Monday, February 23, 2009 10:07 PM bart

Going Rock Solid – SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

Geeks need fancy hardware, don’t they? Well, for a geek, this evening has been a most exciting one. A while back, I decided I should start thinking about upgrading my laptop. I’m currently running a dual core 2.16 GHz machine with 2GB of RAM. As I’m writing this, I conclude I’ve already forgotten when I got the thing. But my blog reveals the precise timing. That’s almost three years now, enough for Moore’s law to strike twice or so. So, the specs I got in mind are as follows:

  • Quad Core CPU (I’m running one of these at work on a desktop and build times benefit greatly)
  • 8GB of RAM  (I want to be able to run Hyper-V while I’m “on the road”)
  • 1920 x 1200 resolution (I’d never settle for a lower resolution)
  • Solid State Drive (I’m a geek after all…)

Not everything needs to be the sweetest piece of hardware for me though. The first thing I downgrade is the video card (and I’m actually proud of that); gaming and movies are the biggest waste of time on earth (personal opinion, feel free to disagree) and I don’t care about the fancy pixels some humans require to transmit optical impulses carrying fiction for the brain. A good old boring text editor for coding is all I need (and occasionally a mail reader and web browser to survive in the connected jungle called the internet).

Due to availability issues on the LCD screen I kept myself from ordering the new laptop, but instead I wanted to prepare myself for the upgrade. So, a few weeks back I heard about the Intel X25-M SATA Solid-State Drive from a colleague at work. It seems that most laptop vendors that offer SSD are kind of vague on the thing they put inside and I heard some horror stories on reliability of a few models. But the X25-M, 80GB in capacity, had very good reviews. So last Friday, I decided to order the thing and this morning it arrived; some online stores offer amazing delivery times in a country as big as this one (where I’m considered a “resident alien”, only the first part was new to me when I first heard it). A bit expensive, I have to admit, but I don’t care (another colleague of mine insists I shouldn’t care at all, being a single geek driving no car, carrying no cell phone and not owning photon emitting devices called TVs).

In the meantime, this weekend, I visited an electronics store in the wide area of Seattle, looking for a 7200 RPM high-capacity classic (boring) mechanical hard drive. Historically I’ve been a huge fan of Western Digital and recent quotes from another WD-believer at work (who experienced a non-WD drive crash) confirmed my faith in Western Digital, so I got one. Ultimately this will become the secondary disk in my new laptop, to store virtual machine images on. For now, it contains a couple of demo partitions for my upcoming trip. Actually this makes me wonder whether I’m the only one spending far too much time strategizing partition sizes only to conclude I’ve made the wrong partitioning once more?

Actually, I seldom reinstall my computer, most of the time I get a new hard disk, mostly because the old one is such a mess it’s almost impossible to backup all the files I still care about, so I just keep it around likely to never plug it in again (a great way to reset the brain is to take distance from existing pieces of work :-)). However, that barrier has been removed now too as I ordered a Thermaltake docking station last Friday with my SSD order too. Kind of funny, because earlier tonight I gave the thing a try. I removed the 320 GB 7200 RPM disk that was in the laptop for barely two days, placed it in the device and plugged it in. Next, I tried to boot the machine from it, and yes: there was Windows 7 resuming from hibernation…

Anyway, here I am, writing this blog post on a brand new snappy install of some recent Windows 7 build, live on SSD. Here’s how the install went, carefully written down on the analog device commonly referred to as a whiteboard behind me:

  • 8:20 – Boot from network, contacting our Windows Deployment Services servers.
  • 8:28 – Went through the first few clicks of the Windows 7 installer, selecting keyboard layout, locale and the destination partition. My SSD 80 GB appears, obviously suspect to a 2^10 division error as our OS believes in GiB more than GB. File copy starts.
  • 8:37 – File copy (over the network) and file extraction finishes. The patterns in the blinking of the disk (no longer hard-) activity LED look different, but that might be my imagination. One thing is sure: the icon for disk activity needs to be replaced by the outlines of a chip as opposed to a cylinder.
  • 8:38 – The machine reboots twice the next two minutes, finishing the installation and detecting some hardware.
  • 8:39 – Windows starts the first time after the installation.
  • 8:40 – I’m on the desktop of the freshly installed machine.

The core of the installer (eliminating booting from the network and loading the Windows PE image that is) took barely 12 minutes from a completely empty disk to a 10 GB occupation for the clean install (including page file, cache of the setup binaries, etc). I attribute this to two things: I’ve experienced the Windows 7 installer to be really fast for clean installs, and the solid state disk seems to make a difference (although SSD doesn’t excel in write speeds according to specifications).

Next, I wanted to give boot time a test. Cold start, from a press on the power button takes 14 seconds to the boot screen (4 to the first pixel of the Windows 7 boot logo). Disk activity is completely absent at the end. Next I log in to the local profile and 3 seconds later I’m on my desktop with now disk activity whatsoever. The clean install on the mechanical drive last weekend took 34 seconds all the way to the desktop with drive activity till the very end. (Note: I seldom use red text on my blog, but from this you can tell I’m as excited as a new-born, not that I’ve seen a new-born in years...)

Windows 7 downloads a few drivers that didn’t come on the OS image (for my crappy video card), the system reboots and I have to re-do the hardware assessment as new hardware has been found. This is the moment of truth:

image

Windows 7 seems to tell me indirectly I should become a gamer by subtly pointing out the slightly-below-average performance of a thing called “3D business and gaming graphics performance”. Unfortunately I don’t have a microphone installed: the speech recognition engine would have had a hard time recognizing my yell which reflected an emotional state anywhere between: “Graphics go to ****; Solid State go to ****” (where the two **** notations have totally opposite meanings). I should note the disk’s SATA interface has a higher bandwidth than my motherboard is capable of (will get resolved soon with the new baby), so the result is even not honoring the drive’s speed for full.

In the meantime I’ve copied my Virtual PC demo images from my mechanical drive and clearly the performance of the images has increased significantly. The machine feels like reborn, the right bottom corner is dead silent and cold (for the first time, the left hand side carrying the DVD drive gets hotter – no it doesn’t contain a movie, just a DVD with robust software bits). Visual Studio and Office applications have been installed in the meantime and feel to start up much faster. Next test is the battery drain, but the last 40 minutes I have only lost 15% of my battery charge, so that seems to go in the right direction too. Finally I’ll be able to do a bit more work on transatlantic flights…

Needless to say, the SSD movement has a new believer. Get one to believe it yourself!

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# Bollywood and hollywood - Movie reviews, News, gossip » Going Rock Solid ??? SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

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# re: Going Rock Solid – SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 12:58 AM by Eamon Nerbonne

I'm not too sure about Windows 7, but you'll want to ensure windows never defrags the disk; doing so can reduce performance and life-expectancy.  Oh, and superfetch is largely pointless now; I guess you can disable that too ;-).

# re: Going Rock Solid – SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 4:06 AM by Anders Borum

Hi Bart,

congratulations with your new workstation. I am using a similar setup (dual core @ 3,2 Ghz, 8 gigs of ram, GTX 8800 and a 80 gig INTEL X25-M SSD for the system partition along with a dualscreen setup with 24- and 21 inch LCDs). Oh, I also have a 400 gig on the side for storage and a SAN with 1,6 TB in hardware RAID 5 using an ARECA PCI-e controller - highly recommended btw.).

a colleague of mine got one of the OCZ SSDs (mainstream disk) that uses the JMICRON controller and it was suffering from extreme stuttering when facing concurrent read/write operations. I decided to opt for the INTEL X25-M like the one you purchased and have been very impressed with the performance improvements. I've never seen an OS install so fast; even Visual Studio 2008 installed in less than 60 seconds - it's unbelievable fast.

I use Windows 2008 Server x64 (it plays nice with games also, actually), because of the obvious benefits from having SQL Server 2008, IIS 7 and the other server components available locally. I'm definitely never going back to regular mechanical disks for the system partition - ever. It's simply a waste of time.

# re: Going Rock Solid – SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009 8:41 PM by bart

Hi Eamon,

Actually, Windows 7 is SSD aware and performs a number of optimizations which include disabling services targeting mechanical devices. But yes, on pre-Win7 configurations the two things you mention are definitely recommended to tweak.

Hi Anders,

Can't agree more. Although the rest of my upgrade is still on its way, this first part of the upgrade process is worth every dime. I'm running a load of software for development and demo purposes, including SQL 2008, and the machine is much more responsive now. As you said, mechanical drives are a waste of time nowadays. QED :-).

-Bart

# re: Going Rock Solid – SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 5:03 AM by Pop Catalin

WPF is not a Game :), you should get a good graphics card, the difference is noticeable .... ( Well I guess some heavy graphical WPF apps are needed too, but it can't hurt to be prepared :P )

# re: Going Rock Solid – SSD Blows Me Away (Really!)

Monday, March 02, 2009 7:32 PM by Ruiyi Zhang

@Pop Catalin

Exactly. As VS 2010 goes to WPF, developers have no excuse to get a crappy graphics card anymore.

# RealTime - Questions: "WD hard drive as follows question?"

Wednesday, December 01, 2010 4:51 AM by RealTime - Questions: "WD hard drive as follows question?"

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