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Hobbs: Solid state drives for laptops: No moving parts, faster starts

It can be argued that the MacBook Air from Apple ushered in the ultra mobile, subcompact, netbook genre of little laptops.

Their fame is not restricted to the fact that the MacBook Air is one of the thinnest computers on the market. In fact, it can be said that MacBook Air is an overpriced piece of novelty technology that has limited practical and productive applications.

In my opinion, the lasting legacy of the MacBook Air will be that it was among the first to offer the option of a Solid State Disk, or SSD.

The practical benefit of using SSD drives in laptops and desktops versus the magnetic disk drives is that they have no moving parts and they allow computers to start up faster. Magnetic disk drives are still the hard drive most commonly found in the majority of computers sold, but their time is limited. This is due in no small part to their fragility and their propensity for mechanical malfunctions.

SSDs are not without their problems, but their issues are less than those of the hard drives used now. This has led nearly every major laptop or netbook maker to follow Apple’s lead and release a computer with SSD drives instead of magnetic disk drives.

This new wave of SSD-packing netbooks and laptops has even one-upped Apple. Not only have they made the SSD drives standard where Apple made them optional, they have managed to offer a superior product at greatly reduced price.

Aside from the obvious limitations of the MacBook Air, it wouldn’t be the worst gift if you optioned the SSD drive. The problem is that when you select the SSD drive over the normal hard drive, you end up paying $2,500 for the privilege of having no moving parts in your computer.

Now, for those of us who may not have $2,500 to blow on a computer, there are other netbooks available. At the top of the list is a computer from Asus (eeepc.asus.com). It was among the first challengers to the MacBook Air when it released its Asus Eee series. Asus is rumored to have a line of notebooks that are priced starting at $199 and include a 40GB SSD. The fact that a company can sell a computer with an SSD at that price may indicate that the prices of SSDs are falling, and this is good for computers in general.

If you want to upgrade to a SSD but like your current computer, you also have alternatives. Technology companies like SanDisk have begun creating SSD drives that can replace or accompany the hard disk in your system. This includes desktops as well as laptops, notebooks and netbooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if, within two years, the magnetic hard disks prevalent today go the way of the floppy disk and the dinosaur.

Quincey Hobbs is a team member at the University of Arizona’s Center for Computing and Information Technology and an instructor at Pima Community College. Send questions to quinceyresponds@yahoo.com.

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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