To SSD Or Not To SSD

August 05, 2008 by in The Pit Blog

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The next big improvement for your computer is here. The always spinning, ever failing hard drive is becoming an artsy door stop, replaced by Solid State Drives (SSD). They have a lot going for them but there are also some misconceptions about what they provide.

Untill now, cooling fans, optical drives, power supplies and hard drives, all had moving parts. Moving parts and wear go hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that hard drives are at the top of everyones failure list. Now, thanks to SSD technology, it’s possible to put together a consumer computing system with no spinning hard drive or optical drive. You could conceivably get by without even a cooling fan but why try. Using one low rpm fan would provide fresh cool air with little to virtually no noise.

Lets take a real look at what SSD drives are, and what they can offer us in real life improvements.

PHYSICAL CONSTRUCTION

Size. Their small 2.5 in. x 4 in. size makes them perfect for use in desktops, laptops, and notebooks. In fact they use the same form factor as your current SATA laptop drive. They are available in a 1.8 in. size in addition to the 2.5 in. size popular now. The technology on the 1.8 sized drive is actually faster, but the 2.5 size is getting all the action due to manufacturing costs.

Data And Power Interface. SSD drives use the exact same connections as existing SATA and SATA II drives. Some of the lower priced SSD drives even come with an IDE connection.

If your laptop uses a standard SATA interface you can just unplug that drive and replace it with the new SSD. The drive holder/heat sink and securing mechanism are interchangeable.

ssd-conectors-trim

Weights of the SSD drives are significantly lighter than the standard spinning platter drives and also lighter than notebook drives. Note that the laptop heat sink and the SSD drive case are configured to match for attachment and as noted,use the same form factor. This makes for a more secure installation and easier removal.

Drive Weights

Laptop SSD WD Raptor
4.1 oz. 2.5 oz. 1 lb. 4.5 oz

FEATURES

Temperature is a strong point for SSDs. Compared to full size drives the difference is significant. What might not be so obvious is how small a reduction there is when compared to current 5400 rpm laptop drives. The newer laptop hard drives use little power, and are relatively cool during operation. My digital thermometer shows only a 3 to 5-degree difference between the two. Of course any diffrences in heat would be a driect result of the watts being used. The specifications posted on most manufacturers sites bear this out. Without giving a page full of “watts used” for varying drive states, just be aware that there’s a big difference in watts used between SSD drives and larger 3.5 inch drives, and not much difference between SSD drives and 5400 rpm laptop drives .

Drive Temps

Drive Type Idle Load
Std. 7200 rpm 85F 95 F
Laptop 5400 rpm 81F 86F
SSD Solid State 79F 79F

This reduction stayed constant with varying types of HD use. While the temps fluctuated depending on the task, the difference in temps between the two drives stayed about the same.

The 7 degree difference between 5400 rpm laptop drives and SSD drives during load is nice, but the hard drive is not the component causing the majority of heat coming from your laptop. Most of the heat is coming from the processor and memory. The switch to SSD made no measurable difference in the peak temperatures coming from under the laptop. The expected result was obvious but I was still disappointed.

Price is where the proverbial SSD hits the fan. The 32-gigabyte OCZ SSD drives that I bought cost a whopping $499.99 each, plus shipping. Yes, drives can be found cheaper, and yes there is a difference in cost from mfgr to mfgr, but the performance of these particular drives is excellent. They are at the top of most performance comparisons. The fly in this ointment is that even considering performance the cost is extremely high. The only good news regarding price is, according to all predictions, the price will drop significantly in the next year. Intel is on board and promising that their future involvement brings a better/faster controller and the expectation of some significant price slashes.

Raid Arrays are configured the same as spinning platter drives. Raid options will depend on the motherboard and bios. I’ve tried it myself and the results and scaling are excellent. I raided 3 drives in raid 0 and there is a second system shown below that has four drives in raid 0. While I liked the results, the cost was just a little rich for my pockets. You can check out my Pitstop score here and the test using 4 drives in raid 0 are shown here Be sure to click “Rankings” once in the OverDrive test.

Maintenance is much changed when using SSDs. DO NOT DEFRAG, defragging degrades drive performance. This caution should be placed in clear view, on the drive itself. New owners should be made aware before physically installing this hardware. Drive defragmentation has become such a standard procedure that it’s likely many will defrag before knowing the consequences.

Drive Life of SSD drives is much extended over standard drives. Because of the extended time without failures and the rugged build of the drive having no moving parts, the military was one of the first to adopt this technology. Drive life is expressed as MTBF or Mean Time Between Failures. For SSD drives this can be as long as 2,000,000 hours and is years beyond what would be needed.

SSD AND NOTEBOOK BATTERY LIFE

It has only been a few months since we finished the article on extending laptop battery life. One of the things we did was play a movie from the hard drive until the battery was completely discharged. For a comparison of how SSDs affect battery life, we used the same setup. I copied a movie, “Over The Hedge”, to the notebooks hard drive. The battery starts the test at a complete 100% charge and is run uninterrupted until the screen goes black. The time is recorded in minutes.

I ran several tests using the settings for Performance, Balanced, and Power Saver. They scaled, as you would expect, so I’m including only the representative results here. To be a valid comparison the settings for the hardware and Operating system on the two drives had to be identical. To guarantee that the drives were exactly the same, I used Acronis True Image Home and cloned the OS setup to the drives. This removes any chance of settings variations affecting the outcome. *Please note: the comparison being made is between drives on a given system and not between systems or settings

.

Systems Gateway Gateway
Model MX8730 MT6821
Stock Drive/Cost Western Digital Scorpio 5400 RPM $79.00 Hitachi 5400 RPM $74.99
SSD Drive/Cost OCZ (Samsung) SSD $449.99 OCZ SSD $449.99
Laptop Power Setting High Performance Option Power Saver Battery Option
Time In Minutes SSD Time = 113 SSD Time = 207
Time In Minutes WD Play time = 111 Hitc Play Time = 198
Total Time Difference 4 minutes 9 minutes

These results show that SSDs do not dramatically increase battery life. Certainly not enough when considering the costs.

PERFORMANCE COMPARISONS

For performance comparisons I used HD Tune in addition to our own OverDrive test. One of the first things to notice is the increased “Maximum MB/sec” transfer rate. When compared to the 5400 rpm laptop drive, the SSD drive is 66% faster and is the clear performance winner.

7-20-2008-10-56-58-am1

7-20-2008-10-45-26-am1

Next notice the reduced access times. Without getting too far into the world of data transfer, this basically represents the speed of transfer over the interface between the hard drive and the rest of the PC. With SSD drives this is much reduced, as there are no platters to transfer data to and from. Data and file transfer, application access, and even better boot times, as were measured and shown below, are the result.

SSD Boot Time = 34 seconds

7200 Boot Time = 48 seconds

Another interesting result was that increased CPU usage spikes were seen on SSD systems. This increase does not seem to be consistent and is much higher than the expected 2% increase noted by others. The spikes were seen under varying use conditions, on multiple SSD drives, on laptops and desktops, and on multiple operating systems. The thumbnail above shows this spike. Instead of 16.6% CPU usage it would normally be 2% to 5%.

I was unable to determine what caused the big jumps. My best guess is that it’s something to do with the SSD internal controllers.

CONCLUSION

Let’s cut to the chase and say that there’s no doubt SSDs are on their way to your system, but it will be a while untill they take over.

Conclusion
Capacity Needs to be larger
Price Needs to be lower
Temps/Watts Perfect
Physical Size Excellent with plans to improve
MTBF/Life Excellent
Performance Excellent with room to improve

Even if you’re an overclocker, SSD advantages are small when compared to the current Western Digital VelociRaptors. Raptors have much more capacity and are cheaper to boot. Pun intended.

36 Responses to To SSD Or Not To SSD

  1. james braselton says:

    hi there gate way one dose not offer the hybride ssd/hdd combo of 64 gb ssd and 1 tb hdd but hay look apple ipad coming out and should have a realy fast solid state flash drive


  2. james braselton says:

    HI THERE I NOTICE THE SYESTEMS SAY YOU USE GATE WAY COMPUTERS WHEN WILL GATE WAY HAVE A SOLID STATE DRIVE FOR THE BRAND NEW GATE WAY ONE.


  3. Mr Keith Gaze, B. E. (Elect.) says:

    Thanks for promulgating some available details on SSD’s, which have been ‘mooted’ for some time, and may, as yet, be
    too costly for the storage so far – nevertheless, history clearly shows that reliability in electronics increases once a certain threshold of development, and market ‘take-up’ occurs – do we still worry that transistor radios do not produce that ‘good tone’, that valve wirelesses were so famous for ? (NO, I do not think so). Market take-up and manufacture cost will mean that eventually, current mass storage devices will be overtaken and superseded, but – not yet (and existing hard drives are both well built, and fairly efficient )! Has anyone any further details of less expensive SSD’s on the market ?


  4. D says:

    What seems like good experimental procedure below is actually biased in favor of Vista / XP / etc. that are optimized for mechanical hard drives.

    No wonder your results are so skewed.

    See the OCZ discussion.

    e.g. Why in the world would a SSD care about Prefetch — which is a technique used to gather up scattered bits of files on a mechanical drive and writing them in a buffer so that it can be fetched faster…. the only problem is it generates lots of excess, and totally unnecessary drive activity that cause SSDs to come in well below their actual performance.

    “To be a valid comparison the settings for the hardware and Operating system on the two drives had to be identical. To guarantee that the drives were exactly the same, I used Acronis True Image Home and cloned the OS setup to the drives. This removes any chance of settings variations affecting the outcome.”


  5. D says:

    Take a look at this discussion of what it takes to optimize software for a SSD.

    If you don’t do all this, stock XP / Office / Outlook are all tweaked to optimize for hard drives, and the things they do like prefetch, journaling, etc. all contribute to slowing down a SSD far beyond the design specs.

    It is like hitching a team of 4 horses to your pickup truck and complaining about the slowness relative to the factory V-8.

    http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=42487


  6. Jon Deom says:

    would linux distributions work better than windows or mac with ssds


  7. alur says:

    mmm In my experience, when the price drops to fire-sale pricing for electronics, there is change in the near future. Atm, I have seen 320GB WD hard drives for as little as $50 (Newegg) and regular bargains on 250 – 750 hard drives at under $100. If flash drives aren’t the future, hard drives will be $10 if they continue to be the dominant storage component in the next 5 years.


  8. Steve Hogan says:

    Great points William Thomas.

    “Good point about the need for operating system to be on SSD. I believe laptops are converging with PDA’s and phones. The vogue for small laptops has returned. I suspect we will see operating systems supplied on chips, like bios – and the SSD is a chip.”

    That’s exactly what’s taking place. Shouldn’t be too long either

    Bruce I’ll have to do some more checking but what you are saying is a direct contradiction of everything I’ve read. I’ll check further and see what I can find.


  9. Nicholas Yoritate says:

    I’m not sure if this is a fair comparison since you utilizing the same type of SSD from the same company on differnt machines. Let’s get down to true comparison’s and break it down. Let’s get into the true technology and kick the tires to see who and what does what. Otherwise i’m a totally fan.


  10. Bruce Cadieux says:

    I have read much about SSD drives and the many new laptops that are shipping with them.

    Life span seems to be the main issue with them, not long life, but “short life”

    So much of an issue, that they don’t recommend using a swap partition because the added increase in read writes to the disk can dramatically reduce the life of the disk, the same effect that defragmenting would have on it.

    They are very nice, but I think people would have to change the way they did things to make the best use of them. Or the manufacturers are going to have to find a way to increase their life span when they are used as a drive is intended, to read and write a lot of data over and over.


  11. radostsguy says:

    Holy Toledo! You mean my 5.25 hinch Diskettes are obslolete? :(

    Seriously, in the Other World, the one that uses centimeters, etc, many people have to become mafiosi just to afford an old junker! So to us furriners, price is all important. ANYTHING that cost more than say $100 is not even on the horizon. Mind you, the slide of the US formerly Mighty Greenback is a big help, but what’s “Made in the USA” anymore except weapons? I’ve been here in Bulgaria now for 8 years, and in that whole time, I’ve seen ONE US built car! Prepare yourselves for SSD’s with Chinese Characters on them! They will likely be cheap too – too cheap!


  12. Steve Hogan says:

    Hey Mina,

    That is what things are coming to. The new drives are the same tech. as the thumb drives. I’ve got an OS installed on mine and just plug it in to my lappy when I want to take
    XP with me instead of Vista. It’s just as you describe only the connection is different.


  13. Trevor D N says:

    The transistor made the radio smaller with faster response, also with no “mains electric” needed it was portable.
    The micro chip made the computer SMALLER, portable & faster.
    Add SSDs and you have ULTRA fast & ULTRA portable & AND much lighter P.C..

    Now just wait for the price to drop, just like all the other toys we now use daily.
    After all its only a BIG memory stick in SITU!.


  14. dark41 says:

    Mina,

    No need to worry as you can’t simply convert your current system to a SATA system. You’d need a new motherboard, RAM, and CPU to run SATA, all of which would be overkill for running Puppy Linux.

    And yes, the SSD are basically the same as flash drives. :)


  15. Mina says:

    I liked your analysis, but you leave an obvious question unanswered. I put the question last, so I can get my feedback in.

    SSDs are THAT expensive? Holy poo. I have a desktop computer comprised of a 866? MHz Pentium III processor, no hard drive, 128 MB Rambus [not RAM; Rambus is a faster kind of RAM medium and seems to be nearly extinct now. You can tell they are Rambus by their name and the fact the chips are plastic covered on either side of the stick], with Puppy 4.0 on my 128 MB thumbdrive, the Puppy CD in the CDrom drive just for bootup and in case of any emergencies. Price of this 128 MB thumbdrive at the time I got it? $20. But I do think I’d enjoy SSDs if I ever manage to convert this Pentium III from an IDE to a Sata setup. I can do so much on this setup, with few limitations that are because of a needed increase in Rambus [like up to 256 or 512 MB or perhaps 1 or 2 GB at the most] and the fact that a few websites are too heavy on java and flash to work well on a 128 MB Ram’d machine.

    I also notice that mini-computers, whether Asus’ EeePC lineup, or the other various mini-computers I’m seeing come out on the market, are adopting SSD as a standard for their hard drives. I like this very much. I wish these would come down in price. The range of nearly $300 to $600 for an EeePC is too much for me though I’m still struggling to get one. Other mini-computers on the market are nearly as expensive as a normal laptop.

    I guess my questions are…
    What are the results, pros and cons, etc., between normal hard drives and SSDs…on Linux systems, and try to include this for Puppy as one of the comparison choices?

    Finally, is there any truth to the possible myth that the SSD is too much like our current Flash/Thumb/USB drive technology? I would think if this were true, then it’d be better to stick with the cheaper choice rather than a hard drive. I find it strange that computer makers aren’t campaigning for greater portability, greater reliability, and cheaper pricing…and be able to take your computer with you anywhere and just plug it into any computer using the USB port. Portable computing seems to be a universal solution since any viruses and badware will disappear with a reboot. Of course, that depends on the OS, too, I think.


  16. dark41 says:

    Defragging should not effect the performance at all. I suspect your OS became corrupted if it slowed down your system.

    The reason defragging will decrease the lifespan of the SSD is that SSD has a maximum read/write times before the drive fails, just like flash memory and unlike a disc drive.

    It should also be noted that SSD lifespan cannot be measured in hours as the amount of times data is accessed will be the determining factor of the lifespan. It might last forever if you don’t use it much, and it might fail fairly quickly if you use it often and defrag often. So keeping this in mind, using it for an OS on a frequently used system may increase the speed, but will significantly reduce the lifespan. ;)


  17. There is no point to this article. It started out about long life. All I can say is 32 gigs at 499 dollars? And a hard drive is what? If you could even buy a drive that small, it would be what, 25 bucks? You could buy 20 if them for the same price. I’ve only had one drive actually fail in over 20 years. SSD= toys for geeks. And that’s geeks with too much money on their hands.


  18. Eric says:

    I would agree that ssd’s are a vast improvement over spinning HHd’s, however, until the manufacturer’s are willing to provide the storage capacity in a ssd that a HHd can achieve they are not a viable option, except for small drive backups or music and media storage, especially now that even laptops come standard with greater capacity hhd than current ssd’s are capable of. Just like everything alse in the computer world, manufacturers could produce high storage capacity ssd’s such as 500GB or even TB today, however You won’t be seeing any 500GB or TB ssd’s for years to come. Not because they can’t but simply because they won’t


  19. Steve Hogan says:

    Yep, that’s something I should have given more space to. Solid state drives are so much more durable and able to take so much more abuse. You can literally toss them around the room with no ill effects.


  20. Robin Ririe says:

    I find it interesting that there were no negative comments. That would mean this thing is with out faults. Can this be in an electronic device?


  21. Dave says:

    A laptop on my Harley where I don’t have to worry about a hard drive crash would be great. 64GB would be plenty of space for a traveling PC. Garmin mapping, photos, Elements and email are all I need on the road.

    I have had one hard drive crash, luckily I had a current backup.


  22. shogan says:

    Dominique Root.
    What I’m reporting is what I found using the drives. The performance did decrease after defragging, in fact it decrased to the point that I RMA’d the drive.
    I’ve copy/pasted the quote from the OCZ site
    “IMPORTANT NOTE: Solid State Drives DO NOT require defragmentation. It may decrease the lifespan of the drive.” While this doesn’t say it “degrades” the performance, it does warn against defragging the drives and my experience showed a degradation in the performance of the drive. My suggestion of”Do Not Defrag” to be shown in red on the drive seems reasonable to me given the cost of the drives, my findings, and their on site warning. Here’s a link to OCZ’s site.

    http://www.ocztechnology.com/products/flash_drives/ocz_sata_ii_2_5-ssd

    Thanks for your input.


  23. Johnny Bramham says:

    This technology has been in the pipeline for some years now, beginning with the advent of miniature memory chips that were designed for use in digital cameras.
    The surprise for me is that it took so long to get round to using them as system drives, esprecially considering that most ‘modern’ motherboards now have the ability to boot from a USB device built into the BIOS.
    I have four 8Gb drives mounted on a common USB2 hub, which I can configure either collectively or individually; however although the transfer rate is still limited by the USB2 standard of 480Mb/Sec, it’s still a sight faster than any conventional hard drive in realtime operation.
    Yep, I will probably buy one in the future, but not at that sort of price!


  24. Michael J says:

    SSD sounds great for a Laptop, but my 7200 rpm, 16mb SATA is fast enough for my desktop. With all new technology there’s gonna be glitches, so the wait and see is most prudent. Mr Thomas has a good thought, OS on a EAPROM.


  25. Doug Tidwell says:

    Interesting back and forth on this.
    This reminds me of “Bubble Memory”
    days when we designed a hard drive
    using bubble memory on a system at the time.
    Cost was the limiting factor in turning it
    into a real product.

    The defrag point is valid in the sense of
    wear and tear. It would not increase access
    time, so no point in even trying.

    The OS on an SSD would certainly speed things up,
    BUT, we will always be vulnerable until the
    OS is non volatile. It should be protected
    and not allowed access by any outside product.


  26. william thomas says:

    Good point about the need for operating system to be on SSD. I believe laptops are converging with PDA’s and phones. The vogue for small laptops has returned. I suspect we will see operating systems supplied on chips, like bios – and the SSD is a chip.


  27. Victor Manuel says:

    Great! Thanks for all the information.I’m sure it is the next move in data and memory storage technology. Money talk, so we hope prices go down.


  28. Dominic Rout says:

    I believe that you are communicating rectally when you point at that “defragging degrades drive performance”. This makes no sense – the main point about SSDs is that performance is NOT dependant on how many seek operations are required – by that same token reducing seek operations will not improve performance, but it will certainly not degrade it.

    Of course, it is unneccessary wear and tear on what is an expensive drive to begin with – but that isn’t a performance issue, and it’s certainly not something that would merit actions such as “This caution should be placed in clear view, on the drive itself.”.


  29. Petre says:

    They are currently ridiculously overpriced and your comparison to a 5400 RPM basic drive seems to try and pitch the bias towards the Solid State Drive performance. Let’s see a 64GB SSD go up against a 7200 RPM Scorpio… Or better yet, why not wait when SSD drive actually have a capacity that’s worth more than squat and then make the comparison. Like maybe a 120GB against a 120GB? Not saying your tests are invalid, just your conclusions based on the current architecture and models available.

    I run HDD’s for years without failure and as an analyst they get a solid work out in everything from portable cases, laptops to raid assemblies. Solid state is as prone to failure as any other static memory. Until the price drops to less than a buck a GB it just isn’t worth it.


  30. Greg McDonald says:

    Great article. Very useful information. I’m sure my next laptop will have one.


  31. -D. says:

    Fantastic job. Thanks for the heads up!


  32. Srdjan says:

    Interesting prformance comparison between $50 notebook HD and $400 SSD..
    … You could at least compare it with fastest notebook hard disk.


  33. George Ford says:

    Well written article that took effort on the writers part to test the drives. I appreciate your time and effort in discovering the information and producing factual statements. It’s Obvious that hard drives will be going the way of the landfill like it’s earlier peer ( 360K 5 1/4) did. The next few years will be exciting for gamers and power users alike.


  34. Great analyst.

    I have written myself about the future of solid state drives and just recently purchased a new ThinkPad x61 which had an option of a 64 GB SSD.

    I was a little worried after reading an article in a hardware forum claiming that Solid State Drives are no faster. It turns out that may be true but only under a particular situation.

    I have been thrilled with the boot time with my new laptop. The speed is great. I definately think once the price comes down we’ll see all laptops using SSD.

    I wondered if having 64 GB was going to be ok but noticed I wasn’t using that much space on my old laptop. I’m sure like many I have external drives on my network that I use to store most of my videos and photos.

    Great job!

    Bill


  35. Ralph says:

    I have heard about these hard drives before and will get one when the size goes up and the price comes down.


  36. RayH says:

    Your observations are very interesting. Have you considered that instead of using SSD as a disk drive replacement that you consider it more as a memory enhancement?

    Compared to Disk Drives, Solid State Drives are considerably more expensive. But compared to memory it is considerably less expensive. I’m not advocating getting rid of DRAM but that if you are looking for performance improvements that adding SSD to your configuration may be an option.

    The key is to understand a bit about how DRAM works with the processor. (I’m not lecturing here, just laying some ground work). Processors gather data from DRAM which gathers data from the disk drive. Thus, the latency between Disk Drive and DRAM is a bottle neck.

    In a perfect world you would have as much DRAM as you have data and thus be able to feed the processor at the fastest possible speeds. The cost of doing this would be prohibitive and of course there is the fact that when you turn off your system (or the blue screen of death happens) all that data is lost.

    In a second perfect option you would have all your data on SSD. But again the price to do this is prohibitive, especially if you are setting up a system to deliver media.

    Thus, I pose a paradigm where you have as much DRAM as you can afford then have a SSD and then have traditional disk drives.

    The types of things that you would store on the SSD are the Operating System and Applications, and some selected files that are read often but not often written. As the article states SSD technology wears out when lots of writes are done to it, hence the reason not to defrag.

    So what you want to do is put data that is needed often by the processor as close to it as you can. By having the OS and Applications on SSD where the latency is considerably less then that of a hard drive you should increase performance (sorry don’t have my latency figures committed to memory right now)

    Thus, if I were building a Media Center Server (or high performance desktop) I would go for 2-4GB of DRAM, 1 32GB of SSD and 2TB of traditional disk drives (4 500GB and do a RAID 5 is you can).

    it will be many years before SSD will be at a price point where it can replace disk drives for data intensive systems.

    Just my view on another way to utilize SSD. There are no easy right or wrong answer.


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