DIY SSD Guide

by Reads (109,459)

by Kevin O’Brien

Solid state disks (SSDs) are a flash-based memory storage device that carries an insane price premium in the current market. They will usually cost $600 to $1,000 as an upgrade from the manufacturer or computer parts store, making them outside the price range of many consumers. A new cheaper (slightly slower) option is available thanks to low-cost, high-capacity flash cards. This option is using a cheap compact flash to SATA adapter, and purchasing a moderately fast memory card that would fill your storage needs.

For this review I aimed to keep the price less than $100 just to show how affordable this option could be.


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Specifications of the SATA adapter and Compact flash cards used for this review:

Addonics CF To SATA HDD Adapter

  • Enable Compact Flash (CFI/II) or Micro DriveTM to be used like ordinary 2.5" SATA hard drive
  • Mounts directly onto notebook 2.5" SATA connector
  • CF Card can be the primary bootable device containing the OS and applications.
  • Transparent to the operating system and does not require any drivers
  • Supports DMA and Ultra DMA modes (only on flash media card with such features).
  • Compatible with DOS, Windows 3.1, NT4, 98SE, Me, 2000, XP, Vista, Mac, Linux
  • Price $30 (available here)

Trancend 4GB 266x Compact Flash

  • Capacity 4GB
  • Speed 266X (40MB/sec Max)
  • Support IDE PIO mode 6, Ultra DMA mode 4
  • Compliant with the CF4.0 specification
  • Built-in hardware ECC technology
  • Built-in ATA interface for easy Plug and Play interoperability
  • Lower power consumption
  • Price $60

Kingston 4GB 133x Compact Flash

  • Speed – 25MB/sec. read, 20MB/sec. write
  • Standardized – complies with CompactFlash Association specification standards
  • Economical – autosleep mode preserves system battery life
  • Price $40 (Free after rebate)

Sandisk Ultra II 512MB Compact Flash

  • Minimum of 10MB/second sequential read speed for ultra-fast image viewing and data transfer
  • Minimum 9MB/second sequential write speed lets you capture large image files faster
  • Low power consumption for longer battery life
  • Price Free, old flash laying around

Setup

One nice perk of these types of devices is they don’t require any drivers to work on any system. There are a few requirements though; the system must have SATA, and the compact flash card must support DMA modes. Some older flash cards will have problems, but since 4GB to 16GB flash cards didn’t economically exist a few years ago, this should not be a problem.


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Installing the operating system was the only other setup required for this review, and it follows the same installation process as any other Windows XP install process. If you are wondering why I didn’t pick Vista, our review budget limited us to 4GB cards that were fast enough to compete against a standard hard drive. If you move your budget up $50 or $100 more, you will open yourself up to 8GB and larger cards that would be fine for installing Vista.

Performance

Now you are probably wondering what the performance difference is between a standard 7200rpm drive, true SSD, and my DIY SSD. For this review I cover those three drives, as well as a handful of others to give you the best idea of what to expect.

The first lineup of benchmarks comparison use the software PerformanceTest, and the included disk test. As you can see, the DIY SSD performs quite well, even outperforming a true SSD found in the Sony VAIO TZ.

Disk Speed Apple MacBook Air
4200 rpm 1.8" HD
1.8" SSD in
Sony TZ
DIY SSD 7200 rpm
2.5" HD
Memoright
128GB SATA SSD
Sequential Read 16.3 27.7 30.1 40.9 37.7

Sequential Write

22.7 13.4 21.0
38.0 60.3
Random Seek + RW 1.28 1.21 1.44 2.97 3.55
Disk Mark 145.7 153.0 189.9 295.9 367.2
PassMark Rating 29.1 30.6 38.9
59.2 73.4

 

For HDTune, we included more drives into the comparison, including multiple types of compact flash card to show you how much speed can vary between cards. (Note: Not all compact flash cards are made equal, and the old 512MB Sandisk card has very poor access times.)

MacBook Air:

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Sony TZ SSD:

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5400 rpm HD:

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Kingston CF:

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Trancend CF:

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Sandisk CF:

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7200 rpm HD:

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32GB Memoright SSD:

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128GB Memoright SSD:

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PCMark05 benchmarks:
(Higher scores mean better performance)

  • Lenovo T60 2.16GHz w/ 7200rpm XP: 4816
  • Lenovo T60 2.16GHz w/ DIY SSD XP: 3930

I figure the main difference between these two scores is the 7200rpm drive has a much faster disk transfer rate. Still, if you violently shake a notebook with a standard hard drive while it’s accessing the drive you will kill the drive. You can violently shake a DIY SSD and nothing will happen.

Power Consumption

With the DIY SSD, I was expecting at least a little less power draw, but nothing was found in my use. Idle power draw was around 15.3w for both the 7200rpm drive, and the DIY SSD. Chances are the $30 adapter has nowhere near the power efficiency levels that a true SSD would have.

Conclusion

With this review I was planning on showing a proof of concept that it was possible to make your own SSD and didn’t expect that it would provide such great real world results. While many very pricey performance SSDs exist, the module I assembled had greater speeds than the SSD found in an off the shelf notebook at a fraction of the price. If you are on a budget and need an option for a notebook that sees very rough duty, or you just like snappy boot times you may want to check this out.

Pros

  • MUCH cheaper compared to any other SSD solution
  • You pick the flash module you trust most
  • Very small overall size compared to 2.5" drives

Cons

  • Not as fast as a 7200rpm drive or a performance SSD
  • No gain in battery life



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