Why You Absolutely Need an SSD

Compared to mechanical hard drives, SSDs continue to be a disruptive technology. These days it’s difficult to convince folks to spend more money, but I can’t stress the difference in user experience between a mechanical HDD and a good SSD. In every major article I’ve written about SSDs I’ve provided at least one benchmark that sums up exactly why you’d want an SSD over even a RAID array of HDDs. Today’s article is no different.

The Fresh Test, as I like to call it, involves booting up your PC and timing how long it takes to run a handful of applications. I always mix up the applications and this time I’m actually going with a lighter lineup: World of Warcraft, Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Firefox 3.5.1.

Other than those three applications, the system was a clean install - I didn’t even have any anti-virus running. This is easily the best case scenario for a hard drive and on the world’s fastest desktop hard drive, a Western Digital VelociRaptor, the whole process took 31 seconds.

The Fresh Test

And on Intel’s X25-M SSD? Just 6.6 seconds.

A difference of 24 seconds hardly seems like much, until you actually think about it in terms of PC response time. We expect our computers to react immediately to input; even waiting 6.6 seconds is an eternity. Waiting 31 seconds is agony in the PC world. Worst of all? This is on a Core i7 system. To have the world’s fastest CPU and to have to wait half a minute for a couple of apps to launch is just wrong.

A Personal Anecdote on SSDs

I’m writing this page of the article on the 15-inch MacBook Pro I reviewed a couple of months ago. I’ve kept the machine stock but I’ve used it quite a bit since that review thanks to its awesome battery life. Of course, by “stock” I mean that I have yet to install an SSD.

Using the notebook is honestly disappointing. I always think something is wrong with the machine when I go to fire up Adium, Safari, Mail and Pages all at the same time to get to work. The applications take what feels like an eternity to start. While they are all launching the individual apps are generally unresponsive, even if they’ve loaded completely and I’m waiting on others. It’s just an overall miserable experience by comparison.

It’s shocking to think that until last year, this is how all of my computer usage transpired. Everything took ages to launch and become useful, particularly the first time you boot up your PC. It was that more than anything else that drove me to put my PCs to sleep rather than shut them down. It was also the pain of starting applications from scratch and OS X’s ability to get in/out of sleep quickly that made me happier using OS X than XP and later Vista.

It’s particularly interesting when you think of the ramifications of this. It’s the poor random read/write performance of the hard disk that makes some aspects of PC usage so painful. It’s the multi-minute boot times that make users more frustrated with their PCs. While the hard disk helped the PC succeed, it’s the very device that’s killing the PC in today’s instant-on, consumer electronics driven world. I challenge OEMs to stop viewing SSDs as a luxury item and to bite the bullet. Absorb the cost, work with Intel and Indilinx vendors to lower prices, offer bundles, do whatever it takes but get these drives into your systems.

I don’t know how else to say this: it’s an order of magnitude faster than a hard drive. It’s the difference between a hang glider and the space shuttle; both will fly, it’s just that one takes you to space. And I don’t care that you can buy a super fast or high flying hang glider either.

What's Wrong with Samsung? Sequential Read/Write Speed
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  • jtleon - Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - link

    Yes I fell asleep atleast 3 times reading this article (it IS Monday afterall)

    Yes, Indilinx clearly rocks the SSD world - Now I know thanks to Anand!

    Stories like this set the standard for all review sites - I don't come away with the feeling I was just sold a bill of goods by some schiester in Intel's pocket, or otherwise.

    Great Job Anand! Keep them coming!
    Reply
  • SSDdaydreamer - Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - link

    I too am wondering whether TRIM will be available on the Intel Drives for Windows XP or Vista. I seriously doubt it, as the OCZ Wiper Tool appears to only be available for Indilinx controllers. Perhaps Intel will introduce their own wiper utility. I am leaning towards the OCZ Vertex or Patriot Torqx drives, as I am quite content with Windows XP and Windows Vista.
    I have an itchy trigger finger on these SSDs, but I want to hold back for the following unknowns.

    1. I would like to use the NTFS file system for my drive, but I am unsure of the proper/ideal block size.

    2. I would merely like to image my existing Windows Installation, but I am worried that performance or stability problems will arise from the NTFS file system. A fresh install could be in order, but it is preferred to image.

    3. Is there a way to change the size of the spare area? Maybe I have the wrong idea (perhaps only format part of the drive, unformatted space goes appends to the spare area?) I am willing to sacrifice some of the usable partition space for an increased spare area for improved performance.

    4. Are there complications with multiple partitions? If there are multiple partitions on the drive (for multi-boot) do they all share the same spare area? Is it possible to allow their own respective spare areas?


    Is there anybody out there that could enlighten me? I'm sure others would do well to have the answers as well. If I make any discoveries, I will be sure to post them.
    Thanks in advance.
    Reply
  • bradhs - Monday, September 07, 2009 - link

    IS there a "Wiper" app for Intel X-25m G2 drives? For people who don't have Windows 7 (TRIM) and want to keep the Intel X-25m G2 running smooth. Reply
  • smjohns - Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - link

    No there is no wiper tool for Intel drives at the mo. In addition to this the current firmware on the Intel drives do not have TRIM enabled. I guess this will be released soon after Windows7 is released. I think I have read somewhere that Intel are working on a TRIM version of it's Matrix Storage Manager software that will provide this functionality to the other operating systems. Reply
  • Burny - Monday, September 07, 2009 - link

    As many before me: great article! I learned a lot about SSD's. Even up to the point i'm ready to buy one.
    I still have 2 questions tough:

    2. Will TRIM be available on the G2 Intel drives for sure? Some sources doubt this: http://www.microsoft.com/communities/newsgroups/en...">http://www.microsoft.com/communities/ne...t=&l...


    3. As I understand, TRIM will work on a firmware level. That implies that TRIM will also function under Windows XP or any OS for that matter? Then why the need to build another TRIM into Windows 7? Or does a TRIM firmware enabled SSD simply allows the OS to use TRIM?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • smegforbrain - Monday, September 07, 2009 - link

    While I consider myself handy with computers, I'm not the best technical mind when it comes to the details. You do an excellent job of presenting everything in a manner that it can be understood with little difficulty. I look forward to future articles about SSDs.

    I do have a question I'm hoping somebody can answer. I'm as interested in the long-term storage outlook of SSD drives as I am every day use. I've seen it said that an SSD drive should hold its charge for 10 years if not used, and it was discussed a bit earlier in this thread.

    Yet, none of my current mechanical hard drives are more than 3 years old; none of my burned DVDs/CDs are older than 5 years. It seems far more likely that I would replace an SSD for one with a greater storage capacity after 5 years tops than to expect one to be in use, even as archival storage, for as long as 10 years.

    So, is the 10 year 'lifespan' even going to be an issue with archival storage for most people?

    Will this worry over the life span of an SSD become even less of an issue as the technology matures over the next couple of years?
    Reply
  • Starcub - Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - link

    "So, is the 10 year 'lifespan' even going to be an issue with archival storage for most people?"

    No, but who takes wads of money out of their wallet to store it on their shelf?
    Reply
  • smegforbrain - Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - link

    "No, but who takes wads of money out of their wallet to store it on their shelf?"

    That is simply assuming that they will remain as expensive as they are now. They won't.
    Reply
  • BlackSphinx - Sunday, September 06, 2009 - link

    Hello! I'm taking the time to comment on this article, because I am very thankful for all of these awesome write-ups on SSD.

    I'm in the process of building an heavily overclocked i7 rig for gaming and video edition, and I was going to jam 2 Velociraptors in Raid0 in there. Why? I had only heard bad things about SSDs in the past.

    Reading your aticles, who are, while in depth, very clear and easy to understand, I understand much better what happened in early SSDs, what's so good about recent Indilinx and Intel SSD, and, truly, why I should forgo mechanical drives and instead go the SSD route (which, frankly, isn't more costly than a Raid0 raptor setup). In short, these articles are a great service to the end users just like myself, and if they were intended as such, you have passed with flying colors. Congratulations and thanks.
    Reply
  • Transisto - Sunday, September 06, 2009 - link

    Could someone reset my brain as to why there is no way to get a (very noticeable) improvement from USB thumb-drives. I mean these thing also get 0.1 ms latency.

    It's a bit extreme but for the same price I could get 9 cheap 8gb SLC usb drive for around 20$ each and put them in three separate PCI-USB add-on card (5$)

    They would saturate the USB controler with 3 drive in it so I Could get around 140mb/s read and 60mb/s write.

    Say you manage to merge that into a raid or ... ? Is eboost or Readyboost any good at scaling up ?

    Reply

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