This fall, I've been teaching a condensed revision of the three Super Geek courses I have taught at "Scaling New Heights." As part of this new class, we focus on optimizing QuickBooks Desktop in both single-user and network configurations, and what the biggest things are that help speed up performance when dealing with large Company files.
While discussing sufficient RAM for the database server and faster performing data storage, the question almost always arises on how a computer should be configured to run QuickBooks in terms of Solid State Drives (SSD) versus Hard Drives (HDD).
So, I thought an article on the subject probably was something my readers would enjoy.
Solid State Drives have become very common in new computers, especially laptops, due to the fact that they are far more economical today than they were three years ago. At the same time, hard drive prices have dropped sharply, while their capacities have increased significantly.
As a result, you're probably wondering which drive type you should buy for your next new computer or major computer enhancement?
Solid State and Hard Drive Data Storage
Hard Drives and Solid State Drives use something called non-volatile memory, which is the long-term memory used for data storage. This form of memory retains your data even when the drive isn't being powered. That's why you can turn off your computer, and not loose your saved programs and information.
On the other hand, volatile memory, like RAM (Cache), which is allocated to various programs and the data being worked on within your computer at the time, can suffer data loss if power is lost. (Murph's Best Practice: You always need a battery back-up/UPS for your computer, but that's a topic for another article.)
Hard Drives and Solid State Drives essential serve the same function within your computer, but the means by which they read, write and store data are significantly different. In comparing the two, we should give factors like storage capacity, speed, form factor, durability and price, because each drive type comes with it's own pros and cons.
As I mentioned above, the two drive types have entirely different methods by which they store data. Hard Drives generally can store far more data than a Solid State Drive because hard drives magnetically write data to a disc. Both the number and density of these discs have increased over the years, as hard drive technology has improved.
Inside each Hard Drive, a stack of platters, that's what the discs are called, spin at incredibly fast speeds. As a general rule, the faster the discs spin, the faster you can read or write data from or to the drive.
Each platter has billion of sectors where data can be stored. A read/write head, attached to a mechanical arm, slides over the discs as they're spinning and reads or writes the data in various platter sectors based upon instructions from the computer's operating system disk-i/o controller sub-system.
In a lot of ways, this technology, at least from a "mechanical standpoint" doesn't seem much different than an old time phonograph (like the one shown below), even though most of you are too young to remember actually watching a record play.
Phonograph - Record Player
Hard Drives have been the standard in desktop and computers for years. They have grown substantially in data storage capacity on almost a year-by-year basis. Terabyte drives, once unheard of, now are common place and economical. Currently, 16-terabytes is the capacity being offered in Hard Drives.
The problem with most hard drives is that they're relatively slow. For example, most "home quality" computers use 5400 RPM drives, while most standard office equipment makes use of 7200 RPM drives.
When it comes to finding and reading the data from those drive platters, there is a big difference in a drive that spins at nearly 150 percent of less speedy drive.
But even 7200 RPMs isn't enough when you're dealing with really large drives and a lot of data. Both 10,000 and 15,000 RPM drives are available as optional equipment for most high-end professional workstations and servers. But due to their substantially significant cost, they rarely are configured as standard equipment.
So, while Hard Drives offer "big" storage capacities, they also tend to be "slow." One of the factors associated with "big equals slow" for Hard Drive read/write is how data is stored on the drive.
When data is written in a contiguous fashion, it can be read and retrieved quickly. But Windows tends to "shotgun" data across the various sectors of the drive, which results in disk fragmentation.
Disc data storage architecture
In such cases, it takes longer than "the optimal time" to read the data from different disk sectors.
Most external storage for networked servers also make use of Hard drives. Twenty years ago, when my first server outgrew the capacity of the internal hard drive, we initially added a Hard Drive Enclosure (like the one shown at the right) and, ultimately, two Rack-cabinets full of nothing but hard drives accompanied by uninterruptible power supplies and air conditioners in order to achieve half-a-terabyte of storage.
That storage capacity, which literally cost tens-of-thousands of dollars at the time, would cost you only around $70 today.
A cable is used to connect the computer's disk drive(s) to the motherboard. Over the years, this cabling/connection technology has changed almost as much as the disks themselves.
Initially "serial" cables were used, and then something known as "IDE," which also was called Parallel-ATA. Along came SCSI. Most of today's drives are connected to their hard drive or RAID controller via Serial ATA, more commonly referred to as SATA.
During those early days of computing, and still today, Hard Drives required lots of power and lots of cooling to run. The bigger the drive, the more power it needed, and the more cooling it had to have to remain running. The more drives you had, the more cooling you needed as well.
Racks of Server Hard Drives
Such power demands, along with their physical size, limited the capacity of Hard Drives in "laptop" computers. This necessitated a more streamlined, less power demanding way of storing data, since almost everyone was wanting to go mobile. The result was the Solid State Drive.
Solid State Drives
Solid State Drives use technology that involves no moving parts. It is a very different method for storing data than a Hard Drive. Inside each Solid State drive, there are flash memory chips responsible for storing your data. In the picture below, the flash chips are the majority of the black squares on the circuit card.
Solid State Drive technology
Depending on the Solid State Drive, the flash memory cells can store one, two or even three bits of information. These flash memory cells are comparable to the sectors on a Hard Drive platter that store your data magnetically as 1s and 0s. Solid State Drives store data via something called NAND technology at the cell level, as either an “on” or “off” state.
While readily available Solid State Drives currently top out at 4-terabytes, Samsung has released a 16-terabyte SSD designed (and priced) for Enterprise-level Servers. Even though Solid State Drives are much smaller in capacity, they're lightning fast in comparison to hard drives.
With Solid State Drives, neither platter spin speed (RPMs) or fragmentation are an issue. Even though data may be written to the various memory cells sporadically, this doesn't post sufficient impact in accessing the data to even be considered as disk fragmentation, especially since data can be read so much faster from an SSD than a Hard Drive.
Of course, one of the biggest advantages of SSDs over HDDs is the fact that Solid State Drives are far less demanding in terms of energy consumption and cooling, making them perfect for laptop and micro computers. Unfortunately, they are significantly more costly than a Hard Drive with similar capacity.
Both types of drives are subject to failure, even though a common misbelief exists that Solid State Drives last forever. While perhaps you will never see a Hard Drive as demolished as the one depicted below, their mechanical moving parts are subject to both normal wear and tear as well as physical damage.
Broken Hard Drives
When the first Hard Drive based computers came on the market, we had to literally "lock" the moving parts of the drive anytime you moved your computer, today's modern drives no longer require this loss-prevention step. You can easily damage a Hard Drive just by dropping your laptop. It's possible to damage a drive so badly as to prevent the possibility of data recovery.
Solid State Drives, even though they have no moving parts, still are at risk of failure as well as "slow down" over time. That NAND technology I spoke of earlier is responsible for pushing electrons through a gate within the SSD in order to set the state of the cells to either on or off, the result is wear on the cells.
Such wear reduces performance over time. How much time can only be computed by engineers. Ultimately, an SSD could become unreadable, resulting in data loss. But such time will more than likely be long after the drive has become obsolete in terms of size and performance, as new data-storage offerings become available.
Drive Form Factors
Form factor refers to the relative thickness of a drive, which relates to how the drive is mounted within your computer. Most desktops have mounting rails, while many laptops have a slot in which a drive is secured.
Many large Hard Drives are 3.5-inch form factors, while many smaller capacity drives are 2.5-inch form factors. Larger laptops are configured to use 2.5-inch or the smaller 1.8-inch form factor SSDs. Most tablet computers make use of MicroSSDs, the smallest of which are NanoSSDs to provide data storage.
Several times I have alluded to the fact that Solid State Drives are expensive and offer less storage than Hard Drives. You may pay from two to five times as much for an SSD as a comparable HDD.
At the time I am writing this, I found you could purchase from multiple on-line sources an Intel 80GB SSD for as little as $125, a 240GB SSD for around $200, and a 480GB SSD for around $500.
In comparison, you can buy a 1TB HDD for less than $70, a 3TB HDD for $140, an 8TB HDD for around than $700, and a 16TB HDD for less than $2,500.
Just remember, even though you may pay higher prices for less memory capacity when purchasing a Solid State drive, you're also buying a drive that is faster, more efficient and more durable.
Murph's Buying Recommendations
- If you’re configuring a new system for speed, power savings or portability, an SSD is going to be the better choice for your primary storage.
- On the other hand, if you’re after large memory storage or are configuring a desktop computer or server, and, you're not worried about movement or collision, you probably should just go ahead and to stick with an HDD.
- But nothing really precludes the possibility of using both an SSD and a HDD when getting a new computer, although you won’t want to necessarily take the computer manufacturer’s recommendation about how to configure it.
- Manufacturers typically recommend that the SSD be configured as your primary drive for the operating system. You really don’t need the improved speed delivery SSD offers for that.
- What you need the SSD for are those intensive I/O (read/write) applications that maximizing drive speed significantly will improve.
- If you're going to be supporting QuickBooks files, especially large ones, you will want the SSD available for your QB data, so have your computer manufacturer configure a HDD-SSD computer accordingly.
Of course, my configuration recommendation really doesn't matter if a properly sized Solid State Drive meets your needs and exceeds your pocketbook.