The laptop computers available to consumers have had few changes made to their overall function in the last 10 years. Instead, most of the components have just gotten better. Screens have improved, batteries last longer, CD drives became DVD players and then Blu-rays, and so on. But a major technological change is now under way with the introduction of solid state drives (SSDs) as a viable alternative to disk-based hard drives.

According to Benjamin Britt, president of the Princeton Macintosh Users Group, solid state drives dramatically decrease the amount of time it takes to open a program. “If you go from a hard drive to a solid-state drive, you’ll never be able to go back,” Britt says. “The performance is going to be way over your hard drives.”

However, there are definite drawbacks to using the new technology.

Britt will speak about the pros and cons of SSDs Tuesday, March 10, at the Princeton Macintosh Users Group. The meeting begins with Q&A at 6:15 p.m., with the program starting at 7:30, in Room 6 on the second floor of Stuart Hall at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Traditional hard drives are based on an old technology — a spinning magnetic disk. As anyone who has had a hard drive fail knows, these disks have mechanical parts that can wear out and are susceptible to being damaged if dropped.

Solid-state drives use integrated circuits, not magnetic disks to store data, and have no moving parts. Although solid state drives date back to the 1950s, when computers were made of vacuum tubes, they have always been vastly more expensive and impractical than their mechanical counterparts. Only in the last few years have they become a viable option for home computers.

One downside of SSDs is cost — a decent one-terrabyte SSD can go for $350, versus just $50 for a comparable hard drive. Another possible downside is that their performance may degrade with use, unlike a hard drive, Britt says.

Britt grew up in Cincinnati and moved to New Jersey with his parents when his father, a Procter & Gamble chemist, moved to the state to take a job in advertising. Britt liked tinkering with electronics and recalls that as a seven-year-old, he paid a neighbor $3 for a box of wires, switches, and lightbulbs to play around with. When a friend showed him an early Timex computer, he was hooked.

In 1970 Britt spent a short time at Rutgers, where he learned to program a computer using punch cards. He never finished a degree there, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing an IT career. He was assistant IT manager at Princeton Gamma-Tech Instruments, a scientific manufacturing company that was located on College Road East, and earned a professional certificate in computer repair at Mercer County College. He was let go from Princeton Gamma-Tech in a downsizing 10 years ago, but he has continued his interest in computing.

Britt is married to a librarian and has three grown children. He joined PMUG in 2006 and has been on the executive committee for the last four years.

PMUG, like many technology groups, is finding ways to make itself relevant in an age when most computer discussions have moved, naturally, into online venues. Ironically, the increasing ubiquitousness of computer technology and the rise of the Internet have hurt groups like PMUG that were formed to promote computer use.

PMUG started in 1984, the same year the first Macintosh computer was released. Originally it was an on-campus group of Princeton students, faculty, and staff who used the new computer. Members would meet to trade disks and software and participate in discussions. Today the group is no longer officially tied with the university and many of its members, like Britt, are Baby Boomers. Britt says Princeton students today have an online chatroom that meets after midnight to discuss their Mac problems.

Of course, if a computer user wanted to compare the merits of solid state versus hard drive technology, he or she could easily look it up using Google. So why go to an actual meeting to hear what an expert has to say about it?

“It’s good to have someone put it all together for you,” Britt says. PMUG also offers real-life socialization and interaction, which no website can provide.

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