By March 15, 2010

Is an SSD worth it? I put my laptop to the test

I picked up an Acer Aspire 5740 laptop a few weeks ago. Thanks to the forums over at Ars Technica I considered purchasing a Solid State Drive (SSD) to replace the traditional hard drive. Based on their recommendations, I picked up the Intel G2 X25M 80GB Mainstream SSD. The sale price was $220, down from the suggested retail of around $280.

Installation was very easy, and I put a fresh copy of Windows 7 on. Installation time was pretty fast. I got the impression that the SSD was faster overall, but was it worth $220 and 1/4th the storage capacity of my stock 5400rpm laptop drive?

Overall, life with the SSD was faster. I was interested in increasing my battery life, and decreasing my startup and resume times. I didn’t really care too much about faster reading and writing speeds, except how it related to opening programs and waking my computer up from sleep.

Benchmarks for SSDs concentrate on raw disk performance, but I didn’t really care about that. What was the impact of an SSD for a casual, daily laptop user?

Benchmarks

I used two pieces of benchmarking software, and then made up some “user-friendly” tests that represented how I use my laptop on a regular basis:

  • Crystal Diskmark
  • Startup time
  • Resume from sleep time
  • Wake from suspend time
  • Shutdown time
  • Battery life
  • “Multi-launch” test: launch Chrome, KeePass, Pidgin, Picasa 3, and Winamp after startup

Crystal Diskmark

Crystal Diskmark is a free disk benchmarking tool that measures read and write speeds on a hard drive, both sequential and random. It also uses different block sizes.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/8584-2/crystal+diskmark.png
Longer bars are better.

As you can see, the SSD can do many more reads and writes in the same amount of time as the standard hard drive. These statistics don’t mean much to me, and probably won’t to you, either. However, I wanted at least some sort of hardware metric to show that the SSD is much faster at reading and writing than a typical hard drive.

Usage benchmarks

This is what I was really after. Would an SSD make a difference in typical laptop situations like resuming from hibernation?

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/8587-2/times.png
Shorter bars are better, numbers are in seconds.

As you can see, the SSD is faster in practical use than the hard drive. This wasn’t really up for debate, but what I found interesting was how much the SSD was better was than the hard drive. Average users will notice more — and care about most — the startup and wake statistics. The SSD was almost twice as fast booting up than the hard drive, and six seconds faster at waking up from hibernation.

Six seconds may not seem like a big deal. However, when you wake a computer from suspend you want it to hurry the hell up. You want to use the computer right away, and for some impatient users (like myself), the six second difference may mean more than the huge startup difference. After all, I don’t shut my laptop down very much.

While the “multi-launch” difference is impressive, but it may or may not be a big deal to you. I start Chrome, KeePass, and Pidgin at boot. However, my work computer starts up with almost a dozen applications. Having an SSD would help a lot more with my cluttered work machine than my streamlined personal machine.

There were some instances where the SSD didn’t make much of a difference. Resuming from sleep was both super fast, and the 0.8 second difference isn’t something that the average user would notice. I also benchmarked launching Chrome, but both the SSD and HD were so fast the difference wasn’t worth commenting on.

Power consumption

The test consisted of playing a DVD while the screen was on full brightness and every power saving option disabled (such as shutting the screen off or going to sleep). Battery life was almost identical, with the SSD lasting two minutes longer than the hard drive.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/8589-2/battery+life.png
Longer bars are better.

My theory was the SSD would last a lot longer, considering it had no moving parts and the hard drive’s armature had to go back and forth during processing. I think a more realistic test would be to do typical tasks (like Web browsing) over and over again until the battery died, but I had no way of automating this. Regardless, I thought I’d report on my findings: the SSD had no appreciable effect on battery life.

Conclusion

Is an SSD a worthy upgrade to your laptop? The answer may have a lot to do with how old your laptop is. If you have an older laptop with little RAM installed, you may see a great day-to-day difference with an SSD. My laptop has 4GB of RAM with an Intel i5 Core processor. Some people on Ars Technica’s Other Hardware forum are reporting a much greater improvement with their older laptops.

In my case, I don’t think the SSD was worth $220. I certainly wouldn’t pay the retail price of $280 for one. The decrease in capacity from 320GB to 80GB didn’t bother me very much. There are cheaper 40GB versions available, but I think that is too little storage. My Windows 7 directory is over 14GB on its own.

I would consider $100 or even $150, but unless you have an older laptop, I’d pass on the SSD.

Not recommended.

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Posted in: technology

3 Comments on "Is an SSD worth it? I put my laptop to the test"

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  1. Kim says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for a good real world review that will mean something to most people!
    Very helpful!
    Kim

  2. Mart says:

    Yep. Thanks for the review. This is what most people care about: will it make a noticable difference to my everyday work, or are we talking something at the margin? After all you can buy a significant amount of RAM for this amount of money (if it isn’t already maxed out) or even just buy a whole new machine for not much more than 280 if you look at the long term life expectancy of the upgrade.

  3. gerry says:

    after searching for ever,this review is the only real answer tothe ?thanks for saving me money and time.