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SSDs Just Keep Getting Better

By: on May 5, 2010 in Hyper-V, I/O, Laptop, Presenting, Speaking Engagement, SSD, The Road, Virtualization

I really like my new laptop, the Panasonic CF-S9 from Japan (i5-540, 8GB of memory, 12.1″ widescreen, 8 – 12 hour battery life, under 3lbs – yes, under 3lbs). I don’t always say that as I fall out of love with laptops pretty quickly. Is it perfect? No. I’ve definitely got some gripes with it. Disk speed is not one of them. Stock, it came with the new Toshiba 256GB 2nd generation SSD that supports TRIM (THNS256GG8BBAA). The Toshiba R600 I bought last year has the Toshiba 1st generation 512GB drive (THNS512GG8BBA) which does not support TRIM. One of my concerns in the switch was overall capacity – taking a step back since I have a lot of VMs. The 512GB SSD was pretty fast, and truth be told, all of my laptops since about 2005 or 2006 have all had SSDs. But the one thing anyone who runs VMs knows is that I/O is king. The 256GB that came with the Panasonic was pretty quick, but not the fastest. I say that knowing it gave me a Windows Experience of 6.7 for disk, which is nothing to shake a stick at.

So to expand capacity, my original goal was to add USB 3.0 externally via an ExpressCard on the Panasonic. Unforuntately, Panasonic put a PCMCIA (cardbus) slot in the CF-S9, and even with an adapter, I couldn’t get my USB 3.0 ExpressCard to work. I tried an eSATA PCMCIA card and I got worse than USB 2.0 speeds, so Panasonic’s PCMCIA controller officially sucks. The lack of ExpressCard support and the poor PCMCIA implementation is my biggest disappointment with the Panasonic.

Why all the fuss? I bought the 256GB Crucial C300 CTFDDAC256MAG-1G1 – the new king of the SSD speeds in 2.5″ drives. It would be a waste of money cripple it with USB 2.0 speeds. Thankfully Panasonic didn’t make it near impossible to get the internal drive out (like Sony does with many of their models … speaking from experience, I have a very love-hate relationship with higher end Sony laptops). Just unscrew two screws, and carefully get the drive out.

I used Paragon Partition Manager 10.0 Professional (bought; not a freebie) to clone the Toshiba to the Crucial (4 hours since I was using an external USB 2.0 enclosure), popped out the Toshiba, put in the Crucial, and with fingers crossed, powered on the Panasonic. Success!

I re-ran my Windows Experience, and disk went up to a whopping 7.6. 7.6! Not too shabby. I can tell the laptop has a bit more snap to it as well. The increased write speeds do make a difference. Check out my CrystalDiskMark scores now:

  

It is not a drive for those who are on the fence about SSD – there are much cheaper options if you want SSD. With SSDs it’s not only about SLC vs. MLC, but it has nearly everything to do with how the SSD manufacturer has optimized its controller. Compared to the original SSDs I was using in the 32GB sizes back on my old Vaio VGN-G1 from Japan, the speeds are amazing to see how far the technology has come.

And I will tell you this as someone with a history with SSDs in laptops – they don’t significantly add to your battery life. Maybe 30 minutes, or at most, an hour, but I’d say about 30 minutes. What you do gain is a lot of silence, have less heat, and I love the fact it has no moving parts so if you accidentally jar your laptop, the drive head won’t fail. The only SSD failure (knock on wood) I had was on my Sony Vaio VGN-Z90 from a couple of years ago which had a proprietary RAID system, and this Crucial is pretty much faster than that.

Hope this helps some of you wondering about SSDs and whether they are worth it. Like anything, it depends. You do get what you pay for. Just because you may get an SSD doesn’t mean it’s going to be better than that traditional hard drive. Like many do in the SQL Server world, they go for capacity over speed and/or reliability. Know what your tradeoffs are.


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