Solid-state drives recently hit the 1-terabyte mark with the release of the $3,300 OCZ Colossus 1TB SSD. Obviously, drives at this price point are not aimed at masses. Yet, from a historical perspective the Colossus is remarkably cheap. It’s easy to forget that just a few short years ago, neither mainstream SSDs nor 1TB drives existed at any price. It’s also important to remember that smaller, affordable SSDs are available today and represent an incredible value.
I can already hear the dissenters calling me an idiot for that last sentence. They’ll point out how 1TB disk drives can be had for under $100, and how they can buy 10TB worth of storage for the price of a single 160GB SSD. When people bring up these arguments, I can't help wondering whether they've ever used an SSD. Highly rated Intel and OCZ SSDs in capacities ranging from 60GB to 250GB can be had for $230-$700. For the truly budget conscious and space efficient, Kingston offers a 40GB SSD using Intel's controller for a paltry $115.
The drive I’m using is the Intel X25-M 80GB drive which can be had for $260. It sounds expensive compared to traditional spinning disk storage; however you’re not buying storage, you’re buying performance. After replacing the HD on my Dell Latitude D630, the post-BIOS boot time dropped from 29 seconds to just 13 seconds, and shutdown dropped to 5 seconds. Applications load impressively fast, and the whole system just seems to snap.
How many hours per week do you spend staring at the infamous hourglass? How many hours per year do you waste waiting for applications to launch or your PC to boot? If you found yourself mouthing the words “too many,” then you need an SSD. An SSD won’t do much so speed up processor-intensive or graphics-heavy applications, but the difference in system responsiveness is surprising. You can spend all the money you want on a faster CPU or more powerful graphics card, but the guy with a slower computer equipped with an SSD will be online reading e-mail while you’re still waiting for yours to boot.
In PC World Labs testing, the top-performing Intel X25-M performed our WorldBench VirusScan benchmark test in a zippy 29 seconds and completed our file-search test in 96 seconds. By comparison, our top-performing 7200rpm internal hard disk drive, the Barracuda 7200.12 1TB, performed the same tasks in 49 seconds and 148 seconds, respectively. The SSD cleared our large-file write test in 46 seconds, while the spinning disk took 108. Those are significant differences. Adding insult to injury, SSDs are immune to the effects of fragmentation, meaning their performance doesn't degrade over time the way it does with spinning disks.
Other substantial benefits of SSDs are reduced power requirements and the ability to withstand much higher shock than a traditional drives. Both of these are significant to the experience of the mobile worker. An online TCO calculator published by Samsung suggests that in terms of power usage and reduced data recovery instances, a company with 100 laptops actually stands to save $7,000 in the course of three years by adopting SSDs, and that's after factoring in the initial higher cost.
A common complaint about SSDs is the storage limitation imposed by their high cost-to-capacity ratio. Personally, I find that as long as I keep my media catalog on an external drive, 80GB is more than enough for my OS, applications, settings, documents, and a useful subset of my media library. Computers used strictly for business will rarely even come close to filling an 80GB drive.
Even though the capacities of SSDs and traditional disks are both rapidly expanding, traditional drives will maintain their price advantage for the foreseeable future. However, when you compare spending a few hundred dollars to the time and frustration you’ll save over the next few years, you’ll find that solid state disks are downright cheap.
Check out PC World's Top Five Solid-State Drives.
Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.