Solid state drives are an alternate to hard drives. This is one of the more expensive components, and one you aren’t likely to find when buying a new computer. Regardless, it’s definitely something you should know about, and an upgrade that results in a huge performance improvement.
Because SSD’s have no moving parts and use flash memory, they are lightning fast compared to a hard drive. They are also far less likely to take damage if you drop your computer, a great benefit for laptops.
Solid state drives have a downside: compared to your average HDD, they are VERY expensive. While a 500GB hard drive will cost you less than $60, a 500GB solid state drive costs up to $200. On desktop computers, there is a compromise. You can put your OS (Windows, Linux, or OS X) on a small SSD, along with your most frequently used programs, and keep all your documents and normal programs on the HDD that your computer came with. Amazon has several quality drives available at relatively low costs.
If you want to keep all your old data and programs, you’ll need to clone your old drive, which is a complicated process. If you don’t want to do it yourself (or don’t have the equipment), Expresstek clones and sets up drives for only $50.