First post (hi everybody!) - Oh, the questions of solid state!

Good afternoon everybody, go 49ers. It's my first post here, so I'm looking forward to getting involved! Please forgive me if there's already a thread covering this topic, but I'm looking for some answers to a couple of specific questions. I'm interested in buying a gaming laptop in the 17" class. At the moment, the frontrunners are the Maingear Nomad 17, the Asus G75VW-DH72, and the Alienware M17x. This purchase will replace a much-beloved System76 Pangolin panp4 from 5 years ago (still runs great, even with some rather alarmingly large chunks of the casing missing!).

I think I've got things nailed down as far as the general configuration is concerned, although suggestions would be great:

-Quad-core i7 CPU, at least an i7-3630QM @ 3.4 GHz using Turbo Boost, with 3.7 GHz
preferable (not too much higher due to cooling concerns)
-Minimum of 16 GB of DDR3 @ 1600 MHz
-nVidia GPU, GTX 670M minimum, with GTX 675MX or GTX 680M preferable
-SSD(s) with capacity of 256 GB (for OS/software)
-HDD with capacity of at least 320 GB @ 7200 rpm (for frequently-changed user files
and folders)
-Blu-Ray is not important (I've barely used my optical drive at all in the past 2 years since most games are available for download)
-3-year warranty with accidental damage protection

The kicker: it must be under $3000, including the warranty, but this really hasn't been a problem.

The fun thing will be seeing how fast and how beautiful everything is compared to my existing machine (I do feel slightly guilty saying that though, since I am typing this on said machine lol). For comparison's sake, here are my current specs:

System76 Pangolin panp4 (rebranded Clevo M762TU):
-Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4 GHz (yep, it's a 45 nm Penryn)
-4 GB Dual-Channel DDR2 @ 400 MHz
-nVidia GeForce 9300M GS 256 MB powering a 60 Hz 1600 x 1024 monitor
-Samsung HM500JI 500 GB 5400 rpm SATA
-Optiarc DVD-RW
-Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP2 (and it actually works!)
-Dual-boot with Ubuntu 64-bit 12.10 (Quantal Quetzal)

But, now down to the point. As you may have noticed above, I haven't really decided what my top preference is when it comes to the SSD. I've done a bit of homework on the subject, and I've been watching SSDs over the past few years. But there seems to be a lot of misleading, outdated, and/or obfuscated information. When it comes to SSDs, my questions can be broken down into a few sections.

1. Life Span / Reliability

In general as of now (Q1 2013), what is the state of SSD reliability and life expectancy?

Which manufacturers/product lines generally have better reputations for quality and reliability over time?

What can you report on the Samsung 840 Pro, Crucial M4, Corsair Neutron GTX, and Intel 520 Series?

What would be some solid ways to increase SSD life span without serious performance penalties?

2. RAID 0

How much benefit is there in terms of read/write performance to using 2 SSDs in a RAID 0 array?

I've read that there may be problems with TRIM in RAID arrays using SSDs. Could you enlighten me about TRIM and what these problems may be at this point?

What impact on SSD life expectancy might I expect from using RAID 0?

3. MSI Super Raid

In looking at the Maingear Nomad 17, I noticed that one storage option they were pushing is the MSI Super Raid system. For those of you who may not know, this uses the laptop's SATA III slot to accommodate a card mounting a pair of mSATA SSDs in a compact RAID 0 array. It seems that the first models used SanDisk modules, but currently it's a pair of Crucial M4s, each of either 128 GB or 256 GB capacity. They claim read speeds of 1000 MB/s vs a supposed 540 MB/s for the Samsung 840 Pros. And it still leaves the other drive bay open for a traditional HDD. Sounds like a great setup, but I don't see anyone else (besides MSI themselves) trying this, and I'm thinking there must be a catch. So....

Does anyone here know much about the current Super Raid setup, especially reliability/life span and performance information?

Does anyone know of any benchmarks available online for this system?

Regarding the design, how do mSATA SSDs compare with standard SATA modules in terms of performance, reliability/life span and system stability/compatibility?

Are there any unique risks to using such a setup when compared with full-size SSDs (either singular or in RAID 0)?

Sorry for such a long-winded post with so many questions, I'm just trying to make the best decision possible for my first high-end laptop, and to learn as much as I can in the process. If any of you experts here would be willing to tackle this topic I'd be unbelievably grateful!

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More about first post everybody questions solid state
  1. I'm no expert on the high-end laptops, so I'll leave those spec questions to the better informed. As far as SSDs go, in my experience they're awesome for normal use (web browsing, media work, CAD) but don't make much difference in most games. I can't really understand why you would need the extra speed of SSDs in RAID, and it seems like the additional risks would far outweigh the benefits. Really, you're almost certainly going to bottleneck somewhere else. If you need to be on the bleeding edge of tech with more acronyms than anyone else, go for it! But expect to have unforeseen issues at some point in the future. If you want a balance of performance and reliability, get the proven SSD tech in a conventional configuration and upgrade it in a year or two with the money you save. For my money, I always choose the second route.

    As far as mSATA goes, my limited experience shows no difference between normal SSDs and those little guys. Most likely the greatest risks are the smaller size and consequent decrease in physical robustness. I wouldn't make it your boot drive, but that's just 'prudent me' talking and nobody likes that guy.
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