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July 17, 2012
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

Your next hard drive should be an SSD

Solid State Drive or SSD (not to be confused with “SSDD,” the term to characterize dull workdays) a re faster, more durable, and consume less power than currently used computer hard drives

There has been a quiet revolution in the design of computer hard drives in the past couple of years. Manufacturers are shifting from the traditional sealed, spinning disk hard drive to the Solid State Drive or SSD (not to be confused with “SSDD,” the term to characterize dull workdays). These little boxes hold a little less data than their traditional counterparts, but they have a number of offsetting advantages for computers used in harsh environments, like patrol cars.

Most of us are familiar with the small flash or thumb drives that fit in your pocket and hold anywhere from 4GB to 64GB of data. Actually, there is a flash drive available that holds 1 TB (1024 GB) of data, but it costs $3000, so I’ll be putting off that purchase for a bit. SSDs are basically large-capacity flash drives. They hold an array of non-volatile memory chips in typical capacities of 64 and 128 GB, although there are some 256 GB and 512 GB http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004W2JL3Y models available now.

“Non-volatile” memory doesn’t require power to keep it alive. Your desktop and laptop computers have volatile memory installed in them, typically 2GB to 8GB, that handles the data as it is crunched by the central processing unit or CPU in your machine. Volatile memory is typically faster than non-volatile, enough that if one were replaced with the other (and it actually worked that way), you would notice a distinct slowdown in performance. When you turn off the power, whatever is contained in volatile memory goes to computer heaven, so you hope you have saved it to something non-volatile by then.

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The typical SSD, regardless of capacity, is about the size of a credit card and maybe a quarter of an inch thick.

It has no moving parts, so it’s far less susceptible to unplanned rapid decelerations into fixed or mobile objects (read: crashes), temperature extremes, dust, and moisture, all of which are commonplace in mobile environments. They’re also considerably faster than conventional hard drives. A typical Windows computer with a conventional hard drive takes up to a minute to get from power on to a login screen.

My SSD-equipped laptop does it in under 20 seconds. This is an important consideration when you have to jump in the car and take off to an in-progress incident. You don’t want your mobile computer to be still booting up when you arrive.

Mobile computers can get along with just an SSD. For desktop machines that contain a lot of data, an efficient setup is a relatively small (64 GB or 128 GB) SSD for the operating system (OS) and your programs, and a conventional hard disk for your data. Putting the OS and programs on the SSD will make everything run much faster; the CPU accesses the OS and software far more often than the data.

SSDs are still more expensive, byte for byte, than conventional hard drives. You can get a conventional laptop hard drive with 500-750 GB capacity for under a hundred bucks, where an SSD will cost a bit less than one dollar per gigabyte.

People have been buying increasingly larger hard drives for their computers so they don’t run out of room for data. Most of that extra space goes to waste. Unless you’ve got a lot of photos, videos or music on your hard drive, it’s probably well under capacity. If you want to check, click on My Computer, then right-click on your main hard drive (usually C:) and choose ‘Properties.” You’ll get a numeric and graphical representation of the capacity of the drive and how much space is used. Typically, the latter will be well under 128 GB, which is the most common SSD sold now.

One hazard of both conventional and solid state hard drives is the data they contain when you retire the computer. Many outfits reformat the drive(s) when they dispose of their old computers, some don’t bother. Even if you reformat the disk or delete the files, the data is still there and recoverable by anyone who acquires the hardware, and chances are you have some stuff there you would rather not see in the local paper. You need to overwrite the drive with data, usually more than once, to ensure it’s really gone.

There is software that will do this for you, Secure Erase, is one free package that works well.

When your agency gets around to buying new computers, consider specifying SSDs for them. 

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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