Samsung 830 CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)...

Samsung 830

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The 2.5-inch SATA 3 (6Gbps)-based Samsung 830 series solid-state drive offers great performance, is well-built and good-looking. The drive comes with helpful desktop software for Windows.

The bad: Due to the thin profile, the Samsung 830 series requires padding or a laptop kit, which costs extra, to fit in most existing laptop computers. The cost: $198.00 to $199.99

The bottom line: If the price is right, you don't need to look any further than the Samsung 830 series to upgrade your computer's internal storage to the best possible performance.

More info Credit: CNET/

The most vulnerable part of a hard drive is its moving parts. The disk spins; the spindle arm moves to read data, all the while creating heat, friction and an opportunity to break when the moving stops. The next generation of hard drives -- solid state drives and hybrid drives -- attempt to rectify this by eliminating the spinning and swinging. However, there are some tradeoffs: less storage and higher price. Is it worth upgrading?

A solid-state drive (SSD) is a flash storage device, meaning it works like a USB flash drive, just without the USB part. From the outside, it looks very similar to a traditional hard drive, but has no spinning disk -- a huge advantage.

A traditional drive is like a CD or record player. Data is written to a specific part of the drive, so opening an application or file requires that the disk spin to the right storage location and then the spindle read/writes data off the disk. Typically, opening a program requires your hard disk to be read in multiple places. SSDs access data faster, leading to faster boot-up for your system and quicker load times for applications and games. This performance improvement leads many "power users" to upgrade. However, the rest of us can benefit as well.

Because SSDs have no moving parts, they're more durable and shock-resistant. This can be a huge benefit in a laptop, which gets jostled and banged around. Because an SSD doesn't have to power a spinning disk or a moving spindle, it consumes less power to access data. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you rely on your laptop battery, every little bit helps.

Even desktop systems can benefit beyond the speed and performance improvements inherent to SSDs. No spinning and moving also means the drive runs silent and cooler. Because overheating is another big threat to data stored on traditional drives, requiring noisy fans and airflow, this can improve longevity and reliability.

SSDs have drawbacks: They are significantly more expensive and have lower storage capacities than traditional hard drives. While you can get a 1-terabyte traditional hard drive for around $125, the same amount of cash will buy only about 128 gigabytes of solid-state storage.

It's important to stick with reliable manufacturers; Crucial, OCZ and Intel produce strong contenders. Since the technology is still new, there are high failure rates, particularly with drives from less reputable companies. Also, performance and speed can degrade over time, depending on how data are stored. Look for manufacturers that integrate tools that evenly distribute how the drive writes data across the flash memory cells. Unfortunately, cheaper often equates to slower.

Some users have found that installing the operating system and applications on an SSD while storing data to a secondary, traditional hard drive gives them the best of both worlds: the responsiveness of an SSD with the capacity of a hard disk. However, running two drives can be complicated for basic users.

In an attempt to increase capacity and reduce price, some manufacturers have introduced "hybrid" drives. Hybrids fuse flash memory cells (to cache boot files and frequently accessed data) onto a traditional spinning drive. The hard disk offers the capacity for storing photos, videos and large packets of data while the flash cells improve speed and boot times. These can be a good alternative for laptop users because space is at a premium.

(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers onsite computer and laptop repair to homeowners and small businesses. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)

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