Solid State of Mind

Solid-state storage technologies have greatly elevated our computing devices in the past few years. From flash memory storage found in iPads and other tablets to solid-state drives (SSD) found more commonly in laptops, Ultrabooks, and now even desktops, SSD technologies provide tremendous speed advantages to their spinning hard disk drive (HDD) counterparts.

For educators, computing devices that are almost instantly on and able to provide students and teachers access to apps within a matter of seconds is a tremendous improvement from just a few years ago. Gone are the days of waiting 2–5 minutes for an aging system with a traditional HDD to load your favorite operating system (OS). Modern desktops equipped with SSDs can load an OS (e.g., Windows) in seconds. Case in point: a recent desktop deployment in the Somerville Public Schools in Somerville, MA, has desktops loading Windows 7 from a cold boot in under 10 seconds.

It is now cost effective for school districts to make the move from HDD to SSD when replacing desktops and laptops in their fleet. As of the summer 0f 2013, the cost of a modestly sized 128GB SSD drive is an approximately $100 upgrade, when pricing out a system with a 256GB or 512GB HDD.

While multiple factors contribute to the speed of a computer system, the HDD has been the most common bottleneck of performance (excluding insufficient physical RAM). SSDs have read/write speeds that can be, on average, at least 5x faster than HDD. However, it is important when considering purchasing systems with SSD to verify the speed of the included drive to maximize your investment. Not all SSDs are created equal, and it is recommended to find drives capable of at least 300 MB/s read and 300 MB/s write speeds.

While cost is a limiting factor, this is a change that technology directors and purchasers can make without going over budget for computer replacements. Just as football is a game of inches, so is education—that is, every little bit counts. Every minute of teaching and learning is critical. Students and teachers using computers with HDD are losing vital instruction and learning time while waiting for their computers to boot up and log in—and that time adds up over the course of a school year.


About the Author

John Breslin is the Systems and Database Administrator for the Somerville Public Schools in Somerville, MA. He oversees the Technology Department and technology planning and purchasing for the district.

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