Thursday 10 June 2010

Solid State Drives

I've recently been spending some time trying to speed up my PC. As usual over time, performance seemed to have become a bit sluggish, so a disk and registry clean-up, un-install session and a defrag was in order.

All done but I'm still not happy! This machine should be flying - so whats going wrong? So I set about some analysis of what my machine is actually doing. After some indepth monitoring of my performance monitor in the Windows Task Manager I realised the processor was hardly doing anything, the memory was only half used and the gigabit network card was practically on tick-over.

So why do I still sometimes have laggy performance when doing simple windows tasks. After a process of elimination my focus turned to the hard drive. I found out I had a Seagate 7200rpm SATA drive with 2MB cache. Seems reasonable to me for a year old desktop machine. But the more I monitored performance the more I realised this was now the weakest link in my machine. So on I moved to research the latest drives. Solid State Drives (SSD) and more importantly to see if I could justify the cost of an upgrade to save me a few, but an annoying few, seconds!

To my pleasant surprise I found the prices have come down to something very affordable and in terms of size I don't really need huge capacity. Most of my data is stored centrally on our server so I really just need enough space for the Operating System and some of my key applications. So I turned to my trusty back issues of PC Pro magazine. Bingo! A labs section review of Solid State Drives in the June issue. After a quick read and a check on our site for prices I'd settled on the "PC Pro Recommended" Intel X25-M 80GB Drive (SSDSA2MH080G2R5) at £174. (£20 cheaper than when it was reviewed)

The tiny drive arrived in a small retail box and comes with a mounting bracket to allow it to fit neatly into a desktop machine. I swapped the SATA cable from the existing drive onto the SSD and attached my current hard drive to another SATA connection, then set about loading Windows from scratch. Immediately there is a significant speed difference as the obligatory reboots whilst installing and applying updates are noticeably faster. After a couple of hours of re-installing all my applications I was ready to go.

Wow! Now I'm really flying! Applications appear on screen as if they have just been minimised, not loaded from scratch. There's no point trying to give you any time measurements - Everything is just the blink of an eye. It's the best £174 I've spent in years. I think our standard PC configuration will be changed to incorporate these drives as standard since non of our users need large local drive space and when you offset the cost against a normal drive then you are only looking at around £100 premium. Admittedly I did pick a "PC Pro recommended" drive, and they did find some "dogs" that gave no noticable speed increase over a normal hard drive. So if you are thinking of trying this kind of upgrade then do your research or stick to this drive. The end result of all this effort is that we now have a dedicated category for SSD's on our site that contains 60+ drives.

If you are still not convinced watch this amazing video from Intel comparing the speed of an SSD to a traditional hard drive. Good luck with your upgrade!


  1. Crazy. Can't wait to this technology is standard

  2. Very impressive just like the windows startup videos I have seen but I'd love to see demos with specific games. I think most people will very infrequently open more than one program but spend up to a minute waiting for gigabytes of textures to load when they enter an intensive game for the first time. Nice to think that disk fragmentation is a thing of the past with these.

  3. I still use an old XP install disk for wen I reinstall to any of my PC's and then I install SP2 and SP3 after. You can do this with IDE drives, but not with SATA drives, as the XP install needs to have the SATA drives built in to it, and the original XP install disk doesn't have these. Would I be able to install XP (using my original XP CD) to an SSD drive or not? I guess this would only work if the SDD works with IDE drivers, at least initially.

  4. (anonymous 30/06 11:39)
    As Brian said, he had his old drive still attached. Windows 7 looks for an IDE drive first, THEN SATA. I have had no trouble whatsoever installing XP(or Win7) onto a SATA drive . Suggest you do the same as Brian. Then use MigWiz or something. I believe SSDs are SATA anyway. Cheers.

  5. I Think Strawb77 means Chris (who wrote the SSD blog) not Brian. Easy mistake to make as it was probably an email from me that mentioned the blog post.

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