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Drives On The Block

Can Bargain SSDs Give Windows A Quantum Performance Leap?
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We spend a fair bit of time on this site detailing the various advances in flash and SSD technology and analyzing the impact each of these advances have on performance. Newer drives generally yield faster performance. In the consumer sphere, which I generally believe is in the sub-$500 range for an SSD, Intel’s X25-M G2 drive is widely held to be the king, thanks in large part to its move to a 34 nm fab process, use of the latest firmware enhancements, and the company’s self-proclaimed “secret sauce” in its controller.

Behind the G2 drive, we have a growing horde of consumer SSD options based on multi-level cell (MLC) NAND technology. As you go down the price chain, you’ll find diminishing capacities, memory channels, sustained throughput speeds, cache sizes, and so on. Looking on Newegg, I see an Imation 32GB SATA 3Gb/s SSD for $79.99. An SSD at this price was practically unthinkable two years ago.

However, I wouldn’t recommend a 32GB drive as a boot volume for Windows 7. The Windows folder alone on my Windows 7 Ultimate system registers just shy of 14GB. Office 2010 will want 3GB. You’ve probably got several gigs of your own apps that need to be installed. Keep in mind that you want to leave at least 20% of your SSD free for optimal performance. I really don’t recommend anything less than 64GB for a boot drive these days.

With that in mind, I wanted a low/mid/high arrangement for our SSD test set. At the low-end, I went with Kingston’s SSDNow V-Series. This unit features a JMicron controller, but one that has been updated to allegedly dispense with the stuttering debacle of times past. As I write this, Newegg lists a bare drive in retail packing for $134.99 with a $30 mail-in rebate, bringing the final price down to $104.99. Sequential access reads are specified at 100 MB/s, sequential writes at 80MB/s, and the mean-time between failure (MTBF) is 1,000,000 hours. For a modern SSD, this is pretty much the left edge of the bell curve. What I actually received from Kingston to test was the V-Series SNV125-S2BN/64GB, the exact same drive, but bundled with a USB notebook upgrade enclosure and Acronis True Image software. The kit sells for only $10 more and is totally worth the extra charge if you’re upgrading a portable. Honestly, I dispensed with the enclosure and simply used the Acronis software for cloning the test image across all four drives in this review. Cloning the 40GB image took roughly five minutes.

Next up, I opted for Transcend’s TS60GSSD25D-M at $239. For twice the money, you get the same capacity (the motherboard BIOS reads it as a 64GB drive) but nearly twice the rated specs: up to 210 MB/sec sequential writes, 150 MB/sec sequential reads, and a 1.5-million-hour MTBF.

Of course, I had to use Intel’s latest and greatest, the 160GB G2 (with v1.5 firmware released 11/30/2009), for the high-end drive. Newegg has the single-drive OEM price at $539, which is officially outside of my $500 consumer price cap. However, the 80GB version of the G2 lists for $290. Nevertheless, I wanted the 160GB for its slightly faster numbers: up to 250 MB/sec sequential reads and 100 MB/sec writes. The 80GB variant steps down to a maximum of 70 MB/sec writes. On paper, the G2 performs as though Transcend might be nipping at its heels, so this should be an interesting comparison.

During Christmas, I got into a friendly argument with my younger cousin, who was insistent that he had to buy a Western Digital VelociRaptor after the holidays for his gaming rig. All his friends and research assured him it was the only way to fly for a faster storage subsystem, and at $199, the 300GB model was still within his reach, unlike “those really expensive SSDs.” I’m a long-time Raptor admirer, and WD was generous enough to provide one of its 10,000 RPM, 300GB beauties for this story, despite the ominous match-up. Let’s see if the best of the old world can keep pace with the new.

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Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2009 12:09 PM
    I have a really big problem with all of the SSD related "comparison" articles I've read over the last two years, and this one suffers from the exact same problem.

    Every article I read seems to compare a few SSD drives to a raptor, and for some reason, it's always a raptor used to represent the rotating media class.

    The author seems to be making a case for SSD drives by talking about how poor the performance of his home HDD drive is, but then he completely failed to show the performance difference by not including a STANDARD hard drive in the tests. Why does every article do this?

    Truth be told, most people will be upgrading from drives that are far worse than a velociraptor, so why not give people an actual baseline with what they're using now. Include a modern 1TB HDD, an older 320G last gen HDD and definitely include a 4200rpm notebook drive. Those are the kinds of drives that people will most likely be upgrading from, so show them something useful and tangible.

Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    timbo , December 31, 2009 5:39 AM
    Dual drive ftw. It especially gives me an important advantage in loading mp maps faster: every second counts in getting to advantageous spots first; it can & does change the outcome of who wins.
  • -6 Hide
    zebow2002 , December 31, 2009 5:59 AM
    Linux, Unix and Mac have a combined market share of 30%, wich makes them less important. Great article, can't wait for my Intel G2.
  • 4 Hide
    johnbilicki , December 31, 2009 6:10 AM
    Two 64GB SSD's in RAID0 is more then enough for most users when a second RAID or bare drive is presumed. The main issue is still the cost per GB at $2-2.5 a GB I'm not knocking any one over even if it halves my boot and application time.

    Also in general please stop making socket 1156 like it's the best thing in town because Intel has made it clear that it's a mainstream socket and they will not be getting more then four cores ever; I am only saying this since as an upgrader I hate to see other people presume socket 1156 has a good upgrade path which it doesn't unless Intel changes it's mind and the last time I checked the upgrader's best friend is AMD (good motherboards/chipsets for under $400, unlocked multipliers for under a grand, unlocked cores, etc).
  • 0 Hide
    xrodney , December 31, 2009 6:13 AM
    I am using now 128GB patriot torx SSD as boot drive (only OS and few apps there leaving half drive not used) and rest apps and media having on 1.5TB 7200rpm drive.
    I was really thinking for 3-4 months before jumping on SSD but glad I did. Just 13 min to fully install W7, 15-18 seconds to desktop, 5-8 seconds to shutdown (5 no app running, 8 with loads of them started) and apps starting 3-8 times faster then with regular hdd.
    Same as author 1st time booting to OS on SSD almost fell of chair as I was expecting to be it faster but not that much (3.5min boot time before)
  • 3 Hide
    haplo602 , December 31, 2009 6:19 AM
    wow ... I ma living on an ancient 40GB PATA drive at home. windows and linux and data. I really do not get how your boot drive can be 200GB of application only.

    a nice 64GB SSD drive would be just fine for all my needs.

    one remark, can you include fakeraid (mobo implemented raid) raid1 configuration tests ?
  • 2 Hide
    xrodney , December 31, 2009 7:30 AM
    haplo602wow ... I ma living on an ancient 40GB PATA drive at home. windows and linux and data. I really do not get how your boot drive can be 200GB of application only.a nice 64GB SSD drive would be just fine for all my needs.one remark, can you include fakeraid (mobo implemented raid) raid1 configuration tests ?

    Its not that hard windows 7 64bit alone take like 15GB add hybernation file few apps and you are way over 40GB, some apps or games can have even more then 10GB (AoC have 30GB+).
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2009 7:51 AM
    I get the boot drive on desktop angle... but what about laptop installations?
  • 5 Hide
    Otus , December 31, 2009 7:52 AM
    Looks like I might need to get a small SSD soon. Since my Ubuntu root (OS+apps) partition has just 4GB of data, I should be more than OK with a 64GB drive. Unfortunately stuffing Windows in there would be almost impossible.
  • 3 Hide
    xrodney , December 31, 2009 8:45 AM
    SnarkI get the boot drive on desktop angle... but what about laptop installations?

    On laptop you should even see more performance boost as 2.5" drives they use are usually considerably slower then on desktop. Also you would get rid of possibility damaging disk when dropping your notebook as SSDs have no moving parts.
  • 2 Hide
    th_at , December 31, 2009 11:07 AM
    Jesus, 200 gigs for apps? Unless you count games as apps, how in the world do you do that?

    I've seen PCs in school that had multiple versions of the Adobe suite and loads of other premium apps and didn't manage that. You should look into that! Maybe you have 10 years worth of savegames stored somewhere. I once wondered why my C: was getting so loaded and then found out that "The Witcher" had 8 gigs (!!!) of savegames.
  • -2 Hide
    cappster , December 31, 2009 11:30 AM
    I'm still going to wait for prices to drop on the larger capacity models. I have a lot of games installed not to mention all of the other apps that balloon way over 200 gigs. SSD is the obvious choice in the future.
  • 8 Hide
    viewwin , December 31, 2009 11:48 AM
    I would liked to see one Indilinx barefoot SSD in the comparison.
  • 0 Hide
    joseflavio , December 31, 2009 11:51 AM
    Does anyone know where could I buy this "case"/"adapter" to fit the 2.5 hd in a desktop? If possible with this heat sinks?
  • -3 Hide
    zelannii , December 31, 2009 12:01 PM
    th_atJesus, 200 gigs for apps? Unless you count games as apps, how in the world do you do that?I've seen PCs in school that had multiple versions of the Adobe suite and loads of other premium apps and didn't manage that. You should look into that! Maybe you have 10 years worth of savegames stored somewhere. I once wondered why my C: was getting so loaded and then found out that "The Witcher" had 8 gigs (!!!) of savegames.


    ~15GB for Win 7 install. 8GB swap, hibernate space, Office is several GB, hell my f'ing HP printer drivers installed nearly 1GB of crap... Then Windows is goiung to generate 10-20GB of fluff in localapps and otehr hidden folders, browser caches for multiple browsers, and more.

    When i installed Vista I put it on a 32GB drive, thinking 3 times my XP volume was sufficient. i installed all apps to a SEPERATE D: and still, within 3 months I was getting low space warnings. I stretched it to 80GB (took some effort, but doing that in Vista now does not require other apps like Ghost or partition magic, finally). Still I bumped up against those limits eventually.

    On upgrade to 7, I started from scratch with 200GB. Instead of a seperate apps install volume, I put everything but hard core games on C:. By the time I was done with the 25-30 common apps I use (between productivity, photo and video editing, browsers, plug-ins, multimedia, sharing apps, ripping apps, etc, and all the drivers and support apps for devices, my install was over 100GB. gotta leave 30% free to have an effective stable OS, so there's not much room for more. I have a 600GB Raid 5 for my app data and personal files, and music, plus game installs. I have a 1TB external for video and DVD-ISO/installer storage. I also have a 2TB NAS for backup and network sharing.

    to note, I have no pirated anything on my PC... It's not like I downloaded hundreds of torrented videos, this is all personal video, ripped DVDs, and my collection of music. 200GB of app data is easy to get to today. even under XP i might have only put 10GB on C:, but D: with apps was easily 50GB, and XP only had a 2GB swap, hibernate, and I had snapshots turned off...
  • 0 Hide
    jcknouse , December 31, 2009 12:05 PM
    shuffman37I love how they neglect to include Linux, Unix and Mac. I guess that makes us just less important. By the way I'm pretty sure a SSD would make Ubuntu pretty snappy as well.


    Kubuntu 9.1 is real snappy on a Kingston SSD Now V+ 64GB with a 8GB home partition and a 2GB swap. :) 

    haplo602wow ... I ma living on an ancient 40GB PATA drive at home. windows and linux and data. I really do not get how your boot drive can be 200GB of application only.


    He probably uses his laptop as an office PC, so he's probably got all the Office bloated software on there, plus he said he has Adobe Premier and that's not a small application.

    xrodneyOn laptop you should even see more performance boost as 2.5" drives they use are usually considerably slower then on desktop. Also you would get rid of possibility damaging disk when dropping your notebook as SSDs have no moving parts.


    The thing I am really wanting to do is get a 120-ishGB in my older Dell laptop and see if it helps with performance. I know it will never be a gaming graphics monster, but apps just seem under Windows Vista Home Premium to load like molasses.

    Plus, the power thing. I wonder how much longer that 4-5 hour battery is gonna last without the hard drive being spun all the time. maybe 6-7? mmm...transatlantic flight music listening or movie watching :) 

    th_atJesus, 200 gigs for apps? Unless you count games as apps, how in the world do you do that?I've seen PCs in school that had multiple versions of the Adobe suite and loads of other premium apps and didn't manage that. You should look into that! Maybe you have 10 years worth of savegames stored somewhere. I once wondered why my C: was getting so loaded and then found out that "The Witcher" had 8 gigs (!!!) of savegames.


    LOL. Nah, I bet he's just including all the apps (Office, Premier, etc) he uses for work, plus all the spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, graphics libraries, etc., he uses for his work. Odds are his laptop is his office PC with that much data.

    viewwinI would liked to see one Indilinx barefoot SSD in the comparison.


    Me too. Great idea :) 


    Great article, William. Makes me wanna save up and get a 128GB SSD for my old Dell laptop and hopefully speed up the boot/startup time for it.

    One question, tho:

    New year...new budget? Think Tom's can throw you (or whomever would be assigned to do to) the cash to buy (or even get manufacturers/retailers to supply free) the 8-10 most prevalent 128GB SSD models for comparison?

    I'd like to see a side-by-side of a bunch. The Transcend impressed me keeping up with the Intel, and I'd like to know if others (Corsair, Patriot, etc) can do as well. Also, the Kingston SSD Now V+ models are better performers than the standard V series.

    Just a thought.
  • 17 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2009 12:09 PM
    I have a really big problem with all of the SSD related "comparison" articles I've read over the last two years, and this one suffers from the exact same problem.

    Every article I read seems to compare a few SSD drives to a raptor, and for some reason, it's always a raptor used to represent the rotating media class.

    The author seems to be making a case for SSD drives by talking about how poor the performance of his home HDD drive is, but then he completely failed to show the performance difference by not including a STANDARD hard drive in the tests. Why does every article do this?

    Truth be told, most people will be upgrading from drives that are far worse than a velociraptor, so why not give people an actual baseline with what they're using now. Include a modern 1TB HDD, an older 320G last gen HDD and definitely include a 4200rpm notebook drive. Those are the kinds of drives that people will most likely be upgrading from, so show them something useful and tangible.

  • 2 Hide
    jcknouse , December 31, 2009 12:09 PM
    zelannii I have a 600GB Raid 5 for my app data and personal files, and music, plus game installs. I have a 1TB external for video and DVD-ISO/installer storage. I also have a 2TB NAS for backup and network sharing. to note, I have no pirated anything on my PC... It's not like I downloaded hundreds of torrented videos, this is all personal video, ripped DVDs, and my collection of music. 200GB of app data is easy to get to today. even under XP i might have only put 10GB on C:, but D: with apps was easily 50GB, and XP only had a 2GB swap, hibernate, and I had snapshots turned off...


    Dang, and I thought I had a lot of disk space. lol
  • 1 Hide
    LORD_ORION , December 31, 2009 12:15 PM
    Many of us have already learned to deal with the "Big drive / fast small drive" allocation decisions when the 74GB raptor came out.
  • 0 Hide
    sublifer , December 31, 2009 1:40 PM
    You never mentioned what controller the Transcend drive uses. I did a quick search and didn't find any hints. I can only imagine that you don't know what it uses either. If it doesn't use the Indilinx barefot controller then I really wish you had included a drive based on that (OCZ vertex line, Patriot Torx, etc..)
    Otherwise. Great article! I've been wondering if budget drives were worth it as well and this went some ways to answer that... at least that the "improved" jmicron controller is still relative shite compared to better ones but at least it improves boot speed and app loading.
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