A solid state drive (SSD) is a newer type of computer storage. SSDs use flash memory to read and write data digitally. Since they don’t have to mechanically seek out data, SSDs deliver nearly instant boot and load times.
For decades, computers stored data on hard disk drives (HDDs), which uses a spinning platter and an arm that moves across the platter to read each portion of data. The moving components in HDDs make them one of the most likely pieces of computer hardware to fail or break.
SSD technology operates entirely differently. Using a chip made with NAND flash memory, SSDs don't rely on any moving parts resulting in a more durable component.
What does an SSD do?
An SSD or HDD serves as your computer's long-term memory, storing and remembering files even when your device is off. It works alongside your system's memory (RAM) and processor to access and use data, including things like your operating system, programs, documents, games, images, and music.
For example, if you want to access data from a spreadsheet and perform some basic edits, here's what's going on behind the scenes:
- Programs and files are housed on your storage drive — in this case, the spreadsheet you want to access.
- When you open the spreadsheet, your processor transfers the program data from your storage SSD or HDD to your computer's RAM for short-term access and use. This is the stage where SSDs can really showcase their value as they speed up the data transfer process over HDDs, which is the amount of time it takes to load programs and files.
- The processor then accesses data from the RAM, which acts as your computer's bank of available workspace. Memory is then used to "run" the program.
Knowing the difference between your computer's memory and storage will help you understand the importance of having a great storage device working in unison with your memory. Installing an SSD is one of the easiest ways to transform almost every aspect of your system's performance, making slow load times a thing of the past.
Benefits of SSD vs HDD
In addition to being faster, SSDs are more durable because they don't have moving parts that can be broken or worn out. They also use less energy, saving battery life on portable devices like laptops. These are just a few examples of great SSD benefits, but there are several reasons why you should upgrade to an SSD.
SSD types, form factors and interfaces explained
There are two types of consumer SSDs: SATA and NVMe. Not all SSDs are compatible with every computer, so it’s important to know the type, form factor and interface of any drive you may buy.
SATA 2.5-Inch SSDs
The first type of SSD to be sold to consumers was a SATA (serial ATA) 2.5-inch drive, which fits inside the drive bay designed to hold hard disk drives. Because many users replace their hard drives with solid state drives, the 2.5-inch drive has become a standard for all HDDs and SSDs. They are designed to minimize the need to replace the connecting AHCI (advanced host controller interface) cables, making the transition to a higher performance drive as easy as possible.
Crucial offers two types of 2.5-inch SSDs: the MX500 or the BX500.
NVMe M.2 PCIe SSDs
The fastest SSDs on the market today are NVMe M.2 PCIe SSDs, which are about the size of a stick of gum. You may see them labelled interchangeably as M.2, PCIe, NVMe, or some combination of these terms, which can be confusing. To break it down simply, M.2 is the form factor of this technology, and was initially designed to mount expansion cards inside a PC. Combined with the PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express) interface, this technology allows data to be transferred faster than SATA. NVMe (non-volatile memory express) is a communication protocol developed specifically for SSDs that reduces CPU overhead and streamlines operations to increase input and output (I/O) per second and to lower latency — all of which increases the seed. When combined, NVMe, M.2 and PCIe technology creates the fastest storage products the market has ever seen — and they keep getting faster!
Crucial has four NVMe M.2 PCIe SSDs: the P2, the P3, the P3 Plus and the P5 Plus.
To determine which type of SSD is compatible with your system, use the Crucial® Advisor™ Tool or System Scanner tools and find out in just a few clicks.
How are SSDs made?
An SSD is made of several memory chips installed on a circuit board. Micron, the parent company of Crucial, manufactures the flash memory chips in‑house on silicon wafers, similar to how Micron makes its computer memory.
The wafers move through more than 800 operations, which take more than a month to complete. Throughout the process, many layers of materials are added to each wafer, including conductive materials such as copper and non-conductive materials like silicon dioxide.
After each layer of material is applied, the wafer is coated with light-sensitive fluid. Ultraviolet light is then flashed onto it through a glass stencil of the electrical circuitry pattern. Where the light contacts the materials, they break down and dissolve. Where the materials are shielded by the stencil, they remain intact, which prints the circuitry pattern on the wafer. Chemical baths then wash away any residual material.
After printing, each 30-centimeter wafer yields hundreds of chips, which must be sliced apart. After the chips are cut apart, they are inserted into a protective plastic housing.
Large circuit boards are covered with tin alloy solder paste in the areas the memory chips and other components will be attached. A robot attaches the components to the board, then the assembled boards go into an oven that fuses the components to the board.
Controlling SSD quality
The boards first go through an optical scan to verify that the components are in the correct place. Then, the next machine x-rays the board to ensure that everything is soldered in the correct place. The large circuit boards are now cut into individual boards and inserted into plastic housing in the case of the form factor.
Every drive is labelled with its model and serial numbers, technical specifications, and other information. One other piece of information is a bar code for production tracking. The drives are tested to verify functionality and the firmware that runs the drive is installed. The drive then undergoes up to 60 hours of performance testing to ensure that it stores data correctly and reads and writes at target speeds. Micron's SSDs are also tested with various motherboards to ensure widespread compatibility.
The drives are then packaged with a foil pouch to avoid static electricity, placed in a carton, and sent out to be sold all over the world. Crucial SSDs are available in more than 190 countries and territories.
SSD stands for solid state drive, and HDD stands for a hard disk drive. These are the two main storage options.
SSDs store data with a newer technology than HDDs. Like USB drives, SSDs use flash memory to store data, which is accessed digitally, though SSDs work much faster.
SSDs are faster and more power-efficient than HDDs as they have no moving parts. That performance improvement comes at a price, so SSDs are usually more expensive, though the difference in price between the two types of storage technology has lessened considerably since SSDs first came to market.
Traditional HDDs use mechanical spinning platters and a moving read/write head to access data. In contrast, SSDs use a digital memory chip to access the data instantly. This makes SSDs faster. They also consume less power and are less faulty.