Are Solid State Drives in Notebooks Worth the Extra Cost?

eWeek recently covered a new report by technology research firm, J. Gold Associates, which assessed the cost advantages of solid state drives (SSDs) versus rotating hard disk drives (HDDs) in business notebooks. The report argued that, because SSDs have fewer moving parts, they suffer fewer failures—in fact the research suggests an improvement of about 30%.

According to Gold, SSDs also offer faster performance and better battery life and that justifies their up to 40 percent higher price. So the question enterprises must consider is this: Should they purchase SSD-powered notebooks despite the initial higher cost?

When debating between SSD and HDD-equipped notebooks, it is important to consider the core driver of this issue – the quest for higher reliability. As this report infers, vendors are turning to SSDs to combat high failure rates, which results in a higher purchase price along with some limitations, such as storage capacity. Given the high failure rates of most notebooks, it is natural for an analyst to recommend a solution which, in theory, should drive greater reliability. A PC Magazine study in July 2008 found that 24 percent of business laptops have some form of hardware failure each year. With that level of failure and its resultant downtime, any solution that could improve it by one third is attractive. However, it warrants a closer look.

Reliability is not something that can be achieved by replacing one component alone. It needs to be tackled holistically.

Panasonic Toughbook notebooks have proven low single digit annual failure rates, delivering high reliability across all product lines, and our products do this with higher capacity, extremely reliable shock-mounted HDDs that still deliver excellent battery life. While there is a role for SSDs in some solutions, they should not be viewed as a panacea for improving notebook reliability (SSDs don’t protect LCDs from drops or keyboards from spills, for example).

While some of our mobile solutions use SSDs—the Toughbook U1, for example, and our mobile video products used in high-vibration law enforcement environments—we haven’t broadly embraced the SSD format because Toughbook devices can still achieve lower failure rates than competitive offerings with less expensive and higher capacity rotating drives. Panasonic’s ability to achieve these low failure rates comes from fifteen years of engineering experience with shock-mounting hard drives.

As read/write cycle limitations are addressed, storage capacity increases and prices go down, we will continue to look at SSDs as an option. For now, most Toughbook solutions offer significantly higher reliability at lower cost with shock-mounted hard drives.

One thing is for certain: Any time an influencer raises the notion of technology reliability and total cost of ownership, we are keen to participate in the conversation.