What gives me the best hard drive performance for the money?

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Answered by: Samara, An Expert in the PC Hardware and Reviews - General Category
We're all trying to get the most for our money in these trying times, and computer performance is definitely one of these areas. The two big upgrades that can be done on pretty much any computer, regardless of desktop or laptop, are memory and hard drive. While memory is still the most common performance boost, new advances in hard drive technology allows you to dramatically increase the overall hard drive performance for a reasonable price in the form of hybrid storage drives.

First a bit of explanation of what hybrid storage is. The primary portion of the drive is a traditional hard drive. While these are cheap to produce in increasingly large sizes, they are limited by the fact that they rely on a motor and platters to store and retrieve information. This greatly limits the speed of the drive. The second piece of the system is a small solid state drive, or SSD. While the basic architecture is similar to the flash memory in your camera or cell phone, an upgraded controller makes it exceptionally fast. Because there are no moving parts it offers a huge leap in performance from traditional drives.

You are probably asking at this point, "If a SSD is so fast, why not just use that exclusively instead of this hybrid system?"

The answer to this question is cost. While the price of these drives is dropping rapidly, this is an article on cost-effective performance, so money is a huge factor in this recommendation. The other factor is ease of use. Taking proper care of your SSD is not built into most operating systems at this time, so maintenance functions are currently the responsibility of the user. While this is going to change as the drives become more common, they are still a bit more difficult to use right now. The beauty of a hybrid system is that the SSD is a silent partner- you don't have to worry about moving files around, finding obscure maintenance commands, or dealing with miniscule amounts of storage space.

So just how does this system work? As before mentioned, the SSD in this system acts as a silent partner. All you will see when you look at the computer is your hard drive, the solid state won't show in your “My Computer” screen at all. The software included with the drive will automatically put the programs you use the most onto the solid state drive-- which is what you would should do if you were managing the drives separately. It's a great solution to the issue at hand. By spending a little extra money up front you get performance with existentially no extra effort.

Finally we get to the drives themselves. There are a couple of options on the market, with hopefully more to follow. For desktop users there is the Corsair Accelerator series. Coming in 30, 45, or 60gb sizes, this is an add-on drive that you can add to your existing system to easily increase your performance. Designed with laptops in mind, and their limitation of only having one hard drive slot, is the Seagate Momentus XT.

The current incarnation of this drive uses a 8gb solid state cache along with a 750gb traditional drive. While you will not get as much of a performance boost with this drive, but the fact that it will fit in almost any laptop, combined with the fact that it is easier to set up makes it a winner. This is also a good drive to consider in a desktop if you don't want to deal with having multiple drives.

No matter which drive you choose, the increased hard drive performance will be well worth the money. These drives are designed to decrease loading times, so while you won't be increasing your World of Warcraft frame rate, you won't be the last one in the instance anymore. While you can expect solid state drives to become the norm down the road, these drives are a great way to tide yourself over until the new technology becomes available.

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