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Can Bargain SSDs Give Windows A Quantum Performance Leap?

Getting Older By The Minute

I tend not to get very excited about incremental upgrades. Sure, going from a hard drive with 100 MB/s sustained throughput to one with 110 MB/sec is gratifying, but I’m not going to put it on a T-shirt and tell all my Facebook friends that they absolutely have to upgrade because it’s the coolest thing ever. Small steps are good, but they don’t often change your life.

This is an article about something that will change your life. Here on Tom’s Hardware, we’ve covered solid state drives (SSDs) from a lot of different angles. You know they’re usually faster than hard drives, especially on read operations, and they consume a lot less power. A few weeks ago, our dynamic duo of Schmid and Roos released an article called Benchmark Results: Booting, Shutdown, Hibernation, Standby. This piece compared the performance of Windows 7 against Windows Vista, particularly on everyday Windows tasks, such as boot and shut down times.

“Hmm,” I mused. “We all know that SSDs can run circles around the performance of mechanical hard drives, and Windows 7 is better-optimized for SSDs than prior Windows versions. And you now hear a lot of buzz about the suitability of SSDs as Windows boot drives. But is there a significant difference between a $150 SSD and a $500 one when using the drive primarily as a boot volume under Windows 7? And how would these SSDs compare against a high-end hard drive in the same tasks?”

The system on which I do most of my work runs a 3.2 GHz AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition processor with 4GB of RAM and a 750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 primary drive. Loading Outlook 2007 takes me 12 seconds. Loading Adobe Premiere Elements 7—just the app, not even any work files—takes 53 seconds. I abhor having to restart Windows because I can literally make lunch in the time it takes for all of my background apps to load from a cold boot. We’re all busy people, and losing these minutes adds up.

Time is money. What’s your time worth? If you could magically get back 10 minutes of your computing day, five days per week, that’s over 43 hours recaptured annually. Even if you earn minimum wage, just $7.25 per hour, a $300 SSD would pay for itself within the first year alone if it could save you those minutes.

Can SSDs do this? And more importantly, does it matter how much you spend on an SSD in the pursuit of saving these minutes? Place your bets and keep reading....