Fancy experimenting with an SSD, but can't afford one? Josh Blodwell shows you how to make a silent and robust storage drive on the cheap.
You have to love the way that technology plummets in price once it's established. Just a few years ago it would have cost you more than £100 for an 80GB hard drive, or a scant few megabytes of storage on a USB key, but you can now pick up a 250GB hard drive for just over £30. There's one area in which prices haven't yet dropped to such affordable levels, though, and that's solid-state drives (SSDs). However, if you're prepared to sacrifice speed, you can make your own SSD for as little as £20.
SSDs offer several advantages over hard drives. For a start, SSDs have no moving parts, so they're silent. With no powerful motors, they also use less energy and produce little heat. The lack of moving parts also means that they're more rugged than traditional drives, making them great for using in an in-car computer.
The main reason for the high price of SSDs, however, is the blinding speeds that they're able to achieve. At the top of the heap, drives such as the Gigabyte i-RAM use banks of traditional DIMMs linked to a fast S-ATA controller with battery backup. However, this means that you can end up paying £20 per gigabyte, on top of the cost of the i-RAM. SSDs such as Samsung's 32GB Flash SSD use high-speed flash memory and are also pricey.
However, if you want the silence and robust qualities of an SSD, and aren't concerned about transfer speeds, you could just buy an 8GB Compact Flash (CF) card on eBay for £10 or so, and use that. CF cards are still widely used, and they don't cost much, as they're based on an old technology. In fact, while browsing eBay, we found 1GB cards for a fiver and 16GB cards for £30. In the US, the kit is even cheaper - we had no problems finding 8GB CF cards for just a couple of dollars, and the adaptors for $5.
The smaller cards are large enough to accommodate a small Linux client, while the large 16GB cards would hold Windows and software. You could even go so far as to install Vista, although the transfer speeds could cause you serious problems. For this guide, we used an 8GB card that cost £12.99, plus £4.99 for postage; this is large enough to accommodate Windows XP, and some large applications or media files.