By Reid Goldsborough

As early as 2018, more than half of personal computers (PCs) will store data on memory chips rather than the hard drives made with spinning platters that have been a fixture in PCs since the late 1980s, says market research firm TrendForce

Currently, 33 percent of PCs sold come with memory chip storage, called solid-state drives (SSDs), the same kind of long-term storage used in smartphones, tablets, USB thumb drives, and camera memory cards. This is a type of "flash" memory that's fast like a PC's random-access memory (RAM) but retains data after the machine is turned off like traditional hard drives. In two years, predicts TrendForce, PCs shipped with SSDs will grow to 56 percent of the market.

Here are a few pros and cons of PCs with SSD storage.

Pros:

  • Faster
  • Quieter
  • Use less power
  • More resistance to being bumped or dropped than those with traditional hard drives 

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Typically have less storage space
  • Decreased longevity as the data in memory cells in SSDs are overwritten again and again

However, traditional hard drives have their own reliability and longevity concerns, with a finite life as well. Because traditional drives consist of read-write heads close to platters that spin at high speed, their components when malfunctioning literally can crash into one another, trashing the drive and the data on it. But traditional hard drives have become more dependable, and their average projected life currently is longer than SSDs, though SSDs will continue to become more dependable as well.

In terms of other storage options, local removable storage was, and still is, handled mostly by USB thumb drives. The "cloud" is another other major form of storage today, where you keep the results of your document editing, photo sharing, and online backups. Low-priced Chromebooks use the cloud as their primary form of long-term storage. Cloud storage consists of many banks of traditional high-storage hard drives that are reachable over the Internet. ( Here are some cloud storage options to consider.)

Along with the cloud, SSDs are a game changer. With SSDs, things started slowly. Toshiba was the first to introduce flash memory, in 1984. In 1991, SanDisk made a 20-megabyte SSD that sold for $1,000. It wasn't until around 2007 that SSDs started becoming mainstream. Apple's MacBook Air laptops have come with SSDs as standard since 2010. The largest manufacturers of SSDs today include Samsung, SanDisk, and Lite-On.

A random survey provides an idea about pricing today. From Newegg, 250-gigabyte internal SSDs, used for upgrading your current PC, sell for starting around $100, 500-gigabyte for around $160, and 1-terabyte for around $240. Best Buy sells a new Lenovo laptop with a 256-gigabyte SSD drive, 8 gigabytes of RAM, and a 15.6-inch screen for $730 and a Lenovo laptop with similar specs but a 1-terabyte hard drive for $560.