I finally made the jump and bought a Crucial 256GB SSD, model CT256M4SSD2 for my Win7 Home Premium 64-bit equipped laptop.
Being it’s most likely true you’ll be switching to SSD instead of buying a PC or laptop with SSD built-in, describing my experience with it should help a bunch of you who are riding the fence on whether to get one or not.
I’ll state up front that I’m not going to talk about benchmarks at all and instead concentrate on practical application of the storage technology, because in the end that’s all that matters.
The #1 advantage of SSD is…
…its ability to crunch through data really, really fast. SSD is the closest thing you can get to running an OS off of nothing but RAM (which is the fastest anyone could ever get). The blazing fast read and write speeds benefit almost everywhere in an OS.
The superior data-crunching ability of SSD in general use is most noticeable in five places:
1. Web browsing
2. Entering a computer into sleep or hibernation
3. Bringing a computer out of sleep or hibernation
4. Working with large files or many thousands of small files
5. Loading files or programs
I immediately noticed when running a browser off SSD that it was able to crunch through the big data some web pages throw at it with ease.
Sleep and Hibernation
Executing either on SSD is crazy fast. Fast enough to where when you bring a laptop out of sleep, the desktop is there, network connected and everything is ready to go in less than 10 seconds.
The hibernation time is almost as good. Hibernation is always slower than sleep because the entire computer is shut off when you do it, requiring a semi-cold start when you boot back up. But even with that known slowdown of hibernation when comparing it to sleep, the speed is incredible.
Working with large files or many thousands of small files
As a test I extracted a RAR email backup I have that contains over 20,000 small files in a single archive. Extraction wasn’t instant (and wouldn’t be even on an 8-core system), but it was noticeably quicker. The best part was that I could minimize the app that was extracting all those files and still use my computer normally with no obviously slowdowns anywhere.
With the big files, cutting/copying and pasting was very quick and not once did I see the “Smart Move” notice in Windows 7 when I did it (which typically happens on slower drives).
You’ll see the true power and speed of a 64-bit app if you use the 64-bit version of 7-Zip on SSD. Go right ahead and throw the big files and/or many small files at it, and it will handle it quickly with no problems.
Loading files or programs
Everything loads faster. Yes, everything. The only time in the Windows environment where something won’t load faster is if it involves registry modification. For example, on a Windows update, the initial run of said update will be very quick, but the modifications it does to the registry will occur at the same speed as before.
A few examples of where things run faster:
Any app you have which utilizes a real-time spell checker (i.e. the “red squiggle” lines under misspelled words). If right now you encounter the situation where the app actually pauses/stutters whenever it detects a misspelled word, running off SSD will completely cure that ill. Why? Because your system will be able to access the dictionary database so much faster that the pausing will be gone.
PowerPoint and presentation-style files will load with ridiculously fast speed and be much easier to work with when running off SSD.
The time to render video – any video – is literally cut by more than half.
When editing large photos, you’ll immediately notice running filters (converting to grayscale, sharpening, adding/removing blur, etc.) is much quicker.
With the bottleneck of an HDD almost eliminated entirely by using SSD, you can’t necessarily run more apps at once (which is more dependent on the CPU and RAM), but you sure can switch between apps a whole lot faster.
Whenever you ALT+TAB between apps, Windows will place priority on whatever app you have currently in focus. For certain apps, putting them in the background means they have to be “loaded again” when you switch back to them, and that’s where the drive comes into play. On SSD, given the load time is so much quicker, switching back and forth between running apps is notably faster.
And although I’ve already talked about the web browser above, another point to be made is that switching tabs in IE or Chrome is also much quicker. Why just IE and Chrome? Because both those browsers load tabs as separate processes, so when you switch tabs, that’s essentially the same as switching between apps.
What about heat?
I read all over the place that SSD runs cooler than HDD, but I didn’t believe it. I was totally expecting SSD to run as hot if not hotter than HDD, but when I ran it, I can confirm that yes it runs cooler.
My laptop has a vent on the left side of it that I can place my finger over to get a very rough idea of how much heat is coming out of the chassis.
When taxing the HDD (such as when rendering a large video file) that was previously in the laptop, I could definitely feel the heat coming out of that vent. The heat wasn’t what you’d consider hot, but pretty close.
With SSD, the hottest it gets can only be considered “slightly warm” at the vent, even when taxing it the same way I did with the HDD.
This is not to say that SSD doesn’t heat up when in use, because it does. But it doesn’t generate nearly as much heat as the HDD did.
A few more notes on SSD application depending on form factor:
The HDD in my laptop had a thin foam “sheet” while the new SSD had no such foam. I did remove the foam from the old HDD and applied it to the SSD.
The foam is there for two reasons. First, it keeps the drive in place so it doesn’t get knocked around in the chassis when the backplane cover is attached, and secondly assists with heat dissipation. Per the heat dissipation, that’s really not necessary with SSD but as far as keeping the drive in place, it’s absolutely necessary. True, you can knock around SSD all day and it will still work, but the tiny drive connector will at some point get wrecked. Essentially what you’re doing by keeping the drive snugly in place with the foam is protecting the connector more than the drive itself.
With a standard desktop tower application, using SSD doesn’t mean you can go ahead and throw out your existing cooling system or degrade it. Your processor and video card still need to be cooled down. And if you plan on running SSD + HDD, obviously the existing HDD inside your computer box will also still generate a good amount of heat.
The only thing you could eliminate by replacing an HDD with SSD in a computer box is a hard drive cooler. But even then I’d say stick the hard drive cooler on the SSD anyway. You already own it so you might as well use it, and it does no harm to the SSD whatsoever.
You “can’t go wrong” with SSD?
If the unit you buy has a proven track record of reliability and stability (which the Crucial model I bought does as evidenced by many positive reviews across many systems), you basically can’t go wrong with SSD as long you’re running a modern operating system such as WinVista, Win7, Linux kernel version 3 or above, or Mac OS X Snow Leopard or above.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again – don’t run WinXP on SSD. There are always those people that say “I run XP on SSD and it’s fine, and I’ve been running it that way for X months blah blah blah”, and again I’ll say those people are just plain lucky and their luck will run out because that Windows kernel was absolutely not designed to run on Flash-based memory.
If you like the idea of SSD but don’t feel like spending the cash on a Win7 license, switch to Linux. Seriously. The current Linux kernel version 3 has no issues whatsoever running off SSD.
If you’re insistent on being the “XP ’til I die” type and wish to remain with that OS, continue to use the 512-byte sector (XP does not natively support 4k-sector) 7200 RPM HDD. WinXP has zero issues with that type of drive. No potential pagefile writing issues, no sleep/hibernation issues, etc. XP happily runs on the 512-byte sector 7200 RPM HDD. Purposely run a motherboard with SATA 6Gb/s speed HDD connectors, grab yourself a 1TB Barracuda and you’ll be a very happy XP user. Run XP on SSD, and you’re inviting blue-screen hell.
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