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Should you upgrade your hard disk drive?

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, has detailed a big change to the timeframe at which it makes the silicon that powers smartphones, computers and servers. Instead of doubling the amount of transistors on a chip every 24 months, the so-called Moore's Law that has driven the tech industry for decades is now questionable, Intel now says that the process will advance every 30 months.

Unless one is a gamer whose new graphics card costs as much as most people feel comfortable spending on an entire computer, then the user’s laptop or desktop from a few years ago should be performing just fine. Having said this, the only flaw could be its hard disk drive.

Hard drives are a notorious performance bottleneck. They're slow, and even worse they're mechanical. The hard drive's platter (disk) has to be in constant motion, which adds to its wearing down. Thankfully, there's an alternative: replacing your traditional hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive). SSD's store data on ultra-fast flash storage - smartphone or tablet owners are probably already aware of the benefits of having data stored that way.

SSDs are dramatically faster than traditional hard drives, and after performing the upgrade, you'll notice speed increases in everything you do. Your computer will boot faster, programs will open quicker, and suddenly your "old" computer will feel significantly newer.

There is one significant trade off when swapping a hard drive with an SSD, and this is the amount of storage you get for the price. Although SSD prices continue to drop, they're still expensive when compared to traditional hard drives. As an example, for the price of a 250GB SSD drive you could get a 3TB hard drive. That's 12x the capacity. For someone with a large media library, the compromise one could make is to have an SSD for the computer’s operating system including any software installations, and a high-capacity external hard drive to store documents and media.

Although external drives are quite compact, for those who travel with their laptop, the idea of carrying an extra device is not always practical and convenient. Moreover, apart from the risk of losing the device with the data on it, other risks such as data corruption and speed are the main factors why those devices are not recommended at an enterprise level.

An alternative solution to having an external hard drive would be to move one's data to the cloud. There are multiple service providers such as Google Drive which offers 15GB of free cloud storage, OneDrive by Microsoft which offers 5GB free, and 2GB free from DropBox. Apart from the free plans, one can always opt for one of the paid subscriptions where some providers offer up to 5TB of storage space which can be shared between multiple devices. Doing so, one eliminates the concerns faced with an external device. The draw back with this setup is that one would need a broadband connection in order to access files.

Having said that, although changing the current hard disk to an SSD is not a difficult job, one needs to take into consideration various tasks which need to be performed before and after changing the drive. So, if you’re thinking of embarking on the missions to change the drive by yourself, first and foremost you’ll need to confirm that all backups have been performed, that all the necessary software required is available to reinstall and that no warranty infringement will be at risk when opening the computer. For those less adventurous, they can always seek support from a qualified computer technician or certified repair centre which can guide them accordingly.