While 2009 may end up being the first year that we see widespread adoption of SSDs (Solid State Drives) in notebooks, 2008 will go down as the year that it all started happening.

My experience with a SSD on the MacBook Air was an overwhelmingly positive one. While most application usage performance didn't improve, boot and application start times were noticeably quicker. Also, amazingly enough, battery life was improved by a good 5 - 15% depending on the usage model. I was quite impressed.

The size and price of the MacBook Air's SSD option were both tough pills to swallow however. Available only as a 64GB drive and as a $999 option from Apple, the option honestly doesn't make financial sense on a notebook that has a healthy shelf life of only a year or two thanks to a non-upgradable CPU and memory.

Shortly after publishing my MacBook Air review we were contacted by DVNation with an interesting offer: to try out a 128GB SATA SSD in a MacBook Pro.

If you'll remember, one of the issues with the MacBook Air's SSD is that it's still based on older PATA controller technology. When the first SSD drives hit the market they were almost exclusively for industrial applications, where reliability not performance was the top concern and they also happened to be PATA drives. Once it became clear that there was consumer interest in SSDs, development quickly shifted to SATA drives and Flash-to-PATA controller technology lagged behind. The overall market for SSDs was small enough that it didn't make sense to commit a ton of resources to the development of these things, thus we saw SATA drives improve in performance and PATA offerings stagnate. While the Flash memory side of the Samsung SSD in the MacBook Air was fast enough, the controller became the bottleneck and thus there were some instances where the SSD option was actually slower than the already sluggish mechanical disk that ships with the Air.

I was very eager to find out what would happen if I paired the latest MacBook Pro with an even faster SSD. Built with the latest in Flash-to-SATA controller technology I expected to see both performance and battery life improve.

DVNation shipped me the drive, a Memoright MR25.1-128S (the same thing as the MR25.2-128S apparently). I didn't realize how expensive it was until I got the package. DV Nation had shipped me a 15" MacBook Pro with a sticker price of $3,074, expensive but not the shocker. The next line told me the price of the SSD: $3,819.

That's right, the Memoright 128GB SATA SSD costs almost $4K just for the drive. And you thought Apple's SSD option was pricey.

The Drive
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  • Denithor - Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - link

    When will these become available/affordable for desktop use? HTPC comes immediately to mind, but I would like one for my gaming rig if it yields a "snappier" system for a moderate cost.
  • mindless1 - Friday, April 18, 2008 - link

    You must be kidding. Minimal to no gain in sequential access, improvement primarily in random access, limited capacity, and extreme price per GB make this about the worst choice possible for a HTPC.

    Regardless, if that's what you want go ahead and do it, drive rail adapters to use 2.5" in 3.5" bays are not expensive or hard to find. You could even squeeze two or three drives into one 3.5" bay so you have a HTPC with $12,000 spent on storage instead of a $80 mechanical drive.
  • just4U - Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - link

    Is it possible to instal Windowso n a flash drive. You know, one of those 16/32 meg jobs. This article has got me curious.. :)
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, April 17, 2008 - link

    I assume you mean 16/32GB, and yes, I believe I saw instructions for that over at mp3car.com.
  • mindless1 - Friday, April 18, 2008 - link

    Instructions? Not a complex process.

    1) Buy CF3 or CF4 spec'd CF card and CF-IDE adapter. CF card performance is lower than on a good SSD so staying with PATA/IDE interface is not a bottleneck.

    2) Plug card into adapter, plug adapter into system.

    3) You're done, there is now no difference beyond having mechanical drive instead, although if SSD is not using SLC flash chips you might want to decide how to limit # of writes to it from pagefile, temporary browser files, etc.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, April 18, 2008 - link

    I just glanced at the instructions as I am not building a carputer yet, but IIRC a lot of it was optimizing the pagefile and other little writes.
  • Nihility - Wednesday, April 16, 2008 - link

    That needs to be fixed, no reason for flash to take more power than a hard drive, maybe they can power off some of the flash that is unused until it's needed? If it doesn't even increase battery life then what's the point? Resilience and random seek times are nice but battery life is the main concern on a mobile platform.
  • mindless1 - Friday, April 18, 2008 - link

    It's the controller, bridge and cache that use the power, these flash chips don't have to be recharged.

    Keep in mind that while battery life is important, and power consumption of an SSD will go down over time, they still aren't one of the larger consumers of power. Ultimiately if runtime is most important the area to focus on is designers who mistakenly assume a smaller device footprint is more important than runtime, thus squeezing in a smaller battery (capacity).
  • iwodo - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    Intel 's SSD promise doubling the performance of current SSD Drive. I cant wait to see it.
    I wonder would the ARM7 chip be the limiting factor here?
  • skiboysteve - Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - link

    "two areas of inefficiency: the drive isn't a native SATA device and it uses a FPGA instead of a custom IC for some functions."

    this is incorrect. using an FPGA instead of a custom IC makes no difference in performance whatsoever. the difference is in cost. there is a lot of research into cost/benefit of using an FPGA instead of a custom ic and it all boils down to volume. obviously, they dont have high enough volume to necessitate a custom IC.

    but, an fpga configured to behave exactly like what your custom IC would behave like ... are the same thing. only difference again, is price.

    some point might astutely point out that a custom IC can be clocked higher, but i very much doubt that advantage is applicable here.

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