Correctly backing up data when moving from HDD to SSD

Users like SSD drives because they offer speedy, reliable storage that fits comfortably into a PC, Mac, camera or mobile device. With no moving mechanical parts or fragmented storage blocks, SSDs enable quick boot times and improve the performance of even complex applications like desktop video editors, which launch almost instantly and can copy and read files with ease.

"Overall, the feeling is that the system [on an SSD] is faster and much more responsive than with just a SATA drive," wrote the editors of KitGuru, about their testing of a 64 GB SSD. "You can actually tell when you hit a task that is CPU-dependent rather than data-flow driven."

Some SSDs have smaller capacities and higher costs per gigabyte than commodity HDDs, but flash storage has become gradually more affordable and roomier in recent times, widening their appeal. However, the daunting prospect of reinstalling the operating system and moving applications from an HDD to an SSD may still discourage some individuals from procuring SSDs for their PCs. Luckily, data archiving tools and optical accessories, such as a Blu-ray burner, can make this process easier.

Making backups and consolidating data
Since an SSD may have less capacity than an old HDD, efficiently moving data requires focus on essential applications. According to Lifehacker's Adam Dachis, it is advisable to move the operating system first, followed by critical system files. What about items such as MP3s, videos and documents, which can fill up a sizable portion of the new drive but are not essential to the system?

One option is to retain the old HDD for occasional access to those files, which may be most feasible in the case of laptops that have room for two hard drives. On these PCs, users can swap out the optical drive for a new SSD, and then use an external DVD drive both to restore optical functionality and facilitate disc-based backup. Non Retina MacBook Pro models also support this optical/SSD drive switch. However, users may need to use a caddy or similar device to slot the new drive into the optical bay.

Alternatively,data archiving solutions can simplify matters by securing the data in other storage, so that it is safe if and when users decide to return to it. Used in conjunction with cloud-based options, this approach may be more realistic for individuals or small business owners who routinely handle large volumes of high-density files.

3D flash storage will boost next generation of SSD drives

Flash memory and SSD drives continue to make gains against traditional HDDs, despite their generally smaller capacities and higher per gigabyte costs. While many consumers have seen the benefits of SSDs in their mobile devices, video and photo equipment and laptops, enterprises are also increasingly turning to NAND flash in their data centers, taking advantage of quick read/write speeds and reliability. Upcoming advancements in 3D flash memory, or vertical NAND, should accelerate the pace at which SSDs overtake spinning hard drives.

Writing for TechWeekEurope UK, Chris Preimesberger explained that SSDs exhibit less wear and tear than HDDs, primarily because they have no spinning parts or mechanical read/write heads and hence are less prone to breakdown. This aspect could make them appealing to companies with high storage needs. Although many organizations stuck with their HDDs during the late 2000s economic downturn, SSDs may finally have the edge due to their longevity. According to Preimesberger, many HDDs only last three years before failing, whereas cutting-edge SSDs now get up to five years of shelf life.

The possible benefits of 3D flash/vertical NAND
Aside from reliability, SSDs may also get a boost from more efficient arrays. Right now, most drives arrange their memory cells horizontally, but this approach may become less appealing as flash cells continue to shrink in size. With the current dominant design, these smaller cells are more likely to cause interference and in turn negate the advantages of SSD-based storage. According to Forbes contributor Janet Rae-Dupree, 20 nanometers may be the threshold beyond which today's storage arrangements may no longer be optimal.

The solution, already being pursued by several major manufacturers, may be to vertically arrange the cells and drill numerous channel holes into the chip.

"3D flash is now ramping up in production," explained Preimesberger. "This employs an up/down/across structure in which storage modules are stacked vertically, giving a whole new dimension to the popular solid-state medium."

Rae-Dupree cited an industry leader's claim that the next generation of flash will likely consume less power, write twice as quickly and last longer compared to its predecessor, mostly due to its higher density, which can accommodate tiny, cutting-edge chips.

"NAND flash has truly permeated our lives; this technology has been a game changer, making the world a different place," one flash manufacturer's executive told Preimesberger.

Overclocking SSDs: Benefits and possible risks

SSD drives are becoming more commonplace among consumers, thanks to increased affordability and their noticeable performance edge over HDDs. Future adjustments to NAND usage, such as overclocking, may make them more appealing to specific clienteles like gamers.

However, manufacturers working on SSD overclocking may still have work to do in order to ensure that the cutting-edge technology does not wear out the drive. Likewise, users must take care to maximize the life of their SSDs, by minimizing the number of read/write operations and devising smart strategies for where to store particular types of data.

SSDs and overclocking
SSDs are already fast in comparison with even the highest-performing HDDs, since they do not utilize mechanical read/write heads and platters. According to PCWorld's Brad Chacos, some SSD manufacturers may also be looking into SSD overclocking, that is, manipulating machine clock speeds and SSD firmware to push performance beyond typically recommended limits, as a way to provide additional speed.

Although utilized for other PC components, overclocking would be a new phenomenon on SSDs. Computerworld's Lucas Mearian explained that it may appeal to gamers or others who require extraordinary speed, and that it would try to provide such a boost by allocating more resources for data compression. The recently introduced SATA Express specification may help to enhance these speeds.

Impact on SSD longevity and stability
Overclocking an SSD could be risky. Its impact on storage I/O is mostly untested, and as such it could be a step too far for users looking to maximize the life of their SSDs.

"The scarcity of solid-state overclocking tools isn't necessarily a bad thing," wrote Chacos. "Any time you overclock a component, you run the risk of stability issues — and an unstable storage drive is no storage drive at all."

Aside from avoiding possibly risky overclocking, users can take several key steps to ensure the longevity of their drives. Also writing for PCWorld, Alex Cocilova stated that drive performance may be affected by the types of files residing on it. SSD performance is most applicable to complex applications, such as video editors or games, so it may be advisable to save its read/write operations for those cases, rather than throw them away on indexing MP3s or documents.

In those cases, users may opt for data archiving solutions or disc-based backups to keep their files safe. Additionally, putting a computer into sleep mode – rather than hibernation – can save additional write operations.

Consumers, professionals increasingly favor SSD drives

The market for SSDs is varied, encompassing SSD drives for video that are popular among professional videographers, server-side SSDs that power data centers and consumer SSDs that are either shipped with a mobile device or added aftermarket to a Mac or PC. Moving forward, SSD growth appears set to benefit most from the accelerating adoption of slimline laptops, also known as Ultrabooks. These computers offer speedy performance and storage, and since they generally lack internal optical drives, they may also boost demand for external drives that add back disc-reading ability.

The PC market has struggled recently due to competition from increasingly capable and affordable mobile devices. The price of SSDs vis-a-vis HDDs may also have contributed to its troubles by discouraging consumers from adding efficient SSDs to their PCs or buying entirely new machines.

However, with greater affordability, SSD drives are likely to make Ultrabooks more appealing. These slender laptops typically have long battery life and they instantly wake from sleep, meaning that they combine the power of a traditional PC with the speed and portability that users have come to expect from SSD-powered mobile devices.

SSD shipments strong with room for improvement
Writing for Xbit Laboratories, Anton Shilo​v cited an IHS iSuppli study that found that SSD shipments for 2013 should total nearly 65 million units, a substantial 87 percent year-over-year increase. Furthermore, the market could quadruple in size by 2017.

Ultrabooks are leading the way, set to constitute nearly 70 percent of 2013 SSD shipments. An Evertiq editor, also commenting on the IHS report, observed that refinements to Windows 8 and lower average selling prices for NAND flash may also attract additional consumer interest.

"The fate of the SSD business is closely tied to the market for Ultrabooks and other ultrathin PCs that use cache drives," said IHS analyst Ryan Chien, according to Evertiq. "While SSD shipments rose by 124 percent last year, growth actually fell short of expectations. However, if sales of the new generation of Ultrabooks take off this year as expected, the SSD market is set for robust growth."

Ultrabooks may use SSDs as their primary drive or as a supplementary cache drive alongside an HDD. To save space, these laptops exclude optical drives and their SSDs may have relatively low capacities. Accordingly, users with high needs for storage may opt for an external DVD drive to view disc media or create file backups.