The Great SSD Debate: Put a little Solid State Drive in my MacBook Pro and was happy!

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by NickZac, Dec 11, 2010.

  1. NickZac macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    I want to talk about the decision to change from a standard SATA Hard Disk Drive (HDD) to a more expensive Solid State Drive (SSD) and my experience from a few month long debate that raged in my head. My profession comes from a background of doing social research in order to draw conclusions to help people make well-informed decisions that will result in some benefit. I state this so you can understand my reasoning in the following. Bear with me, I do tend to get abstract when writing for pleasure.

    If you are considering a SSD, you are probably a computer person or you at least know more than the average user. I fall into the latter category of having used computers most of my life, knowing the means of using them, how they actually work, and basic to intermediate troubleshooting. I will stop here and say that even if you don’t know a lot about computers, you should at least consider a SSD.

    If you are reading this now, you are probably aware of the fundamental difference of the SSD versus the HDD, which is the SSD has no moving parts (resulting in different a operating mechanism). Following the law of physics and the law of ‘how things break’, if there are no parts to move, then there are no (realistically fewer) parts to break. The SSD is without a doubt more reliable than the HDD and lacks the infamous ‘click of death’ altogether. Statistically speaking, you are far less likely to be left with a catastrophic hard drive failure with most SSD’s versus most consumer HDD’s.

    I started thinking about a new type of hard drive for myself after Google published a large-scale study on thousands of consumer SATA HDD systems. Without having to know too much about hard drive specifics, one thing is apparent and very consistent and that is: THEY BREAK. They break with alarming frequency and indeed you have probably at least once experienced the ‘click of death’. Well crap, you just lost everything; hope you had it backed up. Time Machine is a fantastic back-up method but you still have the issue of 1) the information lost since the last backup and 2) the downtown following your hard drive on your main computer breaking. I don’t like the thought of either of those as my Mac Book Pro is my means to making a living and if I miss deadlines due to catastrophic hard drive failure, well that can equate to catastrophic career failure. You may at first say that my attachment to my data makes me the exception, but I think I am actually the majority here. Think about how much information is on your computer and how your life would be impacted without it; how bad would the stress be? Students, whom are constantly referred to by magazine writers as people not benefitting from a SSD, may not be pleased when they try to tell their instructor that their hard drive’s head crashed and therefore they cannot submit their term paper. How much money would a failing grade equate to? What if this meant loss of a scholarship or the privilege of attending a higher education institution? Music is really expensive and for those from the previous eras, you know how much friggin’ time it takes to transfer CDs, tapes, and vinyl and how annoying it can be. Pictures can say a thousand words and are often a primary family keepsake. Some documents have changed history as we know it. My point here is that the information we store on computers we take for granted and many people overlook the importance of reliability and the consequences of lacking it. Most people have information on a computer that they want to protect. Unfortunately, it seems most consumers are poorly educated on the topic and do not know that other options to the standard HDD exist. If you don’t think catastrophic drive failure drives average user insane, stand around the Best Buy Geek Squad stand for a little while and listen to how the people (who come in because their hard drive died) act; they go nuts!

    I want to point out something. Most computer users know that you should frequently back your data up, but how many of these users actually follow through and do this frequently? Even I am guilty as a few nights ago I had been on my computer for the past 24 hours working on my dissertation and only backed it up at the end of the work session.

    While purchasing a HDD may be cheaper initially, many manufacturers warranties do not cover hard drive failure. Even if they do, they do not cover data recovery costs, which can get very expensive, and they rarely cover the labor of replacing the drive (which is sometimes required to maintain other warranties). A few surveys have indicated that hard drive failure is also one of the top reasons American consumers purchase new computer systems altogether. Perhaps the HDD isn’t as cheap as most people imply?

    Let me get back to my main point here; a HDD is essentially a ticking time bomb. Eventually, and often during the life of the computer, they will fail. Catastrophic HDD failure is a reality no matter what the brand is; obviously some tend to fail more frequently but guessing when a magnetic drive will fail is like predicting the weather. Google's report, with a large sample size and (supposedly) unbiased reporting, shows increasingly higher fail rates of consumer grade drives beginning as early as their second year of operation (mind you a substantial amount also fail as early as the first few months). It also shows that while SMART helps predict drive failure, it is nowhere close to being the solution it was intended to be.

    The two factors that prevent people from going to a SSD that are commonly presented are: 1) cost and 2) storage space (or lack of). A third factor, however, I propose is the biggest reason and that is education. It does not seem to be public knowledge as to what a SSD even is, let alone why you would want to spend more money for less space. Upon being presented the facts, which show superior performance and reliability, consumers have the ability to opt to purchase this performance and reliability. We constantly purchase goods of higher quality at a higher cost of the same goods made to a lower quality standard. With a (good) SSD, you get:
    -Faster loading times
    -Much faster data transfer
    -Much less affected by shock, noise, vibration, temp and altitude
    -No noise
    -No fragmentation
    -Not affected by magnets
    -Far less power consumption
    -Consistent read performance
    -Consistent write performance

    When was the last time you saw ANY of those stats displayed at a store? The SSD’s are in boxes with nothing to differentiate them from HDD’s except a massive price tag. Think about how many signs and advertisements you have seen for Blu-Ray.

    So with the information I gathered, I decided to get an aftermarket SSD (as opposed to getting a newer 13in MBP which I would have if they went to the i5 processor). A lot of the critically acclaimed SSD brands got mixed reviews from actual users, which made me unsure where to go. Intel is really the standard of the SSD but they are not by any means the fastest nor the least expensive. There are numerous good brands on the market but I have to discuss the one which, when judged by both formal tests and user reviews, stands above the others and that is the Other World Computing Mercury Extreme Pro SSD. It stands above the others because 1) its write speed blows away other SSDs, 2) it is the only SSD with sustained read and write speeds of over 260MB/s, 3) it is OWC which by name says its quality is second to none and it’s design will theoretically make it last longer than other SSDs (which is already long by default), 4) it comes with the best service, support, and warranty in the business, and 5) it is moderately priced for a SSD of its capacity (and includes a kit to make your existing hard drive into an external USB drive). I purchased the 120 gig which is actually 128 gigs with 8 gigs already occupied for wear-leveling and what not. Performance in my 5,5 MacBook Pro (2.53 Core 2 Duo w/ 4GB RAM) is stupidly faster than the 250GB Fujitsu HDD it came with. When I say ‘stupidly’ I mean for the first day you will sit their, stutter and wonder why you didn’t buy this earlier. I’m not one to drop computers but it is nice to know I have the added protection from shock as it is a reality being of constantly moving the computer.

    So overall, I think the SSD is a great way to improve reliability of computers as the SSD eliminates the one single part most likely to break. The speed gain is nice too as are all the other features. I think everyone will gain from a SSD. Once put into perspective, spending an additional $125-$500 (depending on brand and size) on a SSD is less expensive than getting a cheaper HDD. In the long run, a SSD eliminates many problems that are normal in HDD’s and it is very possible that a more reliable and faster SSD could extend the amount of time you keep your existing computer. So I say give it some thought and go for it…most of you already have but I enjoy writing and wanted to throw this out and hear what others have to say.
  2. Transporteur macrumors 68030

    Nov 30, 2008
    Just to remind you, only because your hard drive doesn't have any moving parts any more, doesn't mean that it is not likely to fail!

    In fact, SSD's fail rates are fairly high, so please do yourself a favour and don't rely on the misleading reliability of SSD's, thus backup your drive!
  3. Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    I agree 100%. SSDs are still VERY new technology and there is no long-time data about their reliability. If you check e.g. NewEgg's SSDs and their reviews, there are many customers with failed SSD. The lack of moving parts means it won't wear out like HDs (at least not in similar way) do but that doesn't mean that it can't die.

    Another thing to consider is that HDs usually give signs when they are dying so you often have enough time to backup and thus save your data. With SSDs, the failure is likely immediate, no warnings beforehand. Also, SSDs are unrecoverable AFAIK while HDs can in most cases be recovered.

    You must ALWAYS backup, no matter what drive you have
  4. NickZac thread starter macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    Obviously you back up no matter what storage device you use. If I lost the data I use on this computer, it would be catastrophic in regards to public health in the State of Maryland. As far as SSD's failing, most of the failing issues I have observed have been due to manufacturing defects. Many of the reviews have also been around the inability to get initial set-up working as desired.

    As far as being a very new technology, I don't call 15 years very new. Organizations needing durability and reliability over cost have opted for SSD's for years. The military, in particular, as well as search and rescue, emergency surgery, and deep sea diving organizations have used flash based memory for years and the SSD we know today for over a decade. I feel from the information I have read that its reliability is far greater than (consumer) HDD's. I agree with you that no moving parts in itself means little but as I noted above, the 'in-theory' argument applies simply based on the reasoning that if it isn't moving, it isn't breaking.
  5. Doc750 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 11, 2010
    I quickly scanned through your post. Your argument on failure rates relies on the fact that .. if moving parts, then failure. It fails to neglect other possible causes of failure. Is the SSd drive more susceptible to failure due to other reasons? Is the data recoverable from a failed ssd? etc, etc.

    Not really arguing. Just playing devils advocate. :D

    I'll be doing the same to mine as well, pretty soon.
  6. Hellhammer, Dec 11, 2010
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2010

    Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    Old SSDs were most likely SLC which is more reliable than MLC which is used in most SSDs available today. Nowadays SSDs are mass produced and are more and more meant for consumers thus the quality will likely take a hit in order to reduce the price. All enterprise level products should have higher reliability because they are meant to last longer and thus cost extra. Your examples are most likely using high-end SSDs that cost an arm and leg. I don't think it's fair to compare them to consumer grade SSDs that people are buying today.

    The reliability is still a moot point because there is no long-time data about the SSDs that are currently available. Most SSDs have fairly new controllers (SandForce for example) and the controller is the part that will most likely die first. You also ignored my other points about signs of failure and data recovery.

    I'm just saying that what we know about the reliability of current SSDs is based on assumptions. The lack of moving parts is a great thing but we still need real world experience to be more sure about it
  7. NickZac thread starter macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    Please do play devil's advocate. If we can't debate, well, life would be terribly boring. Taking both sides are important.

    The main issue with my entire argument is it relies primarily on information obtained from other sources. True partiality is hard to find and people often have 'incentives' to make a test turn out a certain way (ex: most of the cholesterol and triglyceride medications).

    Now, my comparison hard drives are all 'standard consumer drives'. If we take a high performance system like a 10,000RPM Raptor? Obviously even the 10,000K Raptors are slower (by about 100mb/s, give or take but this difference may be nominal). The Raptors have an excellent track record and comparing a SSD to it may be a more fair comparison due to price. Additionally, the faster speed makes the size smaller and more comparable to SSD's. A bunch of my buddies have built or upgraded systems with the Raptor series hard drives and none have had any issues, even one which must be over a decade old.

  8. NickZac thread starter macrumors 68000


    Dec 11, 2010
    You are absolutely right as most studies on HDD's are standard consumer systems and not enterprise or performance systems. I suppose the Intel, Crucial and OWC are higher end SSD's, but the only lower end one I can think of is Kingston. The ones I can say I personally know are used professionally are made by Intel and yes, they are different than the consumer 25 platform.

    As far as signs of failure and data recovery, I know very little about it. I know a few of the signs and I am acquainted with SMART, both which help but aren't full-proof. Indeed data can usually be recovered from a crashed HDD but this is expensive if you don't know how to do it yourself which I doubt most consumers do.

    Indeed we do need more real world results. I have not found info that allows us to quantify the average life of the SSD v. HDD which is the ideal stat to compare longevity. The Mercury (and a lot others of course) use the Sandforce Durawrite wear leveling/block management software which is newer (I think the only other one used right now is made by Intel themselves) so we will see.

    Finally, a major reason reliability is flaunted so much with the SSD IMO is the durability aspect to the elements. The SSD's arent nearly as shock affected and that has led some to conclude the SSD is better solely on that. Some will say yes and some will say no as far as 'does this make the SSD more reliable'...reliability and durability go to war in this case.

    OWC, Intel, Crucial and a bunch of others put a lot of faith in the SSD and strongly recommend it which was also a factor in purchasing it.


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