For those of you old enough to remember the original use of the term "solid state", you might recall it being used to describe TVs that came out in the 1980s. These units did not use tubes and did not have the two minute warm up period. (I remember having to turn on the TV five minutes before my show started so I wouldn't miss the intro!) My family had one of these new TVs, a Zenith, and when we bought it I thought we were like the Jetsons! Solid state now means something new in the world of IT.
If you are somewhat of a an aficionado when it comes to personal computers, you may have heard about the new hard drive technology called solid state drives or "SSD". They are all the rage for people that play a lot of games on their PCs. They are also being discussed by the hardware people in your IT department. The buzz is that they are faster, more reliable, use less power, and generally look more sexy in the PC chassis. If you go to your local Best Buy, Fry's, etc., you will see them for sale. When I first saw them I was comparing parts for my custom-built computer in July 2010. I could get a regular hard drive with 1TB (terabyte) for $129 or a 140MB (megabyte) SSD drive for $459. I went with an SSD...
So what's the difference and why should you care?
Well, the "old" style hard drive is made up of moving parts, specifically a group of platters and a reader. In more common terms, an old style hard drive is made like a record player. The platters, or "records", spin up and the needle moves across them reading data. This technology has some limits. First, the hard drive has moving parts that can break and wear out. Also, the data access speeds are directly related to how fast the platters spin. Ultimately your hard drive speed is limited by speed and inevitable wear-and-tear.
A solid state drive (SSD) is almost exactly similar in function to a "thumb drive", or those little things you carry around in your pocket that hook into USB ports. They have no moving parts because the data is read and written directly to memory. They are so much faster because there are no moving parts - no need to spin up any platters to get to your data. And since nothing is moving, the SSD hard drive is much less likely to wear out meaning that you 10,000th use should be just as fast as your 1st.
The price is very high right now because buyers are paying the "early adopter" rates. As competitors get into the market, prices will come down quickly. Pretty much every computer you buy in 2014 and beyond will be equipped with a solid state drive!