drive.

          I’ve found mklink invaluable for moving stuff off the SSD while making it look like it’s still there, by creating NTFS junctions. It’s also simple to move games you’re currently playing on and off the SSD using the same tool.

    • Jannn says:

      With an ssd, reinstalling is “a breeze”. Okay not really, but if you compare if with installing to your hdd, it is.
      If possible do keep your old hdd as a second device in your pc. You can use it for music, backups etc.

  5. Premium User Badge

    oggnogg says:

    I’m still using the same PCIe SSD I bought in 2010: 120GB OCZ RevoDrive 3 for 280 EUR =]

  6. Continuity says:

    SSDs are fine and dandy, but how much is it going to cost me to make a 4tb RAID 1 for my obnoxiously large steam library…

    *looks up prices*

    Fuck no.

    • Rae says:

      Umm why RAID in the first place? Are your files extremely precious and important?

      • Continuity says:

        Well when I setup the RAID I was sharing a flat an we have a 40gb cap on the broadband, which was 3.5mbps. Not so bad now i’m on uncapped fibre, but even so re-downloading several tb of games isn’t something i want to do.

        • El_Emmental says:

          nb: Steam has a built-in “backup” feature that allows you to select games you want to backup and pack the whole thing in a file. It tremendously speed up installs/reinstalls.

          Details here: link to support.steampowered.com
          (!) Warning: it doesn’t backup non-Cloud saves/screenshots/custom content (these elements require manual backup), it only saves the base game files.

          You can also manually backup the game’s files from the steamapps folder if you’re in a hurry. Again, it can saves you several GBs when installing the same game on 3-4 different machines.

          I did that every time I had to reinstall my OS, or install Killing Floor/RO1 on my gaming notebook: put the game files in the right steamapps folder (common or account-specific), then launch the install on Steam. It should find and verify the detected files.

          If it doesn’t, pause the download, exit Steam, replace the new (almost empty) corresponding folder or .ncf file with your old one, relaunch Steam – it should verify the files and download what’s missing.

    • Jip says:

      If your stuff is on Steam, it’s in that cloud thing so you can get it anywhere. Why bother with RAID to protect it, unless you’re ISP caps your download limits ?

      Also, no-one said that huge magnetic storage drives are redundant. Just that SSDs will make your PC feel new again (or at least newer) because of just general responsiveness as far as normal operation is concerned. If you can afford the larger SSDs for games, go for it. Levels will load so fast you won’t have time to make that cup of tea !

    • Razumen says:

      Putting all your games on SSDs is just unnecessary overkill, with RAID even moreso. Most games you won’t see much different than some improved loadtimes and that’s it. At most just get a 128-256GB SSD and just move the games you’re playing right now to the SSD, and use a regular HDD for the rest. I have a 4TB HDD and a 256GB SSD dedicated just for games and it works perfectly.

      • Archonsod says:

        RAID won’t affect most games much if at all. It’s good for sequential workloads, not random I/O which is what games tend to do.

        • Continuity says:

          I have RAID 1, thats not for performance its for drive failure protection. The point being I don’t what to have to download 4tb worth of games again.

    • AskForBarry says:

      Having 4 TB of games accessible at all times
      vs.
      Getting a 50-100 times faster hdd, and just download the games when needed.

      Yea, tough choice.

      • airmikee says:

        Why not both?

        I’ve got a 128GB boot drive with 2TB for everything else, but I’ve got a game or two installed on the SSD. My next rig will be a smaller boot drive and a much larger SSD storage system, along with HDD’s for more storage.

        I don’t get why it has to be one or the other.

        • Continuity says:

          I do also have a 256gb SSD boot drive and I do have a few games on it, but the vast majority of my game are on the RAID, and to be honest it works just fine for me like that. I hardly notice any difference between the eco HDDs in the RAID and the SSD for the majority of games.

          • airmikee says:

            Oh yeah, for a majority of games there won’t be much difference, but anything that is constantly reading, like RPG’s, there’s a world of difference. I’ve tried Skyrim, GW2, and SW:ToR on both drives and the difference is night and day. But most other games I’ve tried on both have little to no discernible difference in play, Civ5 didn’t process turns any quicker, but the initial loading screens were remarkably quicker.

    • Hunchback says:

      Well shitfire! An SSD RAID must be the newest and best way to mindlessly burn cash and show off, even more than buying Apple products!

      It’s even more ludicrous than having a 4TB RAID1 set up for games alone. We have a 5TB NAS at home, running in RAID1 and we still haven’t managed to fill more than 50% of the space, with all our family photos, raw and renderered family videos, the whole kids’ movie collection and a huge stockpile of yarrred games and movies.
      One must probably have ALL the games on Steam to need a 4TB storage space to keep them, considering most games are rarely bigger than 20gb, even today. o.O

      • Razumen says:

        My gaming drive is 4TB, between Steam/Origin/Uplay/GOG and other games have about 500GB free at the moment. So I don’t quite think it’s overkill at the moment :)

  7. badmothergamer says:

    I had the same feeling before I purchased my first SSD drive. Is the $250 I’m about to plop down for 128gb reasonable considering I can buy a 2tb drive for half that price (this was several years ago)? The only reason I bit the bullet was because I play a lot of RPGs and as the article states it can help drastically with the load times. Like you I didn’t care if my PC took a full minute to boot.

    Once I installed the SSD though I immediately realized why even at that point it was already considered the best price/performance ratio piece of hardware you could buy. Everything runs sooo much faster. Programs were loading 5x faster, data was transferring between drives so much faster, and of course, there were the boot time advantages and gaming load time advantages the drives are best known for.

    If money is an issue, buy a 128gb then read a few articles on how to get the most out of it. For instance, install windows to the drive, but put your Program Files directory on your old magnetic drive. It can be frustrating if you play a lot of different games to have to constantly copy and paste them back and forth between your drives, but it is still well worth it.

  8. Rae says:

    Worth it and no regrets even though prices have dropped more than 50% since when I built my PC. Although, I just keep my OS there since it’s small.

  9. Spider Jerusalem says:

    And now is a great time to buy one.

    Just got a 512GB Crucial MX100 for $170.

    • Llewyn says:

      Lucky you! For a UK reader, that MX100 will cost around £175 ($255), about £30 more than it was a few months ago.

  10. rcguitarist says:

    I went from a Western Digital Black HDD as my boot drive to an SSD and I have to say that the bootup and program opening speed did increase, but not as much as you are told to expect by this article and alot of pc forum users. Everything on my system functions perfectly and the drive benchmarks right were it should. So an improvement? Yes. A massive improvement? Not really. If you haven’t bought an SSD yet, I’d wait until 480GB comes down to $100.

    • Asurmen says:

      My power on to functional desktop was at about 2 minutes. On SSD it’s 10 seconds. The few games I think required an SSD went from 20-30 second loads to about 5. Huge improvements. What sort of time reductions are you seeing?

  11. keithinator says:

    What about Hybrid drives? The speed of an SSD, the storage of a magnetic drive – in theory at least. The one in my laptop makes it feel glorious to use, but I’m not a massive fan of not knowing what exactly is sticking in the solid state; is it just Windows stuff? Is it the game I’m playing? Are assets that I experienced earlier but went away from coming back in more easily (in the case of open world games)? If I play the same game a few days in a row is it loading faster?

    • Frank says:

      Yeah, I’m wary of those, as I want to dual boot Windows/Linux and don’t trust newfangled hybrids to behave themselves. I’ll certainly get separate SSD and spinny-disc hard drives (for my next desktop upgrade).

    • K33L3R says:

      Hybrid drives are not all that great in my experience, just never seem to work as well as they should do,
      I gave my brother an old laptop and put in a SSD, not only is it ready to use in 12 secs its faster than my shiny new laptop with a hybrid drive on start up and general use, in fact it’s plain embarrassing that a 6 year old laptop is faster than a modern machine, obviously it hasn’t the power to run new games but still :/

    • Archonsod says:

      Largely depends on the caching algorithm. Most are designed around most frequent access / hot data, so isn’t usually brilliant for games unless they need to read the same blocks off the disk frequently (though if this was required you’d kinda expect the developer to shunt the data into memory in the first place)..

    • desolation0 says:

      A problem with hybrid drives, they often get attached to a slower than 7200 spinning disc, making them worse than a 7200 spinner in several use cases. It makes them often not worth a premium over a competing 7200 in my opinion. Their main effect ends up being squarely in boot times with a few other performance bumps depending on your use. In that case, outside of a laptop with single hd bay and you want to keep the optical drive, you’re better off pairing a separate ssd with a large capacity hard drive.

  12. Dale Winton says:

    250gb ssd – windows on that
    2tb hdd – games that i’m not currently playing

    Perfect

    anyone without one as their os drive , even a tiny 60gb should really get one. They make all the difference , i click any program and it starts instantly

  13. Siresly says:

    My first SSD was a Corsair Force 3. Made my computer freeze, crash and fail to recognize it until it finally couldn’t get recognized for the last time. RMA’d it and got back a…Samsung 840 Evo, which I’m yet to actually install. But apparently it has ongoing issues. Excited to find out what those are.

    At least I have my Windows install on the hard drive now, so if this one craps out as well, at least I won’t lose any game saves. RIP, The Walking Dead.

    Thank god for hard drives. Tried and tested technology. I’ve never had one break or go funky. I’d only trust an SSD if it’s been out for like a year.

    • Premium User Badge

      oggnogg says:

      Over the last 20 years I’ve had literally dozens of broken hard disks. The two SSDs I have now for 5 and 3 years still work fine — two hard disks died during that time. So I guess it comes down to personal experience a bit.

      • Archonsod says:

        SSD lifespans are a result of overwrites rather than time, so it depends on what you’ve got on the disk. If you’re frequently swapping games on and off the drive then it’s going to burn out eventually; on the other hand if the only thing running on there is the Windows kernel the drive is likely to outlive the OS (well, Microsoft patching not withstanding).
        It’s probably the major drawback with using an SSD for gaming – in order to really benefit from it you need to stick the game on there, which is going to reduce the lifespan considerably more than it would a HDD, particularly the smaller drives where you’ll be overwriting quite a bit. If you go with the more common setup of SSD for the OS and game off the HDD you’ll get much better Windows performance, but that rarely translates into much noticeable in-game performance improvements.

  14. K33L3R says:

    Had a 6 year old laptop, swapped its HDD for a SSD and this thing is ready to use within 12 seconds, never ceases to amaze me how fast that old thing now runs, added years to its useable lifespan

  15. Radiant says:

    Turn on your pc and have it at your desktop in 3 seconds.
    I LOVE ssds for my windows drive.

    Long term storage I go for magnetic, I don’t really need an ssd for artistic videos that I found on the internet.

  16. SparksV says:

    But what if my motherboard only has SATA 2 (3GB/s) ports and I don’t have money to upgrade the motherboard, but might have money for a SSD. Should I buy one ?

    • Premium User Badge

      syllopsium says:

      Yes. You’ll have difficulty maxing out an SATA II port with one hard drive, but an SSD will do it just fine in most cases.

  17. Marley says:

    I want an SSD but I simply have too many games and data and am far to lazy to be constantly moving games back and forth to get the performance boost + my 2TB SSHD has quite a quick boot time anyway so I can live without an SSD for now.

  18. aircool says:

    I use one for Win7 and another one for MMO’s and Planetside 2. Other games are fine on a normal HDD, but I find SSD’s very good for MMO’s where there’s always going to be a lot of disk activity.

  19. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    I mostly agree, but spinning rust isn’t that bad, at least once it starts sequential transfers. My main system is going to use a mixture of SSD (boot drive, partition of frequently used data) and storage (fairly exotic in my case, using a mirrored stripe backed by an SSD read cache. This provides resilient, fast storage). 512GB is the sweet spot for me in terms of SSD – I’ve got around 200GB of frequently used apps/games, and the remainder of different operating systems.

    I suppose if it was a pure gaming PC, I could get away with one 250GB SSD.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Presuming it takes another couple of years at least for me to need to do a full system upgrade, I should be able to forgo mechanical drives entirely.

    Also, all this talk of storage reminds me that I should really get my backup solution set up already… <.<

    • airmikee says:

      I picked up a Blu Ray burner last year, and with 25GB 6X discs falling below $1 each now, it’s become an awesome storage system. Been a long time since I’ve had a legitimate reason to use a disc sleeve case, so it’s also got that old school charm. I’ve gone through four external hard drives in the last decade, and based on the life of my mostly untouched CD and DVD collections, these discs will outlive my next eight external HDs.

  21. mao_dze_dun says:

    This article was brought to you by – SSD manufacturers. Don’t get me wrong – I just got one a month ago. But come on… :)

    • airmikee says:

      You’ve missed the rest of the hardware recommendation articles on RPS this year? How sad.. for you.

  22. D70CW6 says:

    got a 512MB crucial SSD for £120 last black friday – absolute steal!

    • airmikee says:

      I hope you mean 512GB, otherwise the victim of theft was you. ;)

  23. Chiron says:

    Dear game developers and programmers, I like my PC, I like customising my PC, so can I please ask you to stop saving shit in C:\Program Files and C:\My Documents because that shit fills up my SSD like a motherfucker and it also means that I have to look in several locations when I uninstall shit.

    Oh and btw when I say uninstall I mean fucking uninstall, not get rid of 90% of the stuff then leave random files strewn about my Hard Drives like some sort of post apocalyptic wasteland ruins

    • Razumen says:

      Yeah, I hate that too, I wish the standard was for games and programs to just put everything in their own frikking folders, but no they have to spread it across several different folders. Makes backing up and cleaning up folders a REAL pain in the ass.

  24. melnificent says:

    I put a 256gb Evo 840 in my laptop with no regrets whatsoever. The problem came when we built the new tower system, I figured that a mechanical drive wouldn’t make that much of a difference. It did. I repeatedly thought the system had frozen or hung completely. Nope, just waiting on the mechanical drive.

    Within a week it had a new 480gb SSD installed and the mechanical drive removed. I’d never go back again, mechanical drives bring your system grinding to an almost halt.

  25. groovychainsaw says:

    For those complaining about hassle of using small SSD + big manetic drive, look up steammover, lets you move steam game from one to the other easily. My little (60GB) SSD tends to have 4/5 recent games I’ve been playing on it, and one click in steam mover lets me remove one, then put a new one on there. You DO have to wait for the copy, but its just two clicks, no browsing etc. and no messing around in steam. Next build, im hoping prices will have dropped enough for a 1TB ssd to be a consideration :-).

  26. Alexrd says:

    What about the limited writing cycles?

    • Asurmen says:

      Realistically not an issue these days. There’s a link further up showing the effects of multiple re writes far beyond what a desktop would be doing over several years.

    • airmikee says:

      Shared with me a few comments up the page.

      link to techreport.com

      2.4 petabytes of writes before failing. In my decades of PC gaming across many, many computers and dozens of hard drives I’ve still never come close to writing even one petabyte, let alone 2.4 of them. If Star Citizen reaches the 100GB size it’s expected to reach, you could download it 2,400,000 times before the hard drive would fail.

      Technically, 2.4 petabytes of writing is still limited, the drives obviously won’t last forever. But is that limit one you will ever reach?

  27. DrMcCoy says:

    Your view of Flash devices is awfully simplistic.

    There’s a similar amount of jungling and messing in SSDs than there is in HDDs to get this all working smoothly. You have to keep track of wear, you can only write whole pages (best in sequential order), erase only whole blocks, there’s a certain propability of bit flips in neighbouring regions for certain operations, etc.

    So yeah, they’re both a marvel of precision, with a high capacity of failing. :)

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      That’s all in software. I was talking about the mechanical engineering, the precise choreography of the moving parts. And it was in that regard that I was remarking on how striking it is that HDDs have been made reliable and indeed I did not characterise that reliability as better or worse than SSDs. I simply remarked that the precision moving parts in an HDD made the achieved reliability remarkable.

      Obviously, there’s some wonderful engineering in terms of the memory chips in SSDs, but that applies to any computer chip / isn’t specific to SSDs and is in any case a different type of engineering and not the type at which I was marveling.

      So, no my view of SSDs isn’t simplistic. You just jumped to the wrong conclusion.

    • edwardh says:

      “high capacity of failing.”

      Do your research. There have been many tests conducted over recent years and all of them show that SSDs have a much lower risk of failing than traditional disk drives.

      All the arguments you mentioned don’t matter because the user doesn’t need to care about any of this. And data on SSDs is managed so well these days that you could erase and rewrite many TB over and over before it has an impact. And who does that?!
      Yeah, if you rip 10 blurays per day and erase them right after, maybe an SSD would not be suitable…

  28. melancholicthug says:

    Alright! I’ll go get one next monday. Jeez.

    Any opinions on the Samsung 850 EVO? I looked around and it seems pretty… solid (so sorry about that :P but i really want to know!)

  29. Press X to Gary Busey says:

    I set a couple of GB of my RAM as a RAM-disk once and put firefox’s cache and some other stuff on it as an experiment. It was super-smooth. And about 100% chance of failure since it had to load/save an image to the hard drive on boot/shutdown. I’ve still not got around to the inevitable SSD upgrade though (damn you studies and limited funds). :(

  30. Premium User Badge

    Kirrus says:

    Ordered one. Arrives tomorrow morning. I blame thank you :-)

  31. Jamesworkshop says:

    been thinking of an SSD for my laptop, 5400 rpm HDD is not exactly comparable to the most basic of SSD speeds, hopefully would achieve better power saving

    generally use sleep with win8 and rarely cold boot

    • Razumen says:

      I put a Samsung 840 Pro in my old Sager Laptop and it really sped things up, unfortunately I don’t get quite as good benchmark speeds as I should even though It has a Sata2 port…Still, it’s made cold bootups a lot more manageable, though I would recommend not using hibernation if you’re worried about using excessive write cycles.

  32. Premium User Badge

    BlueTemplar says:

    So, how close we are to replacing RAM by a SSD partition because SSD’s became fast enough?

    • Razumen says:

      Um, probably never? DDR4 reaches speeds up to 50+GB/sec, while one of the best SSDs only gets up to 500MB/sec. Even if they were close in speed, they serve pretty different purposes, and Sata3 wouldn’t be able to handle the speeds anyway.

      • Premium User Badge

        BlueTemplar says:

        The future of SSD seems to be PCI-express as SATA3 is starting to show its limits…
        Thanks for the information, I wasn’t aware that RAM was THAT fast!
        And I guess there’s no point in trying to do the opposite and use RAMdisks as you won’t notice any significant improvement compared to PCI-express SSD’s, but will risk losing your files to a blackout…

        • Razumen says:

          Yep, I think there’s a new standard coming out, M2 or something, should be around 6Gb/s I think, though I imagine regular Sata drives will be around for awhile longer.

  33. Unclepauly says:

    Install your open world games or mmo’s on an ssd and tell me it doesn’t affect game performance. A heavily modified skyrim or world of warcraft on an ssd is a completely different experience vs a magnetic drive.

  34. cylentstorm says:

    So….no rush, then? Seriously, if I thought for one second that the quality of my life would be improved in any significant way by the read speeds of a data storage device, then I would probably already have an SSD. Then again, I’m one of those freaks who ditched mobile phones and social networks in an attempt to increase the amount of facetime with others but wound up becoming more isolated because hey–people are addicted to that shit.

    • Premium User Badge

      BlueTemplar says:

      It’s all about whether you can use the various technologies as tools and how much can you resist becoming slaves to them (inherent to any technology, starting with fire). Sadly, most people, most of the time, are such “tools”.

  35. Bfox says:

    As much as I’d like to just put all my data on a nice chunky SSD for readability and mainly the sheer speed it really comes down to what type of games you play which decide the hardware priorities, for instance Arma3 is my thing right now and for this game having the beefiest CPU as possible is really what’s important.

    As long as your rig can run you’re favourite game; why spend anything right now?

    I’d put in my 5 cents and say save hardware money for for the upcoming VR revolution.

    • Razumen says:

      Because people would rather be playing the games they want to instead of waiting for a loading screen? It’s kind of a no brainer…

      • Bfox says:

        Which game is that really an issue? And this goes back to my point of getting hardware that suits your games needs, in my experience the loading times in Arma are almost identical with either type of drive while something like battlefield 4 benefits greatly with an SSD.

        BUT having a high refresh rate monitor and a video card that can get you those frames are many times more important than the initial level load, see what I’m getting at?

        • Razumen says:

          Yes, a good CPU/GPU/Monitor take priority, but after that, spending $60-80 on a SSD that will markedly improve your computer experience in completely worth it, especially if it reduces waiting.

    • Premium User Badge

      BlueTemplar says:

      It’s not so much for games (YMMV there) as for the general snappiness in Windows.
      And being able to get your PC back from hibernation in a couple seconds is extremely nice too.

      • Razumen says:

        Just FYI, hibernation is not really recommended for SSDs as it dramatically increases the amount of writes to your drive, we’re talking basically whatever is loaded in your RAM at the moment, so it could be anywhere from 2-8GB or more depending on what you have running. Now the best SSDs can write a petabyte or more before they crap out, but it might be something to think about depending on your particular drive.

        I personally would recommend using sleep mode instead, but since SSDs are so snappy booting up I just shutdown my computer when I’m not using it.