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Solid State Drive Buyer's Guide

SSD: It’s About Time

We’ve covered a lot of factors that go into assessing total SSD value, but there are still others. For instance, Intel recently made the transition from 50 nm die fabrication on its original (G1) X25-M drives to a 32 nm process (G2). This number refers to the average transistor size on a silicon substrate. A “fab shrink” is a pretty big deal in the CPU world, in part because it typically results in lower power consumption. With SSDs, the effect on power draw is hardly worth mentioning, and early reports don’t seem to show much of a performance gain tied directly to the process size. However, other updates to drives coincident with the fab shrink can have a major performance impact. In one recent story on Tom’s Hardware, author Achim Roos showed how the G2's new TRIM compatibility could significantly benefit write performance. Unfortunately, it seems that the G1 series won’t ever get TRIM support. Neither will most of the drives on today’s market, especially at the low-end. How important this is to you will depend on how much data writing you do. In the real world, most consumers spend relatively little time doing drive writes. Certainly, some tasks, such as media editing, lean more on writing than others. But do you care if it takes a few milliseconds more to save a Word document?


 

Kingston recently released some stopwatch numbers for application opening times on with its entry-level SSDNow V-Series compared to an unnamed 7200 RPM SATA hard drive. As you can see in the numbers below, the bargain-priced V-Series opened applications two to three times faster than its magnetic competitor.

These numbers deal with seconds, and you might think, “Well, I really don’t care if Acrobat Reader and Word open three seconds faster with an SSD. It’s just not that big of a deal.” That could be true. But we’ll circle back here to that Intel enterprise document we started out discussing. Even if you’re not punching a clock in a cubicle farm, time matters to all of us. Opening applications is only one of the things we wait for during everyday PC usage. Check this out:

See how it all adds up? You might question some of Intel’s line items. For example, many users never put a system into standby mode. It happens automatically, sure, but we’re not standing around waiting for it to happen. On the other hand, many sources cite a Windows load time in the 30- to 60-second range. Short of having a new build with no apps installed, our average, HDD-based work system loads in anywhere from two to four minutes from a cold boot—a process we have to endure every morning after Microsoft gets the urge to push out a patch update. Still, let’s say you don’t reboot that often, you don’t initiate standby mode, and so on. Let’s say that Intel’s numbers should really be cut in half—no, two-thirds!—for ordinary consumer usage. That’s still over eight hours of time saved in the course of a year, a full work-day of productivity. How much is a day of productivity worth to you? More than the $100 difference between an average hard drive and a low-end SSD?