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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  • sotoa - Friday, September 04, 2009 - link

    Another great article. You making me drool over these SSD's!
    I can't wait till Win7 comes to my door so I can finally get an SSD for my laptop.
    Hopefully prices will drop some more by then and Trim firmware will be available.
    Reply
  • lordmetroid - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    I use them both because they are damn good and explanatory suffixes. It is 2009, soon 2010 I think we can at least get the suffixes correct, if someone doesn't know what they mean, wikipedia has answers. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Saturday, September 05, 2009 - link

    As someone who's particular about using SI and being correct, I think it's better to stick to GB for the sake of simplicity and consistency. The tiny inaccuracy is almost always irrelevant, and as long as all storage products advertise in GB, it wouldn't make sense to speak in terms of GiB. Reply
  • Touche - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    Both articles emphasize Intel's performance lead, but, looking at real world tests, the difference between it and Vertex is really small. Not hardly enough to justify the price difference. I feel like the articles are giving an impression that Intel is in a league of its own when in fact it's only marginally faster. Reply
  • smjohns - Tuesday, September 08, 2009 - link

    This is where I struggle. It is all very well quoting lots of stats about all these drives but what I really want to know is if I went for Intel over the OCZ Vertex (non-turbo) where would I really notice the difference in performance on a laptop?

    Would it be slower start up / shut down?
    Slower application response times?
    Speed at opening large zipped files?
    Copying / processing large video files?

    If the difference is that slim then I guess it is down to just a personal preference....
    Reply
  • morrie - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    I've made it a habit of securely deleting files by using "shred" like this: shred -fuvz, and accepting the default number of passes, 25. Looks like this security practice is now out, as the "wear" on the drive would be at least 25x faster, bringing the stated life cycles closer to having an impact on drive longevity. So what's the alternative solution for securely deleting a file? Got to "delete" and forget about security? Or "shred" with a lower number of passes, say 7 or 10, and be sure to purchase a non-Intel drive with the ten year warranty and hope that the company is still in business, and in the hard drive business, should you need warranty service in the outer years... Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - link

    watching too much CSI, there is an article somewhere i read by a data repair tech who works in one of the multi-million dollar data recovery labs, basically he said writing over it once is all you should do and even that is overkill 99% of the time. theoretically it is possible to even recover that _sometimes_, but the expense required is so high that unless you are committing a billion dollar fraud or are the secretary to osama bin laden no one will ever try to recover such data. chances are if you are in such circles you can afford a new drive 25x more often. and if you have such information or knowledge wouldn't be far easier and cheaper to simply beat it out of you than trying to recover a deleted drive? Reply
  • iamezza - Friday, September 04, 2009 - link

    1 pass should be sufficient for most purposes. Unless you happen to be working on some _extremely_ sensitive/important data. Reply
  • derkurt - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    quote:

    So what's the alternative solution for securely deleting a file?


    I may be wrong on this, but I'd assume that once TRIM is enabled, a file is securely deleted if it has been deleted on the filesystem level. However, it might depend on the firmware when exactly the drive is going to actually delete the flash blocks which are marked as deletable by TRIM. For performance reasons the drive should do that as soon as possible after a TRIM command, but also preferably at a time when there is not much "action" going on - after all, the whole point of TRIM is to change the time of block erasing flash cells to a point where the drive is idle.
    Reply
  • morrie - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    That's on a Linux system btw

    As to aligning drives...how about an update to the article on what needs to be done/ensured, if anything, for using the drives with a Linux OS?
    Reply

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