While several times the cost per GB of conventional drives, an entry-level SSD will run many times faster, and I think it’s the perfect companion for today’s high-end processors. The days of using conventional boot drives are surely limited.
I noticed that there are a lot of sites pirating this article verbatim. Here is a link to the original on SoftwareKeith.com… — Keith
Fast. Smooth. Quiet.
The SSD at US$250 (on NewEgg.com) was rather pricey for a single PC component — it cost as much as the Core i7-860 CPU itself. But I knew almost immediately that it was the right decision: with the SSD installed, everything flies ! The system feels so “smooth,” like the hard drive and the processor are in sync. Windows 7 Ultimate installed in about 10 minutes flat; it boots in about 20 seconds. Apps leap onto the screen again within a second or two.
My favorite readers will remember that after my very fast RAID-10 array died (see my last post), I had to run the Core i7 box off a single 7200 RPM drive for a while, which showed clearly that the hard drive was a performance bottleneck.
Formatted, the SSD has about 120GB of space. After installing Windows 7 Ultimate and a handful of core applications (FireFox, Picasa, Windows Live Writer, etc.), I still had over 90 GB free. After some heavier installs – including Office Professional 2010, Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, and Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 – there’s still well over 80 GB free. That’s more than enough for most people to play with for quite some time.
Why SSD’s smoke conventional drives
In a word (or two): access time. The access time is how long it takes the storage device to read data.
For conventional drives, this involves waiting until the data on the spinning hard drive platter (right) rotates under the read head, positioning the read head arm to the correct track (radially), and reading the data from the platter. Conventional desktop hard drives, even the best in the world, have access times of 4 to 8 milliseconds, which turns out to be an eternity for today’s processors.
The following analogy brings home the massive disparity between the speed of a modern processors and hard drives:
The first thing that jumps out is how absurdly fast our processors are… reading from L1 cache is like grabbing a piece of paper from your desk (3 seconds), L2 cache is picking up a book from a nearby shelf (14 seconds), and main system memory is taking a 4-minute walk down the hall to buy a Twix bar. Waiting for a hard drive seek is like leaving the building to roam the earth for one year and three months.
— “What Your Computer Does While You Wait,” Gustavo Duarte
As it turns out, most of the work done by an operating system involves reading a ton of little files, more or less “randomly” accessing the hard drive. Thus, impressively fast sequential read or write speeds are not nearly as important as random access read speed. Anand Lal Shimpi explains why, even though the cost per GB is so much higher, SSDs are worth it:
Measuring random access is very important because that’s what generally happens when you go to run an application while doing other things on your computer. It’s random access that feels the slowest on your machine. Most hard drives will take closer to 8 or 9 ms in this test. The fastest SSDs can find the data you’re looking for in around 0.1 ms. That’s an order of magnitude faster than the fastest hard drive on the market today. [KB: it’s actually almost two orders of magnitude faster…]
— “The SSD Anthology: Why You Should Want an SSD,” AnandTech, March 2009
This explains my own experience: even though my formerly alive RAID-10 array benchmarked faster than the Kingston SSD overall, with a PassMark Disk Mark score of 1100 to the SSD’s 950, the system feels so much quicker with the SSD – without the headaches of RAID-10.
This is why I’m now an SSD convert.
See with your own eyes
Watch the actual launch speed of a handful of common applications on my Core i7-860 below. This screencast was done immediately after reboot, so no applications are pre-loaded or cached in memory. Most apps load in about a second or so; Outlook 2010 takes the longest, but since my mail archives are on a network share, the five or so seconds it takes to load includes accessing a remote filesystem.
The lowly old spinning-platter hard drive is the primary bottleneck in the modern computer. Though pricey, an SSD is a perfect match for a today’s fast processors.
For those still reading…
Benchmarks are below – you can skip this section if you’re not interested in my technological prognostications.
I’ll make a bold prediction: as a boot drive, the SSD was so effective at speeding up my computer, I believe that within two years, they will become mainstream as boot drive choices. With the ever-increasing capabilities of our processors, and the ever-increasing demands we put on our computers, it’s a perfect choice.
The default configuration would be be an SSD- or memory-based boot drive, on which the operating system and applications are installed, supplemented where necessary by a second, higher-capcacity legacy technology drive (you know, the ones that go ‘round and ‘round).
Intelligent OS storage architectures?
If we’re lucky, Microsoft will get inspired and allow seamless stitching of fast SSD and slow legacy storage in their next version of Windows. This not-yet-invented technology would enable two drives – a fast, smaller SSD and a slower, larger conventional drive – to be seen as a single logical storage partition. The OS would have the intelligence, for instance, to automatically install applications on the fast part and keep things like large images – when necessary – on the slower drive. Why not?
While you’re at it, Microsoft: use that legacy hard drive for a completely automated, idiot-proof backup system. This would have one switch at the highest level: “back up my system” – or not. Want to improve your “street cred” against upstarts Apple and Google? Let no Windows user henceforth ever lose their data. It’s the right thing to do.
Let’s face it: the SSD could basically be considered just a fast hard drive cache. Caching technology and cache-hit optimization strategies are fairly well-understood, as are the dynamics of logical block translation in operating systems: why should it be difficult to have the OS manage and optimize a hybrid storage array?
It turns out there already are “hybrid hard drives” or “HHD’s”. See the Tech Report’s “Seagate Momentus XT: a hybrid for the masses?” and Wikipedia’s entry on hybrid drives. These drives blend flash memory and a conventional hard drive in one package. Unfortunately, this is not as flexible as an OS-based implementation would be.
PassMark’s Disk Mark measured the random seek performance of the SSD at 60% higher than the RAID-10 array (in MB/s):
HD Tune clocks its read performance at 250 MB/s, stellar:
HD Tune’s file benchmarks show file reads and writes many times faster than the average drive (in MB/s):
Windows Experience Index scores it 6.8 out of… 7.9? Could anything be less clear than Microsoft’s own explanation?
As it’s mid-2010, I suppose I’m a little late to the party, but… who’s going to be ahead of Anand? Regardless, it’s good to be here:
“For the past several months I’ve been calling SSDs the single most noticeable upgrade you can do to your computer. … Whenever anyone mentions a more affordable SSD you always get several detractors saying that you could easily buy 2 VelociRaptors for the same price. Allow me to show you one table that should change your opinion.”
— Anand Lal Shimpi, “The SSD Anthology,” March 2009
A few months later, Anand followed up this magnum opus with yet another:
“What have I gotten myself into? The SSD Anthology I wrote back in March was read over 2 million times. Microsoft linked it, Wikipedia linked it, my esteemed colleagues in the press linked it, Linus freakin Torvalds linked it. ”
— Anand Lal Shimpi, “The SSD Relapse: Understanding and Choosing the Best SSD,” August 2009
- "How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive," LifeHacker, July 2010
“Solid-state drives (SSDs) have grown popular in recent years for the impressive speed increases your system gains using them. To get the most from your SSD, however, you can (and should) do a few things differently.”
- “What Your Computer Does While You Wait,” Gustavo Duarte
- Solid-state drive, Wikipedia
A solid-state drive (SSD) is a data storage device that uses solid-state memory to store persistent data. SSDs are distinguished from traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), which are electromechanical devices containing spinning disks and movable read/write heads. SSDs, in contrast, use microchips, and contain no moving parts. Compared to traditional HDDs, SSDs are typically less susceptible to physical shock, quieter, and have lower access time and latency.