Final Words

We’ve become complacent. In today’s world of netbooks and nettops where performance is cast aside, we’ve let far too much slide. The bar of acceptability is too low. A good SSD is the anti-netbook, it is the most believable proof that PCs aren’t fast enough today. We don’t need good enough, we need orders of magnitude of performance improvement. And that's exactly what a good SSD can deliver today.

The performance improvement isn't limited to high end machines. In fact, some of the most perceivable differences in performance are on lower end machines, netbooks and nettops. The combination of a slow CPU and a slow hard drive is horrendous; the SSD allows you to at least alleviate some of the bottleneck in these slower machines. And today we actually have affordable options that make sense to even put in a netbook.

A year ago the market was full of worthless SSDs being sold at a premium. Today, we have two real contenders for the throne: Intel and Indilinx. Let me start with Indilinx.

Indilinx is a company that no one knew a year ago, nor would anyone even begin to trust back then. I remember talking to OCZ about the problems with their JMicron drives and being told that their next-generation drive would have a controller by a new company. They told me the name and I was more than skeptical. JMicron couldn't do it, why would this strangely named new company be able to get it right? Even when I first tested an Indilinx drive I was hopeful but still cautious; it's something I used in my system for a short period, but nothing I would commit to. If you wanted an SSD, Intel was still the only way to go.

When I started writing this article I took a big step. I felt that Indilinx drives had reached the point that their performance was good enough to be considered an Intel alternative. I backed up my X25-M, pulled it out, and swapped in an OCZ Vertex drive - into my personal work system. I've been using it ever since and I must admit, I am happy. Indilinx has done it, these drives are fast, reliable (provided that you don't upgrade to the latest firmware without waiting a while) and are good enough. We'll see how the drive holds up over the coming months but I don't have any regrets at this point.

If you're trying to move to an SSD at the lowest possible cost, there's finally a real alternative to Intel. We also have Indilinx to thank for driving SSD prices as low as they have been. If these drives weren't actually competitive, Intel would have no real motivation to deliver a sub-$300 SSD so quickly.

All of this Indilinx praise brings us to the next heir to the throne: Intel. The X25-M G2 is an evolution of the SSD that started it all, we see some specific but significant performance gains and hints of Intel's strategy moving forward. The G2's real strength lies in the fact that it is the only Intel drive that will support TRIM later this year. While the G1, even in its used state, will outperform an Indilinx drive - the G2's TRIM support will ensure that it's even faster than the G1.

The only bad thing I have to say about the G2 is that it doesn't address Intel's only weakness: sequential write speed. While on average the G2 is a better performer than the Indilinx drives in real world use, there are distinct situations where it falls behind.

I should also take this time to chastise Intel for absolutely botching the launch of the drive. I'm not talking about the embarrassing stop-shipment caused by poor validation, I'm talking about the fact that X25-M G2s are still out of stock even as I publish this article. The SSD group at Intel clearly needs to take lessons from the CPU teams: you don't launch product without availability.

Many readers have been emailing me asking what SSD they should get for their new Windows 7 builds, honestly the decision mostly comes down to capacity. Look at this table of prices:

  Price Cost per GB
OCZ Vertex 64GB $219.99 $3.437
Intel X25-M 80GB $279.99 $3.500
OCZ Vertex 128GB $369.00 $2.883
Intel X25-M 160GB $499.99 $3.125
OCZ Vertex 256GB $725.00 $2.832

 

You should buy the largest drive you need/can afford. If you only have 30GB of data on your system, buy the 64GB Indilinx drive. If you have 50GB? Opt for the 80GB Intel drive. Indilinx and Intel seem to complement one another more than compete thanks to differing numbers of flash channels on their controllers resulting in different capacities.

Is Intel still my overall recommendation? Of course. The random write performance is simply too good to give up and it's only in very specific cases that the 80MB/s sequential write speed hurts you. Is Indilinx a close runner up? Absolutely. It's truly a lower cost alternative. Am I relieved to be done with this article? You betcha.

Power Consumption
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  • sotoa - Friday, September 4, 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 3, 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 5, 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 3, 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 8, 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 3, 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 4, 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 3, 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 3, 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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