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PC builders, just let Microsoft do good for once
Going SSD-only would be a major change for Windows, it's already underway and it matters - here's why
This is one of those stories that have been flying under the radar for a few days now but may prove to be way more important than most of the “official news” tech companies want to be published these days. So: according to Tom’s Hardware there’s a Trendfocus executive brief — there’s no link yet this particular website can be trusted— where PC manufacturers disclose Microsoft’s push into their dropping hard disk drives as primary storage devices on new Windows 11 computers and exclusively adopting solid-state drives instead. What’s more, this has been going on for almost a year now and, according to the same brief, the company may be planning to actually enforce this switchover at some point in the second half of 2023.
To be clear, Microsoft is in no position to strong-arm PC builders of all shapes and sizes into not including hard disk drives in their configurations: it is “strongly suggesting” that the boot disk, i.e. the disk where Windows are installed, should be an SSD, not an HDD. Microsoft’s request only has to do with (a) new PCs and (b) Windows 11. The company has not included such a prerequisite in the system requirements of its latest operating system — for now — but, since Microsoft hasn’t done so for the better part of a year, it is unlikely that it will try to enforce this on the current userbase of Windows 11. Consumers and OEMs are approached differently by the company in all matters, though, so Microsoft could actually make the use of an SSD for Windows 11 mandatory in every new PC next year.
PC builders have been actively resisting Microsoft’s push for SSD-based computers: the company’s original plan was to make SSDs mandatory for Windows 11 at some point in 2022 and it was OEMs that negotiated this delay to the second half of 2023. According to Tom’s Hardware, PC builders claim that the issue with switching all systems to SSDs boils down to cost: “Trendfocus Vice President John Chen”, notes the publication, “says that replacing a 1TB HDD requires stepping down to a low-cost 256 GB SSD, which OEMs don’t consider to be enough capacity for most users” (they may have a point there). Chen also notes that stepping up to a 512 GB SSD would “break the budget” for lower-end machines with a strict price limit. That may also be true, to some extent, although if all new PCs are fitted with SSDs in a year’s time, isn’t the price of said SSDs likely to fall as a result?
What is not just obvious, but absolutely necessary, is this: PC builders should do all they can to help Microsoft on this matter instead of resisting it. If there’s one thing the Redmond giant would be right to require for Windows 11, is this: SSD-based operation for a modern operating system. It hasn’t been clear at any point during their development or marketing push whether Windows 11 make better use of SSDs than Windows 10, but even the most basic solid-state drives — the big SATA3 ones, for instance — are so much better at handling any version of Windows that hard drives should not have been used for that for years now. It is that simple. So yes, now is as good a time as any for the computer market to switch to SSD-only operating system use. And… sure, let Windows 11 be just the pretext for that.
In fact, not only would yours truly encourage the exclusive use of SSDs as boot drives for Windows 11, but he’d actually go one step further, setting specific speed requirements for those SSDs. I know, I know. Hear me out: there won’t be a single new PC coming out in 2023 that will not offer support for PCIe 3.0 SSDs at the very least (we’ll be getting the first true PCIe 5.0 SSDs in a few months). So, for Windows 11, let’s leave SATA SSDs behind and go for a minimum of 1500–2000 MB/sec speeds on boot drives. All PCIe 3.0 SSDs capable of such speeds usually offer every other feature Windows 11 needs in order to be fast at booting, responsive in general use, smooth at multitasking and reliable in stuff like large file copying or streaming of game content. Let the most basic PCIe 3.0 SSDs be the point of entry and take it from there. That way even the least powerful modern PCs will feel adequate for every mainstream everyday task under the sun. Finally.
Several outlets covering this story correctly point out that, in essence, what Microsoft plans to mandate in 2023 has practically happened already: only the cheapest new desktops and laptops come with hard drives nowadays and they are a rare sight indeed. But Microsoft making SSDs an official Windows 11 requirement sets the bar of expectations where it should be for consumers as well as for businesses (which are still buying weak HDD-based PCs for various tasks). It may take a while for markets in developing countries to catch up, but hard drives should now be assigned the only role they should be playing in the 21st century: that of slow, secondary data storage. In 2023 even the most basic of Windows 11 computers should feel usable to everyone — and HDDs are the last bottleneck, the one component that is holding them back. Let Microsoft do good for once, PC builders. It’s time.