I'm not concerned with trying to match, or even compete with, the boot times you would get from a SSD. I'm just wondering if having the boot drive to install my OS and most frequently-used programs is worth it, in terms of *any* potential increase in performance and additional security? Is it beneficial to have a separate drive for the OS that will mostly stay "clean"?
Once the price on SSDs drops, I will probably consider one, but not before I can snag a decent 80GB+ for significantly less than it would cost me today.
I always build my systems with separate drives for the OS and data. The OS is always the busiest drive, so putting your data on another spindle helps performance when you're accessing your data files. It also helps to put the Pagefile there if it's very active.
For performance reasons, depending on your budget, don't be afraid to buy a drive larger than you need. The larger drives generally have more data on each track, and this means faster transfer rates. If you buy a 1TB drive and partition it down to 250GB (leaving the rest of the drive empty) you'll also cut down on your seek times because the heads will never have to move further than about 1/4 of the way across the disk.
If you think you may buy an SSD in the future, create the OS partition to match the size of SSD you think you're likely to get eventually. It will make the eventual migration a bit easier, and it will also give you experience using the OS in that amount of space so you'll be more confident that buying an SSD of the same size will work well for you.
When I initially started researching SSDs, I got distracted reading the TH article analyzing SSDs as boot drives, and only got through the synthetics (forgetting to look at the actual performance benchmarks later). Though the low-end SSDs are considerably outperformed by intel's X25, they do seem to do quite well when it comes to actual performance. Maybe writing off SSDs completely is a mistake. I am still concerned about the current price:size ratio for most of the midrange drives, however, so I think I will go ahead and wait until I can get an 80+ GB SSD for a reasonable price before going that route. Will give me a good reason to wipe my system, update drivers, etc.
Looking like an inexpensive second HDD to boot from for now! Thanks again!