The hard drive in my laptop has been a bit flaky lately so I decided to replace it. The original drive is a 4200rpm Toshiba MK802GAS 2.5″ 80GB IDE drive. It was also running a bit hot and the laptop doesn’t really ventilate the drive much, so I was reluctant to replace it with a faster 5400rpm or 7200rpm drive that might run even hotter.
Fortunately there are now replacement drives based on flash memory rather than spinning disks. When they first appeared they were expensive and slow, but they are improving in both respects. Performance is now equaling or exceeding the fastest traditional disks. Cost per gigabyte is still much lower with traditional disks, but prices have come down enough that it is possible to get a usable sized disk for a reasonable price.
Since my laptop is IDE, my choices were limited. In Taiwan only Transcend has IDE SSDs on the market. (There are many more choices for SATA.) The two choices then were whether to get MLC or SLC technology and what size. In general MLC write performance lags SLC write performance significantly, but SLC is much more expensive. I eventually settled on the 32GB MLC model: Transcend TS32GSSD25-M. I bought it for TW$3488 (US$100.03) including shipping on PC Home.
When I was researching what to buy I noticed a very peculiar thing. There seemed to be two different drives with the same part number! Older benchmarks on this model showed read speed of barely over 20MB/s while newer benchmarks showed read speed over 65MB/s. It turns out that Transcend updated the hardware sometime in late 2008 and didn’t bother to change the part number. They will probably lose a lot of sales because of this because anyone who researches the performance will probably see the terrible old benchmarks and bad reviews.
Here’s what you should see on the box with the new version. The important part is apparently the “JMICRON” part in the upper right of the label which indicates that it uses the newer controller hardware:
UPDATE: It appears that not all new models have “JMICRON” on the label on the back. One way to tell the difference is that the label on the new models has a red border while the label on the old models has a blue border.
Here’s the label on the drive itself:
The important parts here are the Hardware Level of 6872-S1 and the manufacture date “092” which indicates it was made in the 2nd week of 2009. If you have this or better you should have the newer, faster version.
Let’s see how it measures up when compared to the old drive. First we’ll run a read benchmark across the disks with Medium speed/accuracy and 2MB block size:
The new drive blows the doors off the old drive at 3.3 times faster the average speed. Comparing the minimum speeds and random access, the new drive shines even brighter. Two advantages SSD drives have are uniform performance across the disk, and no “seek” time. Seek time is how long it takes a traditional disk to reposition the read/write head to a different part of the disk. This tends to have a much bigger impact on realistic performance because a typical workload does not tend to do long sustained reads or writes but instead accesses lots of small files and programs scattered across a disk.
Next let us do a file benchmark. This uses both read and write at various blocksizes. I’m using a 128MB file and 1 second delay:
This is where we see the drawbacks of MLC technology; the write speeds lag read speeds significantly. On an SLC drive the read and write speeds would be more comparable. Even so, the write speed on the new drive is still about 10MB/s faster than the old.
And lastly a random access read test. This tries reading data at various block sizes from random locations on the disk, then computes an average access time and total read speed during the operation.
Again, this is one area where SSDs really excel. There’s no seek time, so the access limit here is the read time, and performance greatly surpasses that of the old disk.
But more important is how does it feel? Windows boots up extremely fast and doesn’t have the “sluggish” feeling for the first couple of minutes like with a traditional disk. This is probably mostly due to the lack of seek time, but I’m sure that the read speed increase and the fact that it is a fresh install of Windows also helps. I also upgraded my RAM from 1GB to 2GB at the same time, so that probably also is a factor.
And so far I don’t feel confined by the smaller sized drive. Most people should have plenty of room with even 16GB drives as long as they keep away from video files and keep the music files to a minimum. I was using a bit more than 32GB before, but that includes a lot of junk that I don’t really need to carry around. I’ve got all my essentials now and still have plenty of space left.