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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Enterprise

Why is Amazon starting a $250 million venture fund in India?

Aims to bring 1 million offline stores online by 2025

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Amazon has announced a US$ 250 million venture fund called Amazon Smbhav Venture Fund that’ll invest in small and medium-sized businesses. The goal is to boost India’s export by using technology and the marketplace’s reach.

Amazon Smbhav will be focusing on the digitization of small businesses, agri-tech innovations to raise farmer productivity, and health tech for quality universal healthcare. The fund was announced at Amazon India’s annual Smbhav Summit.

It intends to tap offline sellers and professionals via the fund and on onboarding a million shops by 2025. Another initiative is “Spotlight NorthEast,” which will bring 50,000 artisans, weavers, and small businesses online from India’s North-Eastern states. The region is known for its local produce like honey, tea, and spices.

The announcement came at a fireside chat at the summit between Andy Jassy, incoming CEO of Amazon and Amit Agarwal, Global Senior VP and Country Head, Amazon India. They also revealed the first bet Amazon was making through the new fund — invoice discounting platform M1xchange, in which it has led a $10 million investment.

Amazon said it created close to 300,000 jobs since January 2020 and one million in total. It also boasted of having almost 70,000 sellers, exporting Indian goods to other markets totaling US$ 3 billion in sales.

The timing of Amazon India’s announcement is key because the e-commerce companies have been barred from delivering in the state of Maharashtra amid a Coronavirus-led curfew. While the restrictions are regional, businesses are unable to get necessary and basic supplies. In a work-from-home world, getting an emergency mice/keyboard or mattress should be easy via digitization, but there are antitrust concerns.

Due to a lockdown, offline sellers cannot operate and thus, don’t want online businesses to eat their share. The Narendra Modi-led government has historically sided with the offline traders since they constitute a majority of India’s market. The offline market is still the king, and the gap between the two is very substantial.

If online players operate exclusively for too long, they’ll start gobbling up market share gradually, killing the smaller businesses. While the aim is to maintain a level-playing field, the current rules aren’t helping anybody at the end of the day. The region also fails to collect indirect taxes over the possible transactions, leading to a cash crunch while the pandemic rages.

The FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) rules for the retail market were changed in 2019, meaning Amazon India could no longer directly sell its products. It had to act like a marketplace to maintain healthy competition since 100 percent FDI is allowed in e-commerce as a tech platform, but not as a retailer.

Thanks to the fund, Amazon can show its commitment to India and its initiatives to encourage online trade. India’s new farm laws also make it easier for private companies to invest in agriculture or partner with farmers for contracts.

Amazon had announced an investment of US$1 billion in January 2020 and its purpose was also the same — digitizing India’s small and medium businesses. Founder Jeff Bezos had said back then, “We are doing this now because it is working. And when something works you should double down on it.”

For now, the concerns of a monopoly are diminished because Amazon is going up against India’s homegrown Flipkart, which Walmart now backs. Reliance is also eyeing this segment and has already kicked off a hyperlocal service called JioMart. Lastly, many other retailers like Dmart, Tata CliQ + Bigbasket, and Grofers are available.

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Explainers

Apple explains how your data is used for tracking everyday

And how an iPhone actively protects you

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Apple has always maintained that it values privacy the most and intends to protect its users from possible threats. This philosophy has also created an urban legend that macOS doesn’t get affected by viruses. However, it’s a testament to Apple’s long history of strict security and anti-tracking policies.

The Cupertino-based giant has released a report titled “A Day in the Life of Your Data.”  The easy-to-understand guide explains how apps collect data in the background while we’re just going about our routine. Apple highlights a few day-to-day instances when background data is actively being collected and then processed to deliver optimized ads for you.

A Day in the Life of Your Data

John and his 7-year-old daughter, Emma, are planning to go to the park. John searches up the weather, reads the news, and checks the map for traffic updates. During the ride, four apps track his location passively (this could be Google Maps, Uber, Grab, or even Fitbit) and sending the metadata to the ad targeting company. Within minutes, Emma, who’s playing a game on the iPad, comes across a scooter ad. Emma’s response is closely monitored, and based on it, the ad company can collect metrics like CTR (click-through rate) and cost per engagement.

Information tracked across various apps can be shared among data brokers, making it easier for advertisers to target you. When the duo clicks a selfie in the park, image editing apps can access the image’s metadata and understand what’s in the picture. When the picture is posted online, John’s data like geolocation, email, and phone number are now available to advertisers (via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

Even an Ice Cream stop becomes heaven for apps since they can now monitor transactions and credit card-related usage (banking and financial services apps). How much John has spent is critical to understanding his lifestyle, in turn, bombarding him with more relevant and price-conscious ads. Advertisers also know that Emma loves sugary treats, and more ads shall be delivered to leverage that.


While this may sound like a dystopian story right now, it’s how the digital advertising industry works. Facebook is among the first ones to tap its true potential, and so are all other companies that offer free services — Google, Yahoo, Bing, and many more.

Google’s Android operating system is open-source and far convenient for developers to tinker around with. There have been numerous cases of rogue apps that secretly collect sensitive information and misuse and it. In fact, a recent report showed that Android phones collect and send 20x more data than Apple’s iOS.

Apple says that trackers are embedded in apps you use every day, and the average app has 6 trackers. And, developers use trackers so that third parties can also access it and act like a broker between multiple channels. Acxiom is one such broker, and it has data on 700 million users worldwide. The exchange of information can go to advertising networks, advertising publishers, attribution and measurement providers, data brokers, other private companies, and even governmental organizations.

At the end of the day, John and Emma ended up updating their profiles on a plethora of companies’ databases without ever interacting with them. It’s safe to assume that we all have a profile with these companies and have already been exposed. However, we can choose to be more careful with our data and ensure that only the companies we trust have access to it.

Apple says it has taken multiple steps like data minimization, on-device processing, user transparency and control, and hardware-software integrity. The four steps ensure minimal data is offloaded from the phone and sent to third-party servers. The company has also highlighted a few ways John and Emma would’ve been safe with Apple’s safeguards:

  • If the user chooses Safari to get the weather via Safari, Intelligent Tracking Prevention will prevent tracking.
  • For news, Apple News ensures his interests are not sent to third parties.
  • Apple Maps is linked to a random identifier, so it’s regularly reset and does not divulge the users’ details.
  • Using an iPhone would automatically alert you about apps that are collecting location details in the background.
  • And lastly, using an Apple Card to pay won’t spill your transaction details to other banking or financial apps.

Most importantly, the App Tracking Transparency feature will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies. Ad networks that use SKAdNetwork API will collect ad analytics without the users’ personal metadata.

Google has also added similar tools in Android to let you control the flow of data. But it’s not as sophisticated as iOS, and apps often have a free run in the background.

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What you need to know about Elon Musk’s Starlink

The much-awaited internet service is coming sooner than later

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Image by GadgetMatch

Over the last few weeks, reports started pouring in about the possible arrival of Starlink internet service to the Philippines under a partnership between Converge ICT and SpaceX. These reports came after a senator’s meeting with representatives of SpaceX discussing the benefits, possible timeline, and requirements needed from the internet service.

These reports quickly became the talk of the town especially with the frenzy surrounding Starlink. You may have heard it before given the media attention it had received in the past. SpaceX — the company behind Starlink — promised fast network speeds and coverage almost anywhere around the planet with its internet service. There’s so much more to that though, so here are the things you need to know.

What is Starlink?

For those out of the loop, Starlink is a satellite internet service provided by SpaceX. SpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk that builds next-gen space exploration technologies. The company is also behind the high-profile launches of reusable rockets as well its plans to bring people to Mars.

Starlink works through a constellation of small satellites. These satellites are placed in low to medium Earth orbit, communicating signals through an array of antennas and lasers. They work in tandem with dedicated ground transceivers to receive from and transmit signals to the satellites. In effect, the internet service relies on satellites instead of physical cables to provide an internet connection to consumers.

Image by GadgetMatch

The technology behind Starlink is not a novel one, with the first satellite internet service dating back to the 1990s. However, most of these services ultimately failed due to logistical constraints and the prohibitive costs involved in setting things up. Granted, there had been few services that have seen some success but their adoption is few and far between. Reducing latency and lowering costs for consumers remain major challenges to many satellite internet providers.

Wanting to improve the whole situation, SpaceX began product development of Starlink in 2015. By 2018, it began testing its satellites which culminated in the launch of operational ones last 2019. Just last year, the company reached a milestone by launching up to 60 satellites at a time. This 2021, it is setting its sights for the global coverage of the populated world. Ultimately, SpaceX aims to put about 42,000 satellites in orbit in the future.

One goal of Starlink is to provide people in remote areas with a fast and reliable internet connection, which means a lot for developing countries like the Philippines.

How do I sign-up for the service?

Right now, the company is offering a limited beta service in the US and Canada. If you live in areas where the service is available, you can go ahead and sign-up for the service on Starlink’s website. Not all who signed up can avail of the service though since they are limiting their users at the moment on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you’re lucky, you may receive an email containing further instructions.

What does it feel like to use the service?

During its beta phase, Starlink claims speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps. Latency — which is also a crucial factor in internet-related tasks such as gaming and streaming — ranges from 20ms to 40ms. These figures are far from the advertised 1Gbps speed, as well as the advertised latency of 25ms to 35ms.

Still, those figures are fast enough for everyday use, especially when compared to other satellite internet services. Those figures are also close to the actual experiences by people participating in the limited beta service. For its part, Starlink promises continued improvement to network speed, latency, and software.

Image by GadgetMatch

At the moment, the cost of signing up for Starlink is much higher than availing of a cable internet connection. The satellite setup kit is reported to cost around US$ 499 (PhP 24,000) while monthly fees start at US$ 99 (PhP 5,000). In comparison, PLDT’s internet plans max out at PhP 6,099 for 300Mbps while Globe’s internet plans max out at PhP 9,499 for 1Gbps.

To get connected, Starlink users must configure their setup kits and download the respective app. Each setup kit consists of the satellite dish, Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables, and a mounting tripod.

A clear view of the sky is also a prerequisite for a stable connection. As a note, weather disturbances can affect the connection between the user and the satellite infrastructure.

Starlink also requires its setup equipment to be stationary at all times. This is unlike cellular networks, which are designed to be mobile. While it offers a “wireless” connection to the internet, it still is “fixed” in the sense that it requires constant communication between the transceiver (the satellite dish) and the orbiting satellites.

When is it really coming to the Philippines?

Recent reports suggest that Starlink is coming soon to the country, but no definitive timeline has been given. Rumors suggested that the service will arrive later in Q3 2021. The most recent development squash any hopes of imminent arrival though, with Converge ICT stating that the partnership is still “premature”.

During the later weeks of February, however, Filipinos who signed up for Starlink started receiving a reservation email. The reservation fee costs around US$ 99 (approximately PhP 5,000) though it is fully refundable too. The email also details a possible coverage of the whole country by 2022. The exact date, however, remains unclear at the moment.

Likewise, the internet service still has many obstacles towards its widespread adoption in the country. The initial cost for would-be subscribers comes to mind. As mentioned, the approximate cost of Starlink hovers at PhP 24,000 with a monthly fee amounting to PhP 5,000. For that cost, you are getting better speeds with local telco offerings.

Despite its high cost, the promise of a fast and reliable internet connection is tempting especially in far-flung areas. Reaching out to these far-flung areas is a major challenge for all local telcos since the necessary physical infrastructure is non-existent or hard to setup.  Starlink could reach these areas easily, providing internet connection to those willing to shell out money.

Are there any other things that I should know about the service?

Starlink has garnered some concerns as well, with most directed towards its potential to cause light pollution. The potential to contribute to light pollution is a particular concern for astronomers. Apparently, Starlink’s satellites are bright enough to leave a trail of light, “photobombing” shots of the night sky. To this end, SpaceX said that it is already working on a solution to amend the problem.

As Starlink continues to push forward, more and more people are hoping to get aboard with the service. After all, a fast and reliable internet connection is still far from reality for many people living in remote areas. Hopefully, the service would come sooner as this will greatly improve the current situation of the internet in the Philippines.

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