Can Bargain SSDs Give Windows A Quantum Performance Leap?

How We Tested

As you know, there are two kinds of benchmarks: synthetic and real-world. Synthetics seek to obtain absolute values. “All other things being equal or isolated, the product can do this.” A real-world benchmark usually involves taking some sort of stopwatch (mine is a cheap three-button unit from Sportline) and measuring the time it takes the system or application to perform a given task set. Real world benchmarks may isolate some variables, but a lot of the point is to emulate ordinary usage conditions. In our case here, this is particularly important. I expected there to be a difference between the conclusions drawn from synthetic and real world tests. The question was how much of a difference there would be.

Here is the test platform we used:

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System Hardware
ProcessorIntel Core i7-965 Extreme (45nm, 3.2 GHz, 8MB L3 Cache)
MotherboardIntel DX58SO (Intel X58 Express/ICH10R), BIOS SOX5810J.86A
RAM3 x 2GB DDR3-1600 OCZ3P1600LV6GK
Hard Drive 1Kingston SSDNow V-Series, 64GB (SNV125-S2BN/64GB), SATA 3 Gb/s, 64KB In-controller cache
Hard Drive 2Transcend SSD25D, 60GB (TS60GSSD25D-M), SATA 3 Gb/s, 64MB cache
Hard Drive 3Intel X25-M G2, 160GB (SSDSA2M160G2GC), SATA 3 Gb/s, 32MB cache
Hard Drive 4Western Digital VelociRaptor, 300GB (WD3000HLFS), 10,000 RPM, SATA 3 Gb/s, 16MB cache
GraphicsEVGA GeForce GTX 280 (01G-P3-1280-AR)
Power SupplyPC Power and Cooling Turbo-Cool 860W
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Performance MeasurementsPCMark Vantage 1.0.2
Row 1 - Cell 0 CrystalDiskMark 2.2
Row 2 - Cell 0 HD Tune Pro 3.5
System Software And Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate Edition (fully updated with Windows Update on 12/29/2009)
Intel Chipset DriversChipset Installation Utility
Nvidia Graphics DriversGeForce 195.62

I like CrystalDiskMark and HD Tune for their very quick assessments of raw performance. HD Tune in particular can reveal interesting drive attributes in its throughput graphs. Historically, we’ve leaned toward the Productivity tests within PCMark Vantage, and I actually ran that suite on these drives. However, I threw out the data in favor of the HDD Suite, which focuses more precisely on the type of common Windows tasks we want to highlight here.

For real world testing, I developed two scenarios. The first focused on a simple boot into Windows 7, just looking at going from a cold boot to the Windows desktop. The second took this first scenario and then piled a ton of apps and data on top of it. This is closer to being a true real world situation. After a system reset, I inevitably find myself gravitating back to having two or three spreadsheets, many browser windows, multiple .doc files, Outlook, and other apps open throughout the day. If I were smarter, I’d just have these constant companions pre-loaded from my Windows Startup folder. For this test, I assumed I was actually that smart.

Note that boot times were measured starting after the motherboard POST period. Specifically, the DX58SO will show a splash screen followed by a couple of alphanumeric codes in the bottom-right corner of the screen. The last of these is “94" and then the screen goes black. This is the point when I would start the timer.

Final note: I burned a lot of hours repeating tests because I didn’t have patches and drivers properly set. If you want top results from your SSD, flash your motherboard's BIOS first, then the SSD firmware, then install Windows, then get the most current storage drivers installed. In the case of my test setup, I kept getting inexplicable drop-offs in two specific PCMark Vantage tests that resulted from running Microsoft’s default storage driver rather than Intel’s Matrix Storage driver (version 8.9). I’d also missed how a motherboard update had reset my disk mode to legacy IDE rather than SATA AHCI. This resulted in semi-normal looking benchmark scores but bizarre hibernation resume times of up to five minutes.

  • timbo
    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.
  • I 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.
  • zebow2002
    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.
  • johnbilicki
    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).
  • xrodney
    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)
  • haplo602
    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 ?
  • xrodney
    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 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+).
  • I get the boot drive on desktop angle... but what about laptop installations?
  • Otus
    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.
  • xrodney
    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.