ASUS U30Jc Revisited: Adding an SSDby Jarred Walton on June 1, 2010 2:15 PM EST
The Good News: General OS and Application Performance
We'll start with the areas where SSDs really help. General application performance is better in many cases, and benchmark suites like PCMark reflect this quite well. Booting and shutting down Windows is also noticeably faster. We didn't include boot/shut down times in our initial U30Jc review, but we'll have results with and without the SSD here. If you want to look at performance relative to other laptops, please refer back to our original U30Jc review; our focus here will be on the performance increase (or decrease) caused by adding the SSD.
The big win here is PCMark Vantage, which has a lot of hard drive access tests. The overall score increased by 50%, which is certainly worthy of notice. Anyone looking to get to the top of the ORB in PCMark absolutely has to have an SSD, but the increased PCMark Vantage score is also a reflection of the general improvement in application launch times. Windows Start/Shut Down times are also better across the board, particularly the Boot, Resume, and Hibernate tests. On a desktop, I would personally argue that booting/shutting down doesn't happen enough to make these times matter; with a laptop, it's not unusual to hibernate/resume multiple times over the course of a day, and if you want to just make a few quick notes the seconds saved are very noticeable.
Besides the above tests, it's sometimes difficult to quantify what an SSD truly brings to the table. With a good SSD, even a slower laptop like one of the CULV models can feel much faster in general use. It won't be able to do any better at CPU or GPU intensive tasks, but launching office applications and web browsers (especially if you launch multiple applications at once!), surfing the web, installing software and patches… all of these common tasks complete much faster with an SSD. We ran some additional performance tests just to show how much of a difference it can make.
With the above tests, the SSD improves the already good performance of the U30Jc by at least 25% in the simpler tasks like software installation; it's as much as several times faster at launching complex applications/multiple applications (when they're not already cached into system RAM). Launching multiple applications is a great example of what you encounter on a relatively "mature" installation of Windows—after you've installed numerous applications suites, your Internet Security software, printer drivers, etc. We've all experience that two minute (or more) delay on a cluttered installation, and it correlates well with what we're showing in the multiple application launch test.
Other test scenarios we could perform would also show definite benefits. Running applications that do a lot of HDD accesses with real-time virus scanning enabled can be extremely painful on a conventional drive, whereas SSDs plug along with hardly a drop in performance. Even better, try running real-time anti-virus and Internet security (e.g. McAfee, Norton, AVG, etc.), anti-malware (e.g. Ad-Aware, Spybot Search and Destroy, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware), and your favorite BitTorrent client (e.g. Vuze, uTorrent); then go about using your PC. Even fast desktops feel sluggish when you're running such a setup, which is precisely what most home users ought to be doing (minus the BitTorrent client).
Such usage scenarios result in a lot of random storage access, and that's the Achilles' heel of hard drives. If you do them on a regular basis, an SSD is a real boon. There are ways to mitigate the effect somewhat, i.e. if you launch all six of our test applications one at a time rather than concurrently, the HDD "only" takes twice as long as an SSD. With 4GB of RAM, it's also primarily the initial launch that really takes a long time, though depending on the amount of multitasking you do the delays can still be severe. Defrag your hard drive, limit your Windows startup tasks, get a 7200RPM drive instead of a 5400RPM drive… all of these things can make the performance penalty of hard drives slightly less. Even with 15K RPM drives, though, there are access patterns that favor SSDs so heavily that there's no closing the gap.
The results above are the scenarios where an SSD helps substantially. Naturally, there are tests where adding an SSD doesn't help much at all. Let's look at those tests next.
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ImSpartacus - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkJarred! Stop writing such good reviews! Now I want to throw away my Win7-bootcamp MBP13 (June 09) and get a U30Jc. Battery life is paramount, but I still need to be able to run games like TF2 and L4D in a pinch. Getting an upgrade to Arrandale wouldn't be bad either...
The only thing I would miss is my trackpad. I just love this thing!
mfenn - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkInstead of throwing it away, send it to me please. I'll even pay shipping!
Souka - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkI'll pay shipping plus a $1 :)
Wife's T30 Thinkpad (P4m CPU) is showng its age.....
ViperV990 - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkHas anyone considered (or maybe even tried) replacing the internal optical drive with an HDD?
altarity - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkJust remove the DVD from my U30Jc. The connector is mini SATA. I have a Vertex 30GB, but no SATA to mini ATA adapter. We just need to find somebody who sells a HD caddy the same size as the DVD drive with a SATA to mini- SATA adapter.
altarity - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkOk I just found a 12.7 mm SATA HD caddy on Ebay for $11. I'm going to give it a shot.
icrf - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkSeen the HyDrive? It does both optical and SSD.
Nomgle - Friday, June 4, 2010 - linkAbsolutely - grab a caddy from http://www.newmodeus.com/ and away you go.
7Enigma - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkJarred,
Thank you for the great article. I know you have taken a lot of heat the last year or so with your (somewhat justified IMO) stance against SSD's, but you take a very critical look at both sides of the coin in this article. Personally, having now used an 80gig Intel G2 since Jan of this year I could never go back. I constantly turn my computer on and off (check email before going to work, come home check email, maybe game surf the net again at night) so I fit the perfect model of SSD use. I also mutli-task load everything when the computer comes on so no more 30second waiting for firefox to boot up while all my startup programs are slowly loading.
I migrated my 250gig mechanical HDD to serve as a secondary slave for storing anything I don't currently need quick access too. I think most of us (heavy Steam users are one of the few the exceptions) probably only have a handful of games installed at any given time (I tend to have 2-3 max). I just checked and my 80gig G2 drive has ~50gigs free right now. That includes 2 games, Win7 64-bit, OS programs and OpenOffice, a handful of short home movies and some music. Again only things you really need/want to have quick access too. Everything else goes on the secondary.
As you mentioned in the review though, most laptops are limited to a single drive and the need to conserve power relegates them to being powered up/down more frequently then a desktop. You didn't mention in this article but the damage aspect is a SIGNIFICANT boon for SSD-based laptops as I've worked on a handful of dropped systems that ruined the HDD. This is especially important for the business sector where laptops are typically moved around very frequently due to meetings and presentations (and most corporate buildings have tile/hard floors and tables which are very unforgiving with even a little drop).
Other than that though, you did a great job at weighing the pros/cons of an SSD upgrade, especially in light of the high cost in relationship to the laptop itself. But I'll never again own a system without one...
JarredWalton - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - linkHonestly, I'm not against SSDs. I just want them to get down to a more affordable price point. I wasn't a big proponent of the Raptor line either (loud and only marginally faster in most usage scenarios--and this comes from someone with a RAID 0 150GB Raptor setup).
When I can get a high quality SSD for under $1 per GB (preferably closer to $0.50/GB), I'll be far happier. I don't like spending more than $200 on any single component if I can help it ($300 for the GPU), and I like a decent amount of storage, so 250GB SSD for under $200 will be the inflection point for me. But then, I'm not as high-end as other users, so if you're okay with $500 CPUs and GPUs, $300 mobos, etc. SSDs are a perfect complement to such systems.