Laptops are in this strange quagmire right now. The cheap ones are too bulky, too slow, and they all look the same. They’re very uninteresting pieces of hardware. While even cheap phones from Xiaomi, OnePlus and Nextbit (recently acquired by Razor) can bring praise and attention from their looks, laptops these days are bland and boring. The ones that aren’t boring are too expensive. The Dell XPS 13 is ₹1.3 lakhs in India ($1935 USD), the Macbook Pro 2016 with a 512GB laptop SSD is a whopping ₹2.6 lakhs ($3872 USD), and even the cheapest laptop sold in the country that has a usable, non-eMMC SSD costs over ₹50,000 (Asus UX305 series).
There are a multitude of reasons why most pieces of technology cost so much more in India, so I’ll not get into that much. Import taxes are crazy and setting up manufacturing within the country isn’t easy. Still, India is the hub of the value-for-money consumer. Technology moves fast in the country, and every year smartphones released in India outpace other countries by a considerably due to market size. So where’s the demand for a quality laptop?
SSDs are Fast and Expensive.
The best SSDs these days will transfer at speeds upto 550MB/s, while even 7200 RPM Hard Drives will max out at 30MB/s. Most laptops come with a 2.5 inch form factor 5400 RPM Hard Drive, which usually top out at 20-25MB/s. Solid State Drives have no moving parts, but that’s only partially the reason for their speed. The real technology is in the SSD controller, which is what companies like Intel and Samsung, who create SSDs, really compete over. NAND based flash storage controllers basically changed digital storage performance forever.
Here’s an infographic I made for why you can’t find cheap SSDs, and why they’re so much more expensive:
Who even uses laptops anyway?
From my understanding, there are three main categories of technology users:
For people who watch videos, listen to music, read words, and whose main internet usage is social media and light research. For them smartphones and tablets are good enough.
For video editing, server architecture, intense coding, graphic design, gamers and data processing. Desktops are a must.
For Web development, content writing, office work (presentations, excel sheets), avid internet users, digital marketing, and business. Laptops are required at the very least.
Laptop SSDs will come at a price
If the accessibility of technology is anything to go by, India is a country of consumers. Because all computer parts and laptops have a 100% markup over international pricing. I don’t believe that’s the case though. India has the power to get Samsung, Xiaomi and a host of other large companies to deliver products manufactured in and catering to the country. The larger question is whether we would accept a solid state drive in lieu of less RAM or a worse screen, or a worse battery or worse build quality. Because we sure as hell won’t accept a higher price.
The thing is, on laptops, storage speed far outweighs any other factor when it comes to performance. Opening Microsoft Office or booting up can become literally 30 times faster with a laptop SSD. While you’re pondering mysteries of the universe waiting for Chrome to load, an SSD would have gotten it open in a second.
Why are cheap laptops with SSDs not freely available?
The biggest reason I feel laptop manufacturers are unwilling to include SSDs in low to mid-range laptops, aside from the price differential, is the spec reduction it’ll bring to higher end laptops. When there is a millisecond-level real world difference between a $300 laptop with an SSD and your $2000 Dell XPS 13, people are objectively going to prefer the former. When you put an SSD in your high end offerings and leave the lower end with 5400 RPM spindle-disk 1950s technology drives, that price difference can become more pronounced.
But wait, some laptops have small 32GB SSDs, right?
eMMC Memory doesn’t count.
$200 Chromebooks and cheap “solid state laptops” have something called eMMC Memory, which is indeed flash-based storage, but isn’t actually an SSD. It’s a similar technology to what you find in SD cards and many Android phones. They’re about 50% faster than regular Hard Disks, with a less than 40MB/s transfer rate. That’s around 10 times slower than a Samsung 850 Evo.
The solution: put an SSD in your laptop yourself
Since most laptops have a 2.5 inch SATA based HDD, SSD drives for laptops are usually just regular SSDs. There are things such as SATA Solid State Drives, M.2 Solid State Drives (PCIe-NVMe Solid State Drives are the same as M.2), and external Solid State Drives. Any of these SSDs will be a huge upgrade over basically any Hard Drive for your laptop, but PCIe-NVME is the fastest. The problem is most budget laptops don’t support M.2 or PCIE-NVMe, so you’ll have to settle with an SSD that connects through your laptop’s mSATA port.
Tips for buying a laptop SSD:
- The fastest laptops like the Dell XPS 13, Razer Blade, and all new Macbooks have PCIe-NVMe Solid State Drives. If your laptop came with a hard disk, it won’t have support for PCIe-NVMe SSDs.
- SSD sizes are pretty much standardized once you rule out the M.2 (PCIe-NVMe) standard, so just ensure your laptop has swappable hard drives and you’ll be good to go.
- Make sure your laptop supports SATA II 3Gbps or SATA III 6GBps. Most will have support for the latter, as SATA II is quite outdated.