John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

SSD hard drives in laptops

I recently inherited an SSD in 2.5 inch SATA form factor for a laptop. So I pulled out my trust Ghost CD, cloned the image from my conventional rotating hard drive and set out to see if I would like it. A while back I bought a used Mac Book from a friend. This had the SSD in it. The SSD promptly died lost everything on it and that was that. In the short term I had it I found it quiet and the Mac came out of suspend Uber fast with very good overall performance. The drive was an Intel SSDSA1M080G2GC. When it died fortunately it was still under warranty so I sent it back and subsequently sold the Mac (without the SSD). So I had an SSD to play with.

Hard drives today are made up of rotating platters. These platters make them susceptible to damage when a laptop is moved around. They also chew a fair bit of power, generate heat and make noise. SSDs are made out of flash chips just like you use for your digital cameras. They are made in the same form factor and interfaces as laptop drives. So you can simply take out your hard drive of your laptop an replace it with an SSD. The prices of SSDs have come down dramatically but are still more expensive than rotating hard drives and generally are much smaller in size. This drive originally cost over $300 1.5 years ago and is only worth around $100 now.

Laptop hard drives are quite susceptible to dieing long before a desktop drive would ever die. This is for a number of reasons. Being exposed to temperature extremes is not good for rotating media (SSDs largely don’t care). Moving around while sitting on your lap also can be a bother to rotating media (again SSDs don’t care). SSDs though in my experience are no where near as reliable. Too new. Either way as one person once told me there are only two kinds of people in the world. This that have had data loss and those that will. Anything on a laptop should be backed up regularly. If for no other reason than the fact laptops get stolen, dropped etc.

There are many advantages to an SSD over a rotating media. A complete in depth analysis to quantify these would take way longer than I have. Remember this is a hobby not a paid gig 🙂 Here are the advantages:

  1. lower power consumption. This also translates into better battery life and less heat therefore less need for the internal fan on the laptop. This believe it or not is QUITE noticeable. I’m quite shocked at how much better it is.
  2. quieter. Since there are no moving parts (no rotating platter, no moving heads, NADA) the SSD is noticeably quieter.
  3. faster spin up from off. While not as noticeable as on the Mac a PC comes out of suspend a little faster than with rotating media. With a traditional rotating media hard drive you have to wait a second or two for the drive to spin up before it can be read. An SSD is instantly there
  4. faster random access. With a rotating media hard drive random access of data around the drive means you need to move the head around the drive. This leads to a delay to getting the data off. The more the hard drive is thrashing the more this impacts performance. With an SSD random access is irrelevant (no moving parts). This leads to a much more responsive feel to the system. I’ve been quite surprised at how noticeable this is.
  5. faster reads. This is quite expected. I did a quick test on my old HD and got 58.3MB/s, the SSD yielded 122.4. More than double the speed. And this doesn’t even take into account the random I mentioned! Writes are a little more complicated. SSDs have to be modified on a block by block basis. So to modify a block the drive has to read current block, modify what you want to and then write back the new whole block. It will still be faster than a traditional drive but not as night and day as reads.

So all in all there’s lots to like about SSDs. Given my experience I would recommend them, but only the smaller ones. I would recommend you carry and live with as little as possible on the laptops hard drive. If you need a ton of space then SSDs are just not for you. As a boot drive in a laptop they are perfect!


August 17, 2011 - Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews

1 Comment »

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    Comment by | May 27, 2013 | Reply

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