Purchasing a new device for the first time is never easy, especially if you have to know a lot of jargon to even understand what you’re buying. Solid-state drives or SSDs, as cool as they are, have this problem.
Fortunately, while SSD specifications may appear intimidating at first, they are actually quite simple to comprehend. So, if the only reason you haven’t bought one yet is because of the jargon, think again!
Here are seven key terms to understand before purchasing an SSD.
According to a specific standard, an SSD’s form factor describes its actual physical size. It’s crucial because it determines whether your SSD will fit inside your computer.
The majority of SSDs have a 2.5-inch form factor, which is the same as laptop-sized HDDs. SSDs don’t come in this size by default, but you can use a 2.5-to-3.5″ adapter to make them fit; however, 2.5″ isn’t the only SSD form factor. M.2 NVMes and M.2 SATAs, as well as mSATA, SlimSATA, and other SSD modules, are available.
IOPS stands for Input/Output Operations Per Second and is pronounced “eye-ops.”
In layman’s terms, IOPS is a measurement of how quickly an SSD can read and write random packets of data across different areas of the drive. This mimics the real-world conditions of everyday use for the average user. It’s always better to have a higher IOPS.
An SSD’s architecture is made up of many different cells organized into pages and pages organized into blocks. Unfortunately, these blocks cannot be selectively overwritten; instead, before new data can be written to them, the entire block must be erased.
A write cycle occurs whenever a block is erased and written to.
Before they reach a point where they can no longer write new data, blocks have a finite number of write cycles.
Fortunately, SSD manufacturers have implemented wear leveling, which has helped to mitigate some of this. The end goal is the same for all of them: waste as few write cycles as possible to extend SSD lifespan.
SSDs use TRIM (which isn’t actually an acronym) to prevent performance degradation over time.
TRIM enables SSDs to delete specific data segments within a block. When new data needs to be written, the drive won’t have to go through the entire backup-delete-rewrite process. It is only capable of writing.
Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is an acronym for Mean Time Between Failures. It’s a statistical calculation that predicts the rate of failure for a specific SSD model based on a population of 1,000 SSDs running for 8 hours per day.
When you hear that the Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB has a 1.5 million-hour MTBF, it means that in a population of 1,000 SSDs running for 8 hours a day, one of them will fail every 187.5 days.
Although SSDs aren’t used for computer processing (that’s what CPUs, GPUs, and ALUs are for), they do have a controller, which functions as a built-in processor that oversees many of the SSD’s functions, including reading, writing, wear leveling, garbage collection, and so on.
In the grand scheme of things, the average user won’t be able to tell the difference between controllers, so you shouldn’t be concerned.
Focus on the specifications and reviews of an SSD rather than the controller itself when making a purchase.
SLC, MLC, or TLC
Single-level cells, multi-level cells, and triple-level cells are the three types of memory cells found in SSDs. These specify the maximum number of bits that can be stored per cell (1, 2, or 3, respectively). SLC and MLC are the most common variants for consumer-grade drives.
SLC drives are more reliable but cost more, whereas MLC drives are less expensive to produce but more prone to data errors. MLC is also slower than SLC in general. TLC, which is newer than SLC and MLC, is the most cost-effective, but it is also the most error-prone.
Don’t know which one to pick? Consider a TLC drive for increased capacity. You’ll get the most storage for your money, but it might not last. Choose an SLC drive if you want to be sure. If you can’t afford to lose a drive, this is the way to go. Choose an MLC if you want a little bit of both.