SSDs were all the hype last year, then the “bubble” popped when tests performed on the Macbook Air showed that the SSD drive did little more than add $1,500 to the computer’s final price. No performance increase, no battery life increase – two of the promises (among others) that SSD buyers were expecting from this technology.
When they were announced, the Intel Solid State Drive (SSD) seemed fast enough to justify a field test, so we installed a 80GB Intel X25-M SSD into a 2 years old Sony Vaio SZ laptop to see what would happen. Why such an old laptop? Because we think that the perceived unresponsiveness observed by many users is caused by the lack of disk performance. Disk accesses are the main reason why many simple computer tasks (boot, shutdown, applications loading, thumbnails generation…) feel so slow. We hoped that adding this drive alone with give a “boost” to the aging laptop.
So what are the results? It worked! Thanks to the SSD awesome performance, the laptop responds quickly. The Intel X25 80GB makes SSDs cool again and proves that hard drive performance can be more important than processing power.
Our old laptop is now almost as responsive as a nearby new desktop PC equipped with a Western Digital Velociraptor 10k rpm drive (300GB). The Vaio SZ’s PCMark 05 HDD score went from 2996 to 18817! As a reference, the desktop PC and its Raptor 10k rpm drive gets a score of 8298… Unfortunately, a benchmark is a benchmark and real-life performance is sometimes different from synthetic measurements, so we’ll try to tell you how the user experience is affected by this Intel X25-M SSD.
Admittedly, the original 5400rpm drive was a little weak, so we ordered a modern disk that would be considered a worthy upgrade by laptop users: the Western Digital Scorpio 7200rpm 250GB. It is one of the best 2.5″ platter-drive you can get.
- Windows XP SP2
- Intel Core Duo 1.83Ghz (T2400)
- 3GB of RAM
- HDD1: Seagate Momentus 5400.2 100GB (original drive)
- HDD2: Western Digital Scorpio WD2500BEKT 250GB (7200rpm “upgrade”)
- HDD3: Intel X25 80GB (model SSDSA2MH080G1GN)
As you can see, the boot times are impressively fast, but there’s better: Applications can load up three times faster than the original hard disk. Loading Photoshop CS2 now feels as fast as my desktop machine. As you can see, upgrading to a faster platter drive brings a small performance (and capacity) boost for a reasonable price (around $110), but platter drives are no match for the raw performance of the Intel X25-M SSD.
We won’t be testing the potential battery savings of the SSD. The reason is that in a laptop most of the power is going to the display, the CPU and the GPU anyways. Improving the power consumption of the hard drive has little to no practical implications. Expect no miracles on this side.
The Intel X25-M SSD (80GB) is impressive and really demonstrates the potential of SSD drives. It is faster than most desktop hard drives and runs completely quiet and cool. Obviously, you can pair two of these and get twice the throughput. At $600 (bulk price) with a small 80GB capacity, I’ll leave it to you to appreciate how much you “need” to get this “Raptor in a laptop” drive. I assume that most people would still go for a conventional drive – I would (but at $300, I’ll jump on it).
However, this clearly shows that in the next two years, we might get 120GB SSD drives for $200. This is still expensive, but capacity is not a key factor for everyone, especially for those who use their laptops as a secondary system. Also, Keep in mind that today’s disk controllers and drivers are still built around mechanical drives, so expect a lot of progress on that front as well – this will further boost performance. Given the mechanical drive performance evolution over the past few years, it’s pretty clear that SSDs will keep the performance lead. At some point, their price and capacity will be compelling enough to take significant market share from mechanical drives, just as they did for multimedia players.
My friends, Intel has just gone “nuclear” with hard-drives.
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