Time for an SSD

The time is right to buy an SSD, because they are finally at the price/performance level where it’s just ridiculous to use anything else. Naysayers will claim that it’s still too early to switch, because you can buy a terabyte hard disk for $50 while a decent 60GB SSD costs $200. However, I think this price difference is irrelevant even in the current economy, because the performance difference is enormous and most of us don’t want or need a drive that big. Those that do need more storage (for a PVR?) can use an extra $50 drive in addition to a primary fast drive.

SSD technology is improving so rapidly that there are a lot of sub-par products still available. For example, you could buy an OCZ Apex 60GB drive for $145, and it will likely have similar performance to the more expensive new OCZ Vertex drives in some benchmarks. However, it may also suffer from some stuttering problems common to this generation of drives. For more info see the recent SSD articles at http://www.anandtech.com/storage/.

The best advice is to buy only what you need as the prices are dropping quickly. Common wisdom is that the price is cut in half each year, however I paid $31/GB for a small MemoRight SLC for my laptop 1.5 years ago, and the latest drives I bought are much higher performance at 1/10th the price. No one predicted that the prices would drop this precipitously, and I see they’re still selling my drive for $21/GB even today. A year from now they’ll probably have terabyte DRAM speed drives for $5 at Walgreens. 🙂

The safest bet is probably the Intel X-25M which is available for $630 @ 160GB or about half that price for 80GB. Personally I took a little more risk and bought 4 60GB OCZ Vertex drives for $200 each. I have 2 each set up as RAID0 in my two home computers, and I believe I’m getting much better performance than the Intel drive in most cases, although I’ve had a few headaches. I’ve had to flash firmware updates to the drives to fix bugs and get new features, which erases the drives. I switched to Windows 7 RC while I was at it which has some new features to work better with an SSD.

So what are the benefits?

· SSD is completely silent

· I can read files at ~400MB/s and write at ~300MB/s

· Seek time is ~.1ms

· Applications load instantly and never stutter or freeze.

· Lower power consumption and heat generation

My 2.66Ghz Core 2 Duo NVidia 680Sli machine takes about 40 seconds to start Windows 7 64bit from the point of pushing the power button with half of that time(20.5s) consisting of BIOS stuff. Here’s a picture of a common disk benchmark. Notice that it writes much faster than it reads in many cases. That seems to be an anomaly with this particular motherboard raid controller, and was the same when I was running Vista 32bit. I haven’t noticed it in practice.

My 3.16Ghz Core 2 Duo Intel 975 machine takes 49 seconds to start Windows Vista 32 bit with 16s of that consisting of BIOS stuff (And I hit Esc to skip the memory test.) The same benchmark test on this machine shows much better (and more normal) results.

This SSD thing is also a big deal for software developers. It’s time once again to adjust your perceptions and learn the new physical reality brought on by this change. Stop designing for outdated equipment. Planning your software architecture around the performance characteristics of a mechanical hard disk now makes no more sense than planning to run your software on a Cassette Tape Drive. The rules have changed.  Databases should be re-architected. Persistence should be revisited. Why load your files into in-memory RAM objects when you may get better overall performance leaving them on the disk? Change the way you do things, and your software is likely to be better than legacy solutions. Some companies and people have a hard time coping changing rules, so now’s a great time to challenge the status quo.

Let me close with an analogy.

If a truck were available that can teleport 30 miles at a time, and gets 100,000 mpg on regular gasoline, would you still want to buy a traditional truck? What if you could get a giant dump truck for $500 and the teleporting 100,000 mpg one cost $63,000? What if a sports car version were available for $20,000 that could go 500mph when you didn’t feel like teleporting and still get 100,000mpg? Does it really matter if 5 years from now you could get a 200,000mpg version that could teleport 50 miles at a time for $10,000? City planners, architects, shipping companies, and other affected parties would have to get their act together to take advantage of “physics 2.0” or new governments, communities, and businesses would replace them.

If you are even slightly inconvenienced or annoyed by the speed, noise, stuttering, power consumption, or other problems associated with a legacy mechanical hard disk then a solution is available for as little as $200.

Update 5/20/2009 : Newegg has the G.Skill Falcon 128GB for $309. I think this is identical to the OCZ Vertex 120GB, but ~$70 less.

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