A couple of weeks ago one of the daily deals emails from New Egg made an offer that I found I could not resist. I am weak, it’s true. The offer in question was a 120 GB SanDisk Ultra solid state disk (SSD) drive for a mere $120. Most SSDs of that size are $180+.
The appeal of SSDs is rooted in the same kind of sensibility that had me building Asterisk appliances that boot from flash media. Flash offers an attractive combination of performance and reliability.
The trade-off presented by SSDs is very high cost-per-gigabyte of storage. This offer, which was basically $1/GB, seemed like a nice chance to try an SSD for the first time. I wasn’t really certain how I’d use it, but I ordered one anyway.
By the time the device arrived I had decided that I was going to use the SSD to upgrade my two year old HP Mini 5102 netbook.
The Mini, which appears on my network as “Mini-Me,” had the smallest hard drive of any system I use. It delivered with a Western Digital 160 GB Scorpio Black with a SATA-II interface. Spinning at 7200 rpm that’s a very high-performance drive for a netbook. The HP510x series are technically corporate-class netbooks, not sold through consumer outlets.
Since the Mini drive was only about half full the SanDisk Ultra would be a drop-in replacement. All I had to do was clone the WD drive to the SSD and physically swap them out.
A year ago I upgraded my desktop from a pair of 500 GB disks to pair of 750 GB disks. I did so using Acronis’ Migrate Easy utility for Windows. That process went very smoothly even though the desktop had a RAID 1 mirrored set of drives, so I had some faith that I could do the same for the netbook drive and the SSD.
I removed the WD drive from the Mini, mounting it and the SSD to spare SATA ports internal to my desktop. When I booted the desktop and ran Migrate Easy it presented the two newly attached drives and allowed me to clone the WD onto the SanDisk Ultra. Since the desktop was not booted from either of those drives I didn’t have to reboot into a limited version of the OS to perform the cloning, as was the case when I upgraded the desktop.
I’m not certain how long it took to clone the disk. I just left the process running and went about some yard work. When I came back it was done, so I mounted the SSD into the Mini 5102. It booted back into Windows 7 Pro and ran normally. In fact, it booted the OS faster, as you might have expected.
Since migrating to the SSD I’ve carried the Mini with me on a couple of trips. The SSD has improved its performance in some nice ways. It boots and goes in/out of hibernation much faster. It’s battery life is a little longer. It’s a little quieter and has less vibration.
The SanDisk Ultra was on sale specifically because it sports an older SATA-II interface rated for 300 mb/s. That model was being end-of-life’d in favor of a new version supporting SATA-III. You may recall that first generation SATA interfaces were rated for 150 mb/s. The current crop of SSDs support SATA-III at a whopping 600 mb/s.
In truth, for a simple application like an end–user PC, the biggest gain in performance is not the throughput…it’s the complete obliteration of seek time latency. Windows boots faster not because the files are read into memory so much faster, but because there are so many different files and they are all found faster. There’s no rotational latency to slow the seek times.
The Mini 5102 was not a normal netbook. I invested over $700 when it was purchased. It was the first computer in a long while that I had custom ordered from the manufacturer. Given that it is still serving me well investing another $120 in the SSD seems like a nice way to get another 9-12 months use from the little beast. That way I can let the new crop of Ultra-books shake out, and hopefully see the prices fall a bit before I get the itch to order one.