Explainers

SSD and HDD: What’s the difference?

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For the past few years, solid-state drives (SSDs) have become quite popular in the computing world, mostly because of how fast they are compared to hard disk drives (HDDs). So, what exactly sets an SSD apart from an HDD?

Nowadays, computers use non-volatile medium for storage, which means data that’s stored in it doesn’t get lost once the computer shuts down. Storage for modern-day computers and notebooks have been handled by hard disk drives for the longest time and it’s only now, with SSDs becoming more affordable, that consumers are seeing a different storage medium in their computers.


Hard disk drives have mechanical parts

If you aren’t familiar, hard disk drives store data on circular disks made up of aluminum, glass, or ceramic that are coated with a magnetic layer, often called platters. Since these platters are responsible for holding the data, the storage capacity of an HDD is dependent on how many platters it has.

The big disks are the platters and the arm hovering above is the actuator arm.

When the computer’s processor sends out instructions to read and write data, the motor on the drive moves the actuator arm across the platter. At the end of the actuator arm are the read/write heads which are made up of tiny magnets responsible for reading data already stored on the platter or writing new data on the empty spaces on the platter. The combined movement of the actuator arm and the rotation of the platter allows the computer to read and write data, which is kind of like the arm of a record player touching a vinyl record to play music.

Having all these moving parts means an HDD’s read and write speed is dependent on how fast the platters can rotate and how fast the actuator arm can track locations on the platter. These parts can only move up to a certain speed or else they’ll break down, and nobody wants a broken storage device. As with all mechanical parts, heat and noise are by-products of their movements, which is why an HDD can become hot and/or noisy during operation.

Solid-state drives have no moving parts

From its name, an SSD is a drive that uses a type of solid-state storage called flash memory, which is also a non-volatile storage medium, to store and retrieve data. Each flash memory chip found in the circuit board of an SSD contains memory cells that are made up of floating-gate transistors, which are a special type of transistor that can store or discharge an electrical charge in its cage-like part called the floating gate. The storing capability of these transistors is what allows the data to remain, even when there’s no electricity flowing through them.

Inside an SSD is a circuit board with a bunch of embedded chips, including the flash memory, controller, and cache.

As mentioned, an SSD doesn’t have moving parts like the actuator arm and motors of an HDD. Instead, it has an embedded processor called a controller. Much like the computer’s processor, the controller does all the heavy lifting, as it’s the one responsible for locating the blocks of memory where data can be read or written to.

This is also the reason why SSDs perform faster than HDDs; since they don’t need to wait for any moving parts to read or write data, the controller just needs to receive the instructions from the computer’s processor and it can start reading or writing data.

SSDs may not suffer from a mechanical breakdown, but they’re far from faultless. Flash memory can only have data written and erased a finite number of times before its cells degrade and become unreliable. This means an SSD can only write a certain amount of data before it fails, which is why SSD specification sheets typically include Terabytes Written (TBW), so consumers know how much data can be written into the drive before it eventually fails. However, SSDs these days can last more than ten years in typical day-to-day usage.

Both storage mediums have pros and cons

So, is a solid-state drive better than a hard disk drive, or vice-versa? Sadly, there’s no simple answer to this question, as it all depends on the needs of the consumer, which usually involves speed and storage capacity.

On one hand, if a person wants faster read/write times, an SSD is the clear winner, but you’ll lose out on storage capacity, since most SSDs today start from 120GB and can only go up to 1TB or 2TB. Mind you, those high-capacity SSDs will surely burn a big hole in your wallet.

On the other hand, if a person values capacity more, an HDD is the better option, with drives typically ranging from 500GB to 6TB of storage capacity for mainstream HDDs. Also, HDDs don’t cost an arm and a leg compared to SSDs if you want to get large-capacity ones.

With these in mind, there’s no stopping consumers from having both an SSD and an HDD in the same system. Setting up an SSD as your main drive with the operating system and other important software, while having a secondary HDD to store all your media and personal files, would net you the best of both worlds: a speedy system boot up without sacrificing storage space.

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Explainers

A phone’s water protection plan: IP ratings explained

It doesn’t give you the right to dunk it in water, though

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Illustration by MJ Jucutan

If you plan to bring your phone to a beach trip with your friends, you normally bring a pouch with you. The main function of that pouch is to protect your phone from contact with any liquid while you enjoy the waves. Of course, it doesn’t fully guarantee that water won’t seep through it — especially when a big wave crashes on you and opens the pouch. But, it does give a sense of safety and security for your beloved smartphone.

That’s the whole concept behind an IP rating that’s given to most smartphones today. Nowadays, you hear a lot about these smartphones being advertised with IP68 ratings. But, what does an IP68 rating actually mean? Is it worth something to consider when buying a new smartphone?


What is an IP rating?

IP ratings are not new in the tech world. In fact, a lot of the electrical appliances and technologies you have at home come with it. An IP rating, or ingress protection rating basically tells you the level of protection any electrical device has against solid and liquid objects. It acts as a security measure to determine what objects the device can handle without malfunctioning.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) gives out these ratings to manufacturers as a safety measure for production. It consists of two numbers that describe its protection against a vast number of objects, even human touch. The first number denotes a device’s protection against common solid objects and dust. Meanwhile, the second number denotes a device’s protection against liquids, even steam-jet liquids. The higher the number, the more protection it gets!

IP ratings are not just present in most recent smartphones. Things like electrical sockets, cameras, even phone cases come with IP ratings, as well. 

The reason it exists

Manufacturers and consumers see an IP rating quite differently. Those two numbers ultimately stand for how well your device can stand against, well anything. For manufacturers, an IP rating basically gives them a standard to follow when producing more devices. Before shipping their latest smartphones, they subject their devices to numerous tests to validate their IP ratings.

Also, it gives a more concrete way of stating that their devices are resistant to such objects. When you come across smartphones that claim to be water resistant, oftentimes you tend to ask just how resistant it is. With manufacturers, the IP rating gives a more definitive measure to that claim. For example, a smartphone with an IP68 rating is heavily protected against dust, and you can submerge it in waters deeper than a meter — perfect for beach trips.

Las Cabanas Beach Resort, Maramegmeg Beach, El Nido

For consumers, the IP rating just provides a peace of mind when buying a new smartphone. It’s basically placed there to tell you that your phone can still be used even if you subject it to too much dust or water that’s too deep. You see this in most YouTube videos or channels that basically bend, scratch, and dunk phones in buckets of water. In the end, you won’t have to worry about destroying your phone that much when you go on that beach trip without a pouch.

Some manufacturers simply don’t need the rating

However, there are manufacturers that simply found the rating unnecessary or simply just a marketing tool. Companies like OnePlus even did an entire ad that showed off their new flagship devices, the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro without an IP rating. The whole issue sparked debates on whether or not IP ratings do make sense, or companies could simply do without them.

OnePlus argues that one reason their new smartphones don’t have an IP rating is because of the cost to get one. Even simply requesting for a phone for consideration costs a lot on the manufacturing side, which ultimately bumps up the phone’s price. Pete Lau, one of the co-founders of the company estimated the cost for getting an IP rating is at US$ 30. Of course, it is entirely up to the consumer’s view of its value to the overall product.

The other reason is because of the coverage of the device’s warranty, particularly towards water damage. OnePlus claims that even if smartphones have IP ratings that show how resistant they are to water, water damage isn’t fully covered by its warranty. This also furthers their argument on why they wouldn’t want to spend on getting one in the first place. An IP rating is not a legitimate reason for people to have their phones fixed for free after dunking them in buckets of water.

To them, it does not make sense to simply attach an IP rating onto a phone even as a marketing tool. It gives off the wrong impression that the device is waterproof when the rating basically leans towards phones being water resistant.

Do we really need to know the IP rating? 

The IEC created IP ratings for everyone’s protection — from manufacturers to consumers. The whole purpose of having an IP rating is to provide a level of protection for anything electrical, smartphones included. It ensures the safety of everyone, but it’s not a way to bail anyone out when they dunk their phones in water.

While some may argue that it helps to know what your device’s IP rating is for better care, others just see it as a marketing ploy. It only seeks to sell a device perceived to be waterproof according to a standard. However, IP ratings were not meant to waterproof your phone by any means. It’s there to tell you that your phone can handle water, just possibly not too much.

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves whether we truly see the value in having these IP ratings. Whether or not your preferred device has an IP rating, just remember: it’s not a reason for you to exploit your phone.

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Enterprise

Huawei vs the US: A timeline

An FAQ on Huawei’s problems

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Who’s afraid of Huawei? Right now, everyone is. Does anyone really know why?

Since 2017, the US has dealt continuous blows against the Chinese company. More than two years later, the war is still in full swing. Both sides have fired multiple salvos against the other. Still, despite the conflict’s longevity, most people are not really sure what’s happening.


Why are they fighting? Should we stay away from Huawei? Is it time to get rid of our Huawei devices as soon as possible? Should we really fear for our cybersecurity?

For ordinary consumers, the entire Huawei debacle is mired in political lingo and endless controversy. It’s time to clear the air. What’s up, Huawei?

How did this all begin?

Let’s go back to where it all started. In late 2017, American lawmakers reviewed the businesses of ZTE, another Chinese tech company. Soon after, the investigation unveiled a flurry of shady business deals involving Iran. By law, companies operating in the US are not allowed to communicate with blacklisted countries including North Korea and Iran. Naturally, the violation caused monumental sanctions against ZTE. The US banned ZTE from American soil — effectively, the same ban on Huawei today.

At this time, Huawei was just a moderately innocent passerby stuck between two fighting giants. At most, Huawei was accused of spying on its customers. American lawmakers proposed a boycott of Huawei’s products. The proposal drew from the emerging rise of Sinophobia. Still, at the time, the US government’s eyes were firmly on ZTE.

Current restrictions prevent Huawei from providing 5G technologies to American consumers

In its infancy, the Huawei-ZTE issue was a product of a small fear. It still hadn’t affected everyone. In fact, US President Donald Trump even tried to save both companies from utter destruction. Both companies enjoyed a reprieve from America’s ire. However, this was short-lived.

In a surprising about-face, Trump started his controversial trade war against China. The American leader abandoned his salvific efforts. Instead, he adopted an incredibly aggressive push against Chinese companies. Unsurprisingly, ZTE already crumbled from the initial push, leaving Trump without a company to make an example out of.

Trump set his sights on Huawei, the world’s second largest smartphone maker. His weapon: the same ban meant for ZTE. His motive: potential cybersecurity issues. This time, America means business. Recently, Trump finally pulled the trigger, enacting a total ban against Huawei on American soil. However, instead of just the US, Trump has been lobbying for a similar ban on other countries. Since then, Huawei has suffered a world of hurt.

What does the ban mean?

Naturally, a “total ban” sounds daunting. Banning Huawei smells like certain doom for the tech giant but what does the ban really mean?

When enforced, Huawei can no longer deal with American companies. To Huawei’s dismay, the tech maker uses a fair number of American components in its products. Most notably, Huawei’s smartphones come with Google’s Android. The ban will prevent Huawei from using the operating system going forward. On paper, this is a huge deal. Android remains the world’s biggest operating system. A lot of consumers trust Android. Huawei is losing a massive chunk of its package with the loss.

As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook — and its slew of apps — have withdrawn from Huawei’s products. The company’s smartphones will no longer have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp installed out of the box. The threat is becoming real.

Huawei makes its own chipsets but relies on several American companies for other components

Additionally, Intel, Broadcom, and Qualcomm have blacklisted Huawei after Google’s announcement. Huawei has also lost the support of the ubiquitous ARM chip architecture.

It’s not looking good for the Chinese company. Huawei is slowly being dismembered. Faced with an army of bans, it’s natural to worry about Huawei. Worst case scenario, Huawei will become a mere shadow of its former self, devoid of the components that helped its recent success.

Should we really worry, though?

Not just yet. Right now, Huawei is enjoying a temporary reprieve. Soon after the initial ban, the American government granted the company a three-month extension. Until around the end of August, Huawei can still operate with its current partnerships. Except Facebook, its devices will still ship with the same components we love. At least for the near future, Huawei is safe.

In the meantime, Huawei is hunting for adequate alternatives for its failing parts. This means a new operating system, new chips, and likely an entirely new package. To its credit, Huawei’s development team is working around the clock. Only a month removed from ground zero, they are already promising optimistic developments for the future. Huawei remains confident in their future, launching a bevy of new phones amidst the controversy.

Likewise, some American companies are also lamenting the loss of business. Before the ban, Huawei was a loyal customer, delivering American components to a massive global audience. They aren’t happy with Trump’s ban. For one, Google has publicly defended Huawei. According to them, Huawei’s — and subsequently, the world’s — cybersecurity standards will collapse without a collaboration between international companies. With Android, Google can act as Huawei’s checks and balances against potential cybersecurity threats from malicious forces. If anything, Huawei still has its share of public defenders.

The US ban will prevent Huawei from using Android as its operating system moving forward

Most importantly, Trump still has the power to reverse the ban before the 90-day extension runs out. If China and the US reach a meeting point, all might go back to normal. Though uncertain, it’s too early to give up on Huawei just yet.

What will Huawei 2.0 look like?

Unfortunately, Huawei’s future is muddled with uncertainty. This includes any potential iterations in the future. As far as we know, Huawei isn’t bleeding from the multitude of losses. The company has reinforced its Kirin chipsets. Further, they are developing their own dedicated operating system codenamed Ark OS.

Other than that, there’s not much to go on. Speculatively, the biggest changes will come from its app supports. If Google leaves, Huawei will be left without the Play Store’s support and security. The Chinese company will have to rely on its own native software to power their phones. Unfortunately, an all-Chinese ecosystem is less than ideal for most. In fact, having one might even justify the American Sinophobia. But again, it’s all up in the air.

I have a Huawei phone. Should I just sell it?

No, you still shouldn’t. The grey market is already doubling down against the onslaught of Huawei returns. If you don’t know a willing contact, finding a buyer will be difficult. If you do find one, you’ll receive only a mere fraction of what you paid for.

At its current iteration, Huawei’s phones are still on top. They are a delight to hold and use, and if anything, have challenged its competitors to offer better value to consumers over the years. Right now, it’s best to play the long game. Wait and see what happens. If anything, Huawei — and its official partners — already has an insurance policy in place. Several retailers have declared a 100 percent refund policy in countries like Singapore. If Google cuts the cord, Huawei users can get their money back.

Similarly, Google has promised Android Q support for existing Huawei handsets. Just this week Huawei also announced the rollout of Android-based EMUI 9.1 to older models. If you already own one, a Huawei phone shouldn’t be an immediate cause for panic.

So, should we really be worried about Huawei?

Understandably, uncertainty isn’t an ideal for everyone. Huawei’s troubles are an excruciating thorn for both businesses and consumers alike. Switching to another brand is a natural solution against the company’s shaky future. However, if you’re looking at the silver lining, worrying is likely a premature reaction. If you’re not a Huawei user, the controversies shouldn’t affect you. If you’re already a Huawei user or looking to buy a Huawei device, it will likely pay off to play a longer strategy. After all, Huawei devices are still some of the best smartphones you can buy on the market.

Editor’s Note: Looks like we really shouldn’t worry after all. Not even an entire day has passed since this article was originally published but Huawei no longer banned in the US. Rejoice, Huawei users!

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Computers

Explaining OLED screens and Dark Mode

Why that screen fits in the dark

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Most of the applications you’re currently using must have rolled out their own version of dark mode by now. The smooth transition from a light to dark interface can be done through a push of a button, or by sending the moon emoji on Messenger. A lot of people also find dark mode quite sexy, and that’s probably because of the screen they’re looking at.

A lot of newly released smartphones now have OLED screens, and dark mode seems to work best on such displays! But why is that? How do OLED panels allow dark mode to flourish?


Better, blacker, affordable screens

Organic LED (light-emitting diode) or OLED is essentially a kind of display technology. In a nutshell, OLED panels allow for better and clearer images and colors.

Thin layers of carbon fiber make up OLED screens. Because of these lightweight fibers, screens show brighter and more vibrant colors. Apart from that, OLED screens show deeper blacks and reduce instances of motion blur when navigating. The best part is that OLED screens are becoming gradually cheaper to manufacture. That explains why more and more of today’s smartphones use this panel.

More colorful than the rest

In comparison to regular LED screens of the past, OLED promises more accurate colors by producing light from individual pixels, instead of relying on backlighting. Back then, LCD screens relied heavily on the backlight of the display to make colors pop. Although, such displays also make the colors seem washed, especially when compared to OLED.

Image credit: Denise Chan

However, OLED’s colors don’t always turn out better than on LED and LCD screens. One such case is when you turn your screen’s brightness to its maximum, especially under strong daylight conditions. LED and LCD screens are designed to perform relatively better in color accuracy when your screen’s brightness is set to max. OLED screens were not designed for maximum brightness, so colors at that point would be saturated.

Which OLED is best?

There are two types of OLED technologies that currently exist: AMOLED and PMOLED. A lot of people hear AMOLED tossed around a lot because lots of smartphones use it. Essentially, AMOLED uses a storage capacitor that controls how much light each individual pixel will give off. It’s the one responsible for projecting all sorts of vibrant colors on most OLED smartphone screens. Apart from that, AMOLED screens do support wider resolutions at a more affordable and efficient rate.

PMOLED, on the other hand, does not have a storage capacitor and instead relies on user control. Essentially, the user will control lighting settings, and the individual pixels will adjust accordingly. You can find PMOLED screens on smaller devices like older iPods and pocket Wi-Fi devices. Take note that these screens use more power to implement such color changes.

Joining the dark side

Ever since dark mode rolled out for different apps and interfaces, people have been contemplating on switching to it — and for good reason. On normal LED or LCD screens, the new feature does not bode well with the technology. The depth of the black their dark mode possesses is not reflected well, to the point that the blacks look more gray than actual black. This is much more obvious when the screen’s brightness is turned all the way up.

Image credit: Mike Enerio

Aesthetically, dark mode looks better on OLED screens because of the technology’s emphasis on deeper blacks. Most OLED screens have capacitors that control light passing through each pixel, which also works for blacks and whites. As such, dark mode shows up deeper and blacker, which is the intended look compared to regular modes. But, there’s actually more to just aesthetics for this mode.

It’s also been proven that dark mode on OLED helps save your battery life. Google confirmed this at its Android Dev Summit, citing that on max brightness, blacks consume less power than all other colors. Individual pixels need less electricity to show blacks on screen, which results in lower power consumption through time. Note that Google got these findings through tests on their original Pixel smartphones and their own apps like YouTube.

What’s left for OLED and dark mode

Apps and operating systems are now starting to embrace or consider incorporating dark mode into their software. While apps like Twitter and YouTube introduced such an option early on, others are beginning to take notice. Of course, you’re gonna need the right screen to fully immerse yourself.

Image credit: Simone Dalmeri

It has been proven: OLED and dark mode are indeed a perfect match. But, it is entirely up to you whether you want to stay in the light or switch to the dark side.

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