Tech Q&A: The merits of swapping a PC's hard drive for an SSD memory


The choice between a hard drive and a solid-state one is one of the key decisions for a computer buyer. — Dreamstime/TNS

Q: I'm interested in getting an SSD (solid-state drive) with computer-chip memory to replace a mechanical hard disk drive. What are the main differences between SSDs and hard drives?

—Nick Jakubowsky, St. Paul, Minnesota

A: The age of your computer may determine whether you can replace its hard drive with an SSD.

An older computer needs a SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) connection to link to most SSDs. But there have been several types of SATA connections since the early 2000s, and you'll need a computer repair shop to tell you if your PC has the right one for today's SSDs.

Reasons why you would want an SSD:

— SSDs are faster because they use flash memory (a computer-chip technology) instead of a rotating disk with a read-write device suspended above it. Some experts say an average SSD reads data about 10 times faster and writes data about 20 times faster than a hard drive.

— SSDs are a plus for travellers because they're lighter and use less battery power than disk drives.

— Consumer-priced SSDs now have capacities of 1 terabyte or larger, comparable to disk drives.

— SSDs have no moving parts, so they're less prone to wear and tear than disk drives are. However, SSDs do wear out because their circuits work only a limited number of times.

— You don't need to defragment an SSD. Defragmenting a hard drive puts whole files in the same location, cutting down on data access time. Defragging a fast SSD won't speed it up.

Reasons why you wouldn't want an SSD:

— SSDs are more expensive than disk drives. At best, a 1 terabyte SSD costs about twice as much as comparable disk drive, and some SSD models cost more than that.

— Even if a hard drive fails, its data is often recoverable from the physical disk. If an SSD fails, its data will probably be lost inside a digital circuit.

Q: My Windows 10 laptop crashes (I get a blue screen and the PC reboots) when I try to save a file to a USB flash drive. The same flash drive works with other PCs. What's wrong?

—Jerry Johnson, Colorado Springs, Colorado

A: The cause could be a flash drive format issue, or a security software problem. Today's Windows PCs are formatted with NTFS (New Technology Files System), but the format isn't widely used elsewhere. Flash drives typically use the FAT32 (File Allocation Table32) format, which makes them compatible with the Windows, Mac and Linux computer operating systems as well as smart TVs, cameras and smartphones.

Normally, using a FAT32-formatted flash drive with an NTFS-formatted PC isn't a problem. But an older Windows file called Sysmon (System Monitor) version 11.11 wasn't compatible with the FAT32 format used by flash drives, and it could cause a PC crash when a flash drive was used. The latest version of the Sysmon software (version 13.32), doesn't have this problem. (You can download it at tinyurl.com/yzjr2yj3).

The PC crashing problem also has been linked to flash drives that are encrypted with software from Check Point Software Technologies. Older versions of the software used a file called MeDlpFlt.sysCQ (Media Encryption Data Loss Prevention Filter) that caused the problem (for details, see tinyurl.com/yc7s8e6p). If you use, or previously used, Check Point's software, you'll need to contact the company for help (access to the solution is limited to customers.) – Star Tribune/Tribune News Service

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