by Kevin O’Brien
Solid State Drives or SSDs are one of the latest upgrades for new notebooks, either from the factory or as an aftermarket add-on. Some of these drives offer lower power consumption, faster transfer speeds, and increased reliability over regular drives since they have no moving parts. This can be a frightening upgrade for the average consumer between the high price tag and the countless models that have hit the market. In this SSD buying guide we hope to shed some light on the different options available to consumers wondering if an SSD is right for them.
Faster transfer speeds
Every single SSD we’ve tested at NotebookReview has benchmarked faster than even the fastest 7200RPM notebook hard drive. Not only are the peak transfer speeds higher but they stay consistent over the entire drive. Standard hard drives fall off in speed as you move across sections of the disk, starting off faster near the edges and gradually slowing down as you move towards the center of the platter. While the fastest notebook drive might peak upwards of 80MB/s in perfect conditions, the last Samsung SSD we reviewed peaked at 150MB/s and the new 80GB Intel SSD at over 190MB/s.
Another important aspect in which flash-based SSD models reign over spinning platter drives is the access times associated with finding files on the device. While the common 7200RPM drive might find a file in 12-14 milliseconds, an SSD would barely pause, finding it in 0.1-0.3ms. In day-to-day use this means faster boot times, faster program loading times, and quicker map loads while gaming.
No moving parts
One of the fundamental differences between an SSD and a normal hard drive is the lack of any moving parts. While a standard drive might have thin platters that spin at 5400 or 7200RPM, SSDs incorporate thin flash modules soldered to a board. What this translates to for the average consumer is less risk of data loss or damage if the notebook is dropped or put in a harsh environment such as an automobile.
One advantage of having no moving parts is the surreal quiet associated with a computer that is entirely silent. Unless a cooling fan is operating, the only component inside a computer that is making any noise is the spinning hard drive and the mild crunching sound it makes while accessing data. With an SSD there is no noise or vibration from the drive while the computer is running.
Lower power consumption
Writing and reading data from an SSD is less stressful to your notebook, requiring less power in most cases when compared to a standard hard drive. The average spinning drive might consume 2-3 watts of power under normal activity, while the latest SSD would would use less than 1 watt. Idle states are even lower since an SSD doesn’t need to keep spinning when it isn’t being used. Even though saving a watt or two of power might not seem like much, with the latest lineup of notebooks drawing 9-11 watts total under normal use, your battery life could increase by 10-20%.
Being such a new technology, SSDs have yet to lower in price enough to be comparable to a normal disk drive. You can currently purchase a 500GB Western Digital or Samsung 2.5” hard drive from NewEgg for about $150, whereas a 64GB Samsung SSD costs $699 or a 128GB Super Talent drive is $399. Prices have dropped dramatically in the past year, but they’re very steep compared to even top-of-the-line 7200RPM drives.
SSDs may not be able to match the capacities of their spinning counterparts, but they are coming close. A couple of companies have announced 256GB models to be released later this year, at an undoubtedly very steep price point.
Those looking to sacrifice capacity for the sake of getting an SSD should make sure they buy one large enough to handle the operating system and a good chunk of data on top. People running Windows XP could comfortably get along with a 16GB size at the smallest, while most Vista users would want at least 32GB of space. While the operating system could fit stripped down on a smaller size, most people will want basic word processing capabilities, music, movies, and other heavy items on their machines. With the current price of models on the market I wouldn’t personally buy anything smaller than 32GB.
Cost versus speed
Affordable SSDs have recently hit the market, offering prices as low as $140 for 32GB models. These models offer reasonable prices for a wide range of storage capacities but operate at slower speeds than the top-end solid state drives. These models offer speeds that compete with current 5400 and 7200RPM notebook drives, but at a significantly lower price than other models on the market. Super Talent currently sells both “affordable” and “performance” SSDs, with noticeable price differences between the lines. The high-performance 64GB SSD currently costs $825 dollars, whereas the cheaper 64GB “affordable” SSD costs only $239. The main difference in this case is the chips that make up the flash memory in each model, with faster memory modules in one, and slower modules in the other.
SSD form factor, while not exactly a key concern, is worth noting for some notebook users. Most SSD models currently ship in the 2.5-inch format, with a few in the smaller 1.8-inch size. 2.5 inches has long been the standard for consumer notebooks, with 1.8-inch drives only being found in some ultraportable devices. While adapters are available to increase the size of the drive, make sure you verify the size you need before you make any purchase.
Do you really need an SSD?
For the average notebook user, upgrading to an SSD will probably show few if any gains. You might notice an increase in system response time, but overall your daily activities will stay the same. On the other hand, users who game frequently or who run disk intensive applications will see substantial gains with the higher transfer speeds and lower access times associated with flash drives. People who have rugged notebooks might want to consider a solid state disk as well. They will benefit from the lack of moving parts which might get damaged in the event of the computer tumbling to the ground or being vibrated around inside a vehicle. It also bears repeating that an SSD will consume less electricity than traditional drives, potentially netting a useable increase in battery life. Whether these factors outweigh the current costs of solid state technology, however, is something only you can decide.
SSD Reviews from NotebookReview.com
Below is a list of SSD models we’ve tested in the past, including both upgrade and OEM units.
The Memoright 128GB SSD offers excellent speed, but at a steep price of $3,499 at the time of review. Right now this model has dropped down to roughly $2,800, which is still quite pricey.
The Crucial drive fell into the category of very fast, but also very hot SSD. It consumed about as much power as a standard drive, and became quite warm under active use. Currently this model goes for as little as $339 at some online retailers.
This SSD is an older IDE model designed for breathing new life into past generation notebooks. While the overall transfer speeds were excellent, this type of situation saw a better performance increase from upgrading the entire notebook instead of upgrading to an SSD.
This super fast SSD clocked over 150MB/s during our benchmarks, and really helped speed up this Dell portable workstation. Currently this model sells for as low as $699 online through a few retailers, and can be found in Dell notebooks if you chose that option during customization.
The Sony TZ was the first notebook we reviewed in-house with an SSD from the factory. By today’s standards this drive rates slow overall, showing the substantial jump in performance from being one generation newer.