September 15, 2010
It's been almost a year since I covered The State of Solid State Hard Drives. Not a heck of a lot has changed, but the topic is still worth revisiting, because if you care at all about how your computer performs, solid state hard drives remain a life changing experience. Here's why:
- A solid state hard drive is easily the best and most obvious performance upgrade you can make on any computer for a given amount of money. Unless your computer is absolute crap to start with.
- The practical minimum solid state hard drive size, 128 GB, has modestly declined in price -- from about $350 to about $250.
(yes, you can get by with 64 GB, but at least with my Windows installs I find that I have to think about disk space with 64 GB, whereas with 128 GB I don't have to worry -- ever. Don't make me think, man!)
The rest of the components inside your PC are downright boring in comparison. CPUs? All stupid fast at any price, with more cores and gigahertz than you'll ever need unless you're one of those freaks who does nothing but raytracing and video transcoding all day long. Memory? Dirt cheap, and average users won't need more than 2 gigabytes of the stuff in practical use, which at the current going rate for DDR3 is less than 50 bucks.
Thanks to the neverending march of Moore's Law, PCs are becoming speedy at any price these days. It's difficult for me to muster any enthusiasm for the latest Intel CPU updates when I spend almost zero real world time waiting for the CPU to do anything on my computer. I guess it's true: absolute power corrupts absolutely.
But hard drives, now, there's where you can pay a bit more and see a groundbreaking, generational leap in performance worthy of that investment -- as long as you skip over the old and busted spinning rust hard drives, and choose a newfangled solid state hard drive.
The current king of the hill seems to be the Crucial RealSSD C300.
Pretty sexy, right? Oh, who am I kidding, it's a boring slab of aluminum and silicon. But like all truly sexy things, what turns me on is the part I can't see -- the sexy, sexy, sexy performance inside this baby.
See those bars dragging down the bottom of this graph? All spinning rust. Heck, even the SSD I recommended last year is only middle of the pack here. AnandTech concurs -- the Crucial RealSSD C300 is top dog, at least for now.
(Be careful, though, that your operating system supports the SSD TRIM command, otherwise you'll suffer severe performance degradation over time with almost any SSD. Operating systems earlier than Windows 7 and the latest, greatest Linux kernel should beware -- and, shockingly, OSX still doesn't support TRIM!)
Where it gets trickier, though, is when you need more than 128 GB of storage, or when you are limited to one 2.5" hard drive -- like in a laptop. In that case, ideally you'd like something that has the speed of a solid state hard drive, but the capacity (and economical price per gigabyte) of a traditional magnetic platter hard drive. You might say … a hybrid hard drive, the kind I was dreaming about back in 2006 …
After all this analysis, it's clear to me that traditional hard drives and flash memory are quite complimentary; they're strong in different areas. But flash drives are the future. They will definitely replace hard drives in almost all low end and low power devices-- and future high performance hard drives will need to have a substantial chunk of flash memory on board to stay competitive.
I had always been disappointed that hybrid hard drives, drives that combine both flash memory and traditional magnetic platters, never came to fruition. It was either traditional or SSD and nothing in between. It seemed like such an obvious "best of both worlds" scenario to me. But I recently discovered that decent hybrid drives do finally exist -- though in a small and mostly unheralded way.
Seagate's Momentus XT takes a totally respectable 2.5", 7200 RPM drive with a 32 megabyte buffer and combines it with 4 gigabytes of flash memory. The result is the exactly what I had always hoped:
Seagate's Momentus XT should become the standard hard drive in any notebook shipped. The biggest problem I have with using any brand new machine, regardless of how fast it is, is that it never feels fast because it usually has a HDD and not an SSD. While the Momentus XT isn't quite as fast as an SSD, it's a significant improvement over the mechanical drives found in notebooks today.
In many cases the Momentus XT performs like a VelociRaptor, but in a lower power, quieter package. The impact of adding just a small amount of SLC NAND is tremendous. The potential for hybrid drives continues to be huge; what Seagate has shown here is that with a minimal amount of NAND you can achieve some tremendous performance gains.
And the best part? 500 gigabytes of near-SSD performance for $130! Or, if that's too spendy, how about 320 gigabytes of near-SSD performance for $99?
I've ordered a few of these drives to upgrade my laptops and home theater PC. Sure, I'll invest in a SSD for my beastly desktop, but I can't justify $300 to put a SSD in a laptop I spent all of $800 on, or a home theater PC that set me back a mere $500. But a hundred bucks for near-SSD performance and decent capacity? Sign me up. And hard drive vendors: although I love SSDs to death, please keep these improved hybrid drives coming, too, please!
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Like you, I can't justify replacing the hard drive in my wife's older PC with an SSD, but I was really excited to learn about Seagate's Momentus series hybrid option. Does anyone make an equivalent 3.5" form factor SATA drive for desktops? That might be an affordable way to breath a little new life into a still-capable but older PC.
This article has just convinced me to go get a SSD, is there anything better coming out in the next month before I go ahead and purchase this?
"OSX still doesn't support TRIM!"
True enough. There is however some evidence to suggest it doesn't really need to:
And if you doubt the 7 page article on respected tech site with graphs and everything, well, I've had one in my MacBook pro for the last 18 months or so and the thing feels just as fast as the day I installed it. The step up over (generally much lower RPM) laptop drives is even more dramatic.
There's always going to be new components that are faster than the previous generation, so if you like it, but it. For example,
the new bottleneck is going to be lag between user and keyboard.
@Neil Naidoo, yeah but I just got a HTC Desire about a week ago on a 18 month contract. Oh how i'm regretting that today!
I have one of the XT's in my Macbook Pro (i5, 8GB). It's quick, but it's not THAT quick. I had a 7200 rpm 500GB in there before... Maybe I've just gotten used to it....
So if you have a 5200RPM drive, it's a total no-brainer. Personally, I'd be tempted to put a proper SSD in the optical bay, and an hybrid in the drive bay, so I can have data/itunes/etc on the big disk, and the OS and swap on the SSD.... ideal solution.
It's a worthwhile update tho, I think.
@Josh: the problem is OWC sponsors MacPerformance blog, so the review might be biased. I just hope Jeff can concur the review on MacPerformance blog.
And the problem of RealSSD on Mac can also be because of unsupported TRIM operation on Mac. I don't know. Need someone that has both Windows and Mac and both RealSSD and OWC Mercury Extreme Pro.
Are you paid by "Crucial"?
It is obvious you are doing it wrong: a 256Gb SSD is always faster than a 160Gb SSD (probably because everybody does some RAID-ing inside). This is how "Crucial" is ahead of Intel. I don't know if "Crucial" at 160Gb is better than Intel, but why don't you do that bench too - just for the sake of fairness?
If I was Borat, I would say that you compare how much milk does a goat produce compared with a cow :P
Maybe the problem is using Windows. As an example, my current Linux installation (Arch Linux in an Acer Aspire One) eats 4.4 GB. Of course I need a little more for swap.
I guess that if my netbook had an SSD, it would weight less, and it would be a win... But for a 200€ gadget, I guess it is ok as it is.
I can't second Jeff's excitement about hybrid drives. I think they combine the disadvantages of HDD and SSD: seek penalty/shock sensitivity & short life-time/limited number of write cycles.
My SSD moment was when I bought a new laptop and I absolutely love it. But I installed a RAM disk, disabled Hibernate and spent some hours tweaking OS and application settings to relocate temporary files so I can sleep without worrying too much about MLC and write amplification.
The biggest problem for adaptation of smart storage (of which hybrid may be a part of) is that there is little available if anything for categorization of file persistence requirements.
BTW, would you enable defragmentation for hybrid drives?
@Flavius Chis, the C300 even at 64GB will make every one SSD look like pure crap on sequential reads and large block random access, as the read speed is not directly related to the number of chips (and for SandForce drives, not even the write, every size is just as fast). What it sucks at is 4K random access, where SandForce drives rule for cheap prices (still not even remotely comparable with enterprise 200K IOPS SLC SSDs).
@Jeff Atwood, it's called a "Solid State Drive" (SSD), so drop the "Hard" - that's a "Hard Disk Drive" (HDD), which is your magnetic platter storage medium; SSDs aren't "Hard Drives".
I bought a Seagate Momentus XT 500GB.
It is slightly better than a standard 7200RPM notebook drive in real world usage but my biggest issue with it was that it only lasted 3 months.
I replaced it with an SSD.
Life. Altering. Experience.
I seriously recommend avoiding the Momentus XT. It did not live up to the hype whatsoever for me.
> (yes, you can get by with 64 GB, but at least with my Windows installs I find that I have to think about disk space with 64 GB, whereas with 128 GB I don't have to worry -- ever. Don't make me think, man!)
Which is why I run linux all the time. I have a Lucid (32 bit), Maverick beta (64 bit) and Gentoo (64bit) installation all on one raid0 set of SSDs (2x60Gb thank you very much).
I have currently 25Gb dedicated for /home, and beyond currently allocated backup snapshots I have 56Gb free space. I mean, I had to look that up, or I wouldn't have known. That is my definition of not having to think. Besides, having free space on SSD allows for best wear leveling success in the controller.
I was in shock when I found out on third attempt that Win7 _really_ requires over 10Gb *just* for WinSxS cache on a fresh install. That _does make me think_. I love Win7 for the most part, but I'm just not willing to throw away my performance / resources at that price.
Of course, I have a largish NAS running opensolaris with 5 1.5Tb disks in two mirrored pools giving me all the storage I need; e.g. iscsi volumes for my virtual machines, my CD collection, pictures and more backupey stuff.
 which is more than enough to build all of opensolaris (RIP) in, develop several ASP.Net MVC2 applications in monodevelop and do other important stuff :)
The sysadmins at my company have been looking into this thing http://www.fusionio.com/products/ioxtreme/
It's not quite in the same bracket as the drives you mention, but it is an interesting comparison. Sounds like we'll be getting some for our servers.
@Ruben: and who needs swap in a workstation? As soon as it needs swap, it ought to die!
I have 8Gb of RAM and it ought to suffice, IMHO. Badly written applications can go wreck another PC if they really need to :)
I showed up unannounced on my Moms doorstep 3 months ago (screw-driver in hand) and swapped out here OS drive for a SSD (cheap one, 30Gb).
She has been thanking me ever since for making her (old) machine fly and she noted that it had become so much quieter (because the data disk is allowed to spin down most of the time).
So as far as 'justifying the expense' is concerned, my Mom will not have to consider upgrading her PC for the next 2 years, while she had been fed up with it for some time before the SSD...
The performance chart actually includes a momenus XT, and it scores like the other spinning rust drives. Perhaps there are some situations where it performs better than a normal drive but overall it seems more similar to a HDD than a SSD.
A data point - I have dual Intel X25-M SSDs in my MacbookPro in a striped RAID configuration, and the performance improvement is surprisingly minimal over a single SSD.
BUT, having a RAID'd laptop gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside!
Adding to what @Henbo said, hybrid drives are also not as dead-quiet as pure SSD. The spinning of the discs makes a noticeable low frequency hum, making them much less suitable for sound related applications (Cubase etc) AND for your home theater PC.
I would go for a pure SSD, when the price is right.
It's worth noting that the C300 only gets a performance crown if you're running on a SATA 6 GB/s controller. If you're still on 3 GB/s, the slightly cheaper OCZ Vertex 2 can be faster, and also suffers less performance degradation. It's interesting that you posted this today, as I just ordered my first-ever SSD (a Vertex 2) two days ago. My Velociraptor just isn't that impressive any more, and it'll be nice to get rid of the delicate bungee-suspension arrangement keeping it quiet.
I've been using a Corsair P128 for about a year now and it's still amazing. The firmware back then didn't support TRIM, so I'm surprised I haven't noticed any degradation.
I've bought a new one to clone the existing drive to, then upgrade the firmware on the old one (upgrade wipes the drive) and will put that in my wife's computer once she upgrades to Win7.
What's the consensus on SSD reliability? Right now I run all my spinning rust drives in RAID1 due to paranoia and bad experiences. I'm guessing maybe 1) I wouldn't need to do that with an SSD and 2) the way a RAID controller (a real one, not mobo integrated crap) intermediates access to disks probably isn't even smart for an SSD?
I think the warning about lack of TRIM needs a few caveats.
1. OS X doesn't seem to suffer from the performance degradation. I've been using an Intel X25-M 1st generation with OS X for almost 2 years and haven't experienced slowdowns.
2. Drives with a Sandforce controller (e.g. OCZ Vertex 2) seem to be mostly immune to the problem. See http://www.anandtech.com/show/3812/the-ssd-diaries-crucials-realssd-c300/8
The only reason you may want to wait on that SSD purchase is that Intel is launching their new 25nm NAND process in December. This should give us higher capacities, better performance, and lower prices for the lower capacity drives.
I'd like to say that I agree with everything Jeff has said.
I'd like to say that, but I can't.
I had one of those "state of the art" Crucial SSD's. The exact one pictured, 256GB.
Died on me after less than two months.
Since this was my primary drive on my laptop, I couldn't wait for a replacement from Crucial, so I went to my local store and got a nice, fast 7200 500 GB Seagate drive with a nice big fat cache.
And you know what? It's noisier than the SSD, but for some things it's actually quite a bit faster. Some things a bit slower. Basically a wash for me in real world use.
And it cost $500 less.
@Flavius Chis you have no idea what you are talking about. The Intel ones have a Sata 2 (3 gigabit) interface and pretty much max it out on sequential read. The C300 has a Sata 3 (6 gigabit) interface and is implemented well enough to use some of that extra bandwidth.
Also the read rate is based on the interface quality not drive size for instance intels for sata 2 is pretty good it has a good size cache and 10 parallel channels meaning it is reading from ten places in memory. The value ones being cheaper use less channels and that is why they are slower.
When intel later this year bring out their new X25's with a sata 6 interface and small processing node (sub 25nm) and whatever other speed improvements no doubt they will be top of the list again.
Above metrics are bare numbers. I wonder, do you really subjectively feel a performance boost when doing computer intense work like programming (IDEs and compilation and running scripts on command-line are harddisk intense)?
The thing about the Intel X-25M that appealed to me was its superior performance with handling tons of simultaneous operations. It doesn't have the highest peak transfer numbers, but it's the performance in my real-world scenarios where it shines. Intel's implementation of native command queueing has played a big part in this.
There's a good example of that in action shown in this comparison test with a "fast" WD Raptor hard drive...
The nice thing is that this drive has withstood the test time. It was top dog when it was introduced 2 years ago, and it's still among the best. Since it's such a mature product I think it has proven itself to be a reliable one as well. So we've outfitted over 25 workstations at our office with the 80GB version of this drive. It's only been 6 months but they've been fine so far.
I concur, getting a SSD in the new Thinkpad I just bought was one of the wisest purchases I've made. No more clicking from HD seeks, the laptop is very much cooler (as in temperature ;]) and I notice that boot times are noticeably faster.
I am excited for the prices of these things to drop to a level when we can start substituting them in more and more applications.
Thought it was interesting that you recommended the Seagate Momentus XT. On your own chart of HD scores it's very nearly at the bottom of the list. I'm curious about the Intel 25nm process that is coming out in December. How long will it take for that to drop prices on mid-range SSDs across the board, and what kind of drop will we see?
Great, so now that you've endorsed these drives we'll probably see them go up in price. :) I read the Feedback at Newegg, it's not good for both drives. I'm interested to see how long these will last in your laptops.
Regarding hybrid drives, Windows (Vista and above) supports that implicitly with ReadyBoost. I'm a Linux guy at home, but stuck on Win7 at work. I was shocked at how much my system performance improved when I added a 4GB flash drive for ReadyBoost. (My main disks are all of the 'green' spinning variety.)
From what I can find, Windows caches all disk I/O on the ReadyBoost device, so if I were to use, e.g. a 40GB SSD, I'd have a 40GB cache against my 840GB spinning mess of virtual machines and visual studio projects. That'd speed up my builds like nobody's business...
Totally agree - I just put in an A-DATA S599 100GB SSD. My previous main drive was a 300GB VelociRaptor. I can't believe how much faster the whole machine is. By far and above the best upgrade I have ever done, period. My compile times (Visual Studio) are a third of what they were before, the whole thing flies!!!
Please update the article to reflect that OS X not supporting TRIM is not a deal-breaker. Steves, above, linked to the study I had in mind.
Otherwise, it’s kind of deceptive, don’t you think?
I agree that 64 GB is too little. On my one machine I currently use 72 GiB on my Windows partition (that's not including user folders, those are on another partition). On my other pc I use 76. That's on HDDs of course, and both partitions are 100 GB because HDD space is cheap.
But this usage doesn't really grow, since it's just Windows 7 and installed programs, and by now I've installed everything I need to (and more). I'd guess about half of it is installed games anyway.
But 80 GB should certainly be enough. That's about € 180 here, way less expensive than a 128 GB drive. (For computer hardware, basically € = $.) Even if I do get close to the 80 GB limit currently, I can easily uninstall some games that I don't really play at the moment, to get well below it.
For anything other than applications, i.e. mass storage, you should just use a HDD anyway. So I do not think 128 GB is a practical minimum, in fact I don't see how you would need it at all. And it's definitely strange to completely ignore the existence of 80 GB SSDs. Why did you do so?
I have 3 Intel X25-V SSDs: one in the machine at work, one in my laptop, and one in my desktop machine at home. They are stupid cheap: about $130 a year ago, now just a C-note on NewEgg.
Even though it falls into the middle of the pack of these benchmarks, the performance difference is still absolutely stunning. The last time that I had such a techno-shocking moment was when I first downloaded a file over my college dorm's Ethernet after coming from dial-up in 2001.
On a 32-bit machine, you can scrape by with 40GB: since you're probably upgrading, use the platter-based drive as your bulk storage (MP3s, videos, etc.) and use the SSD for the OS, your Program Files, and your Visual Studio projects that are sitting on your desktop.
On the 64-bit machine, the 40GB is really quite tight after installing a typical MS development environment, having to disable hibernation to really make it work. But you can make it work.
Long story short? Budget isn't even a reason to avoid an SSD these days.
Web developer/designer over here; my total editor, languages, 8 or so project folders, Windows XP virtual install (complete with Baldur's Gate 2, Dungeon Keeper and a few other choice classics) and audio/video files all total something like 24gb. I don't try to keep it down, that's just what it comes to naturally.
I bought myself a stack of 2.5" 64gb SSDs at about $160 each, and put them in my laptop, netbook and desktop (the wife's iMac is the only machine in the house that still uses platter drives, and it's because she uses something like 200gb of storage there).
Granted, most of the audience here is probably Windows users, but if you're already on some flavor of Linux for a machine or two, it is very VERY easy to get away with a 32gb SSD (which is down at the ~$100 range).
And like Jeff says, it is easily the best performance-related purchase you can make.
There are much faster SSDs on the market right now
The OCZ RevoDrive blows away every benchmark out there
It is basically two RAID 0 on a PCI-E x4 card, which is bootable. It doesn't support TRIM but its like 4 or 5 times faster than any other hard drive
References to Moore's Law strike a nostalgic chord in me. I interned at Fairchild Semiconductor last year, and spoke with company personel while still in college. Gordon Moore and Fairchild Semi. The origination of the law, and one of Fairchild's founding fathers, so he holds special acclaim with the Fairchild community.
This article is sweet, I can use it to upgrade my laptop and actually know a little bit about what's going on with the technical aspects of the hardware. Thanks for the post, super informative.
I'm now working for a web startup, pricefalls.com, similar to ebay and amazon. We're carving out a place on the web; our focus is to be better, happier, and more equitable than the two black box titans--ebay and amazon. My computer may need an upgrade as I manage a great deal of data, so this blog post will be one of my reference points. Thanks!
My real question is... why bother in an HTPC?
You shouldn't be rebooting it very often; it should be in S3 suspend.
And that 4gb cache isn't going to matter with your AV software in RAM and all your media files being far larger (or not played so often as to be in the cache, or so small as to just be a blip of a read, eg for MP3 audio).
Am I missing some notional benefit in an HTPC application that would make it worth the extra cost?
It sounds like it's doing little more than a 7200 rpm with a 4GB USB dedicated to ReadyBoost.
Still, as a user of a laptop with 5400rpm internal HDD, this post has reminded me that I need to at least put a 7200rpm with cache -- no, mine doesn't even have cache. Any recommendation?
I would think cool and silent running would be one benefit for an HTPC; if the HTPC is also doing video capture at the same time it's playing, the multiplexed access should be less prone to stuttering on an SSD.
I have been wondering about build times for software development (e.g. Visual Studio and edit-compile-test cycles).
I would imagine that using a file cache to fill fast internal memory would be much faster than any external disk could be, HDD or SSD, so switching to SSD would give little benefit.
Why isn't this the case? Does the Windows file cache have problems?
The Crucial RealSSD 256GB version is almost TWICE as fast as the same brand 128GB version - so the same goes for the rest of the competitors in that list: Twice the storage twice the speed!...
In regards to the CPU "is just cream", my personal experience is that, when I mounted an SSD I got super performance overall, but only very little compiling my solution in VS.NET 2010.. Then I overclocked my CPU from 2.8 to 3.8 GHz and that gave me a LOT of performance in compiling! The GHz was equal to time compile time gained..
Also (in my experience) a SATA-3 controller/interface helps a lot when mounting a HD - especially for all small block reads.
@CJakeman I don't know your system configuration, or the nature and complexity of your projects and solutions, but my workstation has 4GB of RAM, VS2010 likes to swallow most of that during a build (I'm aggregating including concurrent child processes), so there's not much left for in-RAM file cache. Any given solution directory for me sits around 2-3GB including intermediate, ncb(well, now OXF), and pch files.
Byte for byte, an SSD is far and away cheaper than expanding system RAM.
@Anders Mad different languages, and different approaches to using language features, will tax different resources differently. YMMV.
My problem with moving to SSD is capacity right now. You may very well be comfortable with 128GB but I have to think about storage even at 640GB (2 of them for that matter). Ok maybe only once in a while but when the time comes I need to make sure I have my 2 externals out and start the data shuffle moving information from my internal laptop drives to my external archive drives. I also have to consider on what data I'm going to drop. For now I need to do capacity over performance. That is until I get my NAS hopefully later in the year. Then and only then can I even remotely consider changing out to SSD.
Let's put up with a few facts,
1. More Storage SSD != faster. While the two are related they are non in linear relationship. Generally more storage means you have more free space so SSD does less GC and can copy faster. Read is all the same.
The other reason is more storage means a HIGHER chance of reading from Multi Channel. Which translate to higher performance. However a 256GB with 10 channel is going to be as fast as 512GB with 10 Channel.
2. The hybrid drive isn't that fast. I dont even call it close to SSD. You ahev 4GB of SSD space that is being file optimized by seagate firmware. If you have to spend $99 on a 320GB Hybrid Drive. I would recommend spending 40GB on a proper SSD and just use NAS for any storage.
3. The Crucial is a SATA 3.0 6Gbps drive. It is slow at Random 4K Read Write ( An important factor in day to day uses. ) And there are also high failure rate ( Go Google it )
4. Wait for Intel G3 SSD and Sandforce 2 coming out in few months time.
After reading this article, I went out and got a Momentus XT for my 2007 Macbook Pro. Wow. Until I installed the new disk, I was ready to buy a new laptop, as the performance was generally poor. But now I don't think I'll need to. Everything loads faster, there're far fewer spinning beachballs.
After reading the other comments, there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not you'll see any improvement. In my case, I replaced the stock hdd that came with the laptop, so I can't comment on the performance vs other disks. But I am happily encouraging everyone in the same position as me to invest in hybrid drives.
Is it possible to install
the current king of the hill the Crucial RealSSD C300
on a IBM Think Pad T42. Or do I get problemos with the controller ?
Herbie from Switzerland
I never knew this much about SSDs but always personally liked those...thanks for all this info...
What kind of pre- and post- SSD install boot times have you achieved? VS startup time?
Has TRIM been fully standardized?
Also how did OtherWorldComputing achieve their performance (who wasn't mentioned here at all) without TRIM? And they claim to not have the degradation issue.
TRIM also means you can never do data recovery, which is of course a weak argument since, especially anyone using OS X, should have a backup routine in place and thus never have to worry about recovery from the main drive itself.
So after a couple of months of use, what's the verdict on the Momentus XT Hybrid Technology?
Interested in picking a 500gb model up to replace the 250gb OEM drive on my Unibody MacBook, otherwise I may go the route of swapping my optical drive with a true SSD drive.
aye, an update on how the momentus is performing over time would be great as the reviews on newegg were all talking about big performance drops within a couple of months of use.
I've read a lot about this SSD and I'd really want to try one on my pc, hope this year i can save enough money to gift me one.
With the Seagate Momentus XT, what do you think is its compatibility with ReadyBoost? (on my Windows 7 laptop)