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

The secrets behind iPhone 13’s Cinematic Mode

Together with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing as well as their Human Interface Designer

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For the first time ever, we had a three-way interview with Apple’s VP for iPhone Product Marketing, Kaiann Drance as well as one of their leading Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari. If you’re not starstruck enough, both of them appeared in Apple’s September 2021 Keynote event!

Other than new camera sensors, newer camera features are also found on the new iPhone 13 Series. One of those is the new Cinematic Mode.

If you’ve watched some of our latest iPhone videos including the Sierra Blue iPhone 12 Pro Max unboxing, we’ve let you take a sneak peek on that new video mode.

We’re not gonna lie, it’s one amazing camera feature Apple has managed to deliver.

But what are the secrets behind it? And are you curious how technicalities work?

Watch our 16-minute interview with the Apple executives explaining why Cinematic Mode is the next big thing in mobile videography.

 

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How Google alerted the Philippines during the July earthquake

Crowd-sourcing data

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Illustrations by Kris Blanco

Back in July, an earthquake rocked Metro Manila. Unbeknownst to most but noticed by some, a globally renowned company was helping everyone through the natural incident: Google. In the few minutes leading up to and during the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, Android users received important alerts warning them of the ongoing tremors. Though it wasn’t the dreaded Big One, the alert afforded attentive users a few precious seconds to either seek appropriate cover or stop doing dangerous tasks.

Incidentally, the tech surrounding Google’s earthquake alert system wasn’t just hastily built on ongoing databases or social media. Google actually packed in a fully responsive earthquake sensor for Android phones.

Faster than an earthquake

The forever-increasing speed of technology has always been a contentious element since the rise of smartphones. Developers and users alike have wondered how accurate or quick our favorite devices can warn us of things happening around us. There’s even an XKCD comic about how Twitter can warn us of an earthquake minutes before it reaches the reader.

Over the years, technology has developed new ways to deliver alerts. From simple weather apps to city-wide messaging systems, users can receive warnings in a timely fashion. Practically nothing is a surprise anymore with the right technology.

That said, Google has successfully developed a new system that can rely on other Android smartphones to accurately tell whether or not an earthquake is happening.

A quake detector in your pocket

Speaking to Android Police, the feature’s lead engineer Marc Stogaitis described how Google’s earthquake sensor leveraged other devices to tell users about the quake. It all revolves around the different sensors built inside your phone.

As it is, every smartphone comes with a host of sensors to support its different functions. A light detector can seamlessly adjust brightness and camera settings, and a gyroscope can support compasses, for example. With earthquakes, the biggest element to ponder on is a smartphone’s movement and vibrations during an earthquake.

According to the lead engineer, figuring out the metrics for detecting an earthquake wasn’t a problem. After decades of accurate seismograph technology, developers already have an idea on what they need to measure.

However, the technology does not stop there. Naturally, there are hiccups to relying on just a single (or even every) phone’s data. For one, a city-wide messaging system can set off everyone’s phone in a single area, potentially causing false positives. Plus, relying on a single phone is definitely tricky. There are multiple actions which can cause vibrations akin to an earthquake.

Crowdsourcing a quake

The feature doesn’t rely on just one phone. It doesn’t tap into every Android phone in an area either. Instead, it collates data from phones plugged into a charger. Naturally, a plugged-in phone is the most reliable barometer in terms of battery reliability. They won’t die out in the middle of an earthquake and ruin a source of data. Additionally, charging phones are often stationary. They won’t be affected by motions that mimic earthquakes.

Google “listens” to charging devices in an area. If the subset meets the criteria for an earthquake, the company quickly determines the earthquake’s epicenter (based on approximate location) and magnitude. Once the system declares that a quake is indeed happening, it sends out an alert to nearby devices and gives them the time needed to seek shelter.

The alerts naturally prioritize people nearer to the epicenter. But, of course, the speed will ultimately depend on the phone’s connectivity. A phone hooked up to a building’s fast Wi-Fi connection will receive alerts faster than a commuter’s phone on data while going through a tunnel.

Still, the short time that the alerts give users is enough to save themselves from a precarious situation. Though the feature can potentially warn users of quakes minutes in advance, Stogaitis says that it will more realistically push alerts five to ten seconds before the incident. However, five seconds is enough to go under a table and have some sort of protection against falling debris.

Still keeping things private

For anyone worrying about how Google is handling their data, Stogaitis says that the company removes all identifiers from the data except for approximate location. And, despite that, Google still maintains that the feature will be the most accurate that it can be. Either way, the feature will be useful for any earthquakes in the future.

The earthquake sensor is available for any Android phone running Lollipop and above. Naturally, the feature still necessitates that users turn on emergency alerts on their phone.

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Explainers

The industry’s next big thing: Cloud gaming explained

It’s gaming on the go, but for internet that’s not slow

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Everybody’s getting into gaming these days, and you can’t blame them. With the pandemic continuing its ravaging ways in the world, people turn to their consoles or PCs for some action. However, not everyone can afford all the expensive PCs and the next-gen consoles when they come out.

Instead, a new player comes into the fray with a pretty great idea. What would happen if you can just play your favorite games from any device? Also, what if we told you that this won’t take up space on your device at all? This is basically what cloud gaming offers to you: a way to play games from any device at any time!

So, how does that actually work? What do you need to ensure quality gameplay, and should you even consider it?

The basics of playing on a cloud

On paper, it’s pretty easy to understand how cloud gaming works. Basically, you have access to a library of games from a cloud storage service. When you subscribe to the service, you can virtually play your library from any device regardless of the specs. Also, you don’t have to worry about storage problems since these games are stored on a server.

It’s no joke when these companies tell you that you can play your games on any device. With their dedicated data servers, they make sure that the games run smoothly once you access them from the cloud. On your end, you will need a strong and consistent internet connection to play the games smoothly.

Several companies already have cloud gaming software available for people to subscribe to. Some examples include NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, Microsoft’s xCloud, and Google Stadia — all of which store PC games on a server. These companies even take the time to update their server hardware every so often to bring the best possible quality.

System requirements for cloud gaming

Much like your ordinary PC or gaming console, companies that run cloud gaming servers need certain equipment to run smoothly. First, these companies must set up active data centers and server farms that run the games. These data centers ensure that games are up and running, while reducing latency. In other words, these serve as the powerhouse of cloud gaming.

Next on the list is the network infrastructure necessary to send these to the users. To ensure that people don’t experience lags when they play their games, companies also invest in acquiring proper data connections. However, in most cases, this isn’t something these companies have control over; it’s mostly coming from their available internet service providers.

On the front-end, companies also provide dedicated hardware and software to house the cloud. For example, NVIDIA integrated GeForce Now into their own cloud streaming device, the NVIDIA Shield back in 2013. Meanwhile, Google Stadia relies heavily on using pre-existing Google software like Google Chrome and the Stadia App.

Something great to offer, for the most part

Cloud gaming services offer something unique in the industry. Essentially, it eliminates the user from investing so much into buying expensive PCs as it allows people to play from virtually any device. Whether it’s on a smartphone, laptop, or even a smart TV, people get access to games at high frame rates without an RTX 3080.

Furthermore, the game and save files are stored on the cloud, and don’t take up any storage on your devices. This is greatly beneficial for people who are already running on limited storage space, especially if they play Call of Duty: Warzone. With everything stored on the cloud, you don’t need most of the 512GB of SSD storage.

However, one of the biggest issues with cloud gaming revolves around the thing it’s based on: the internet. Specifically, it’s on the user’s internet connection as these services require the fastest internet to run smoothly on any device. Basically, you will need either an Ethernet or a 5G wireless connection to ensure the lowest latency possible.

That infrastructure isn’t readily available in most markets, which is a prominent issue among several third-world countries. Furthermore, even if there are companies that have 5G in their pipeline, these same providers also put data caps on it. Even if the user can play at an optimal frame rate, they’re doing so with a restriction in place.

Does this new player have any place?

With the world continuously opening its arms to the gaming industry, innovation becomes the forefront of success. Companies come up with a variety of gaming technologies that seek to cater to a wide variety of people. From individual hardware to pre-built systems, gaming often revolved around these things.

With cloud gaming, it gives people not just another option within the mix. Rather, it seeks to challenge the notion of availability and accessibility, and give it a viable solution. Essentially, it takes away the physical hardware limitations on the user’s end, and makes it available for everyone.

But like most gaming technologies, everything is still limited somehow. These systems still experience bottlenecks both on the manufacturer and the user’s end. In the end, it will depend on how much you’re willing to shell out for them, and how willing you are to accept the risks.

Illustrations by Raniedel Fajardo

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