The MacBook Air: Thoroughly Reviewedby Anand Lal Shimpi on February 13, 2008 12:00 AM EST
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The Impact of SSD on Battery Life
One advantage of solid state storage is lower power consumption thanks to not having any motors or moving heads to drive; spinning anything 4200 times a minute is going to be more power hungry than a solid state solution. The SSD vs. mechanical HDD power debate would normally be a clear cut one but we're comparing to one of the lowest power HDDs on the market here.
|Power Consumption||80GB 4200RPM HDD||64GB SSD|
The power savings are dramatic; idle power is reduced by nearly a factor of 10, standby power is cut in half and read/write power is at worst a third of the mechanical drive. The 10x idle power reduction is important since that's where your drive should be spending most of its time, and if the average power savings is somewhere in the 0.25 - 0.5W range you're looking at improving battery life on the order of tens of minutes.
To find out the impact on battery life we ran through three different scenarios:
I scripted together three tests: wireless web browsing, DVD playback and a multitasking workload.
The wireless web browsing test uses the 802.11n connection to browse a series of 20 web pages varying in size, spending 20 seconds on each page (I timed how long it takes me to read a page on Digg and came up with 36 seconds; I standardized on 20 seconds for the test to make things a little more stressful). The test continues to loop all while playing MP3s in iTunes. This test is designed to simulate the intended usage of the MacBook Air: something you can carry around with you to class, work, on the train, etc... to comfortably and quickly browse the web, take notes and generally be productive all while listening to music. It's like a big iPhone...without the phone part.
Despite the lack of an internal optical drive (I've never been so tempted to use the f-bomb in a review before), the MacBook Air will play DVDs. You just kind of need to have them on your hard drive and I'll just assume you have the original disc safe at home. This test is simple: I play Blood Diamond in a loop until the battery runs out.
The final test is the multitasking workload, and this test isn't really that intensive for a normal system but thanks to the terribly slow iPod hard drive in the Air - it's quite stressful. For this benchmark I'm downloading 10GB worth of files from the net (constant writes to the drive), browsing the web (same test as the first one) and watching the first two episodes of Firefly encoded in a 480p XviD format (Quicktime is set to loop the content until the system dies). There's nothing too extreme about this workload, I could definitely come up with worse - but this would be light to moderate usage on a MacBook or a MacBook Pro, and it'll show how the Air stacks up.
The system was set to never shut off the display and never go to sleep, although the hard drive was allowed to spin down when possible. The display brightness was set at 9 blocks (just over 50%), which I felt was comfortable for both day and night viewing.
|Battery Life Test (H:MM)||80GB 4200RPM HDD||64GB SSD||% Improvement|
|Wireless Internet + MP3||4:16||4:59||16.8%|
|Heavy Downloading + XviD + Web Browsing||2:26||2:42||11.0%|
As expected, the impact on battery life isn't huge but it's definitely noticeable. With the 64GB SSD installed we're actually able to hit Apple's 5 hour battery life claim with the MacBook Air. Our wireless browsing test actually saw the biggest improvement in battery life, increasing a full 43 minutes from a simple drive swap.
The DVD playback test got the next largest boost of 31 minutes or 15.1%, followed by the multitasking scenario that saw a more meager 16 minute increase in battery life.
With an average increase in battery life of 30 minutes, you're paying an extra $33 per minute of battery life based on present day SSD upgrade pricing from Apple. If you look at it that way, the improvements stop being as exciting - but the takeaway point is that the technology is useful and down the road, when SSD prices drop, you can look forward to an upgrade that does improve the overall experience.