Performance showdown: Flash drives versus hard disk drives
Our test results will likely surprise you
Computerworld - Solid-state disks (SSD) are probably some of the most talked-about new gadgets of late. They easily distinguish themselves from the mechanical hard drives of the Jurassic period because they have no moving parts. Like USB drives, they use nonvolatile flash memory to store data, but SSDs are wrapped in an enclosure the size of a 2.5-in. mechanical laptop drive and have a SATA interface for an easy connection to the internals of your portable.
Having no moving parts is, naturally, important. There's no platter rotation or read/write head motion so SSDs -- in theory -- should use less power than equivalent mechanical hard drives. They should also (again, in theory) be faster than a mechanical hard drive at just about anything. Working off an electrical grid, there's no time wasted positioning the read/write head and then waiting for it to settle down and start doing its thing. SSDs just do it. (That's a bit of an oversimplification, but it's fair.)
So have you ever wondered if it's really worth it to plunk down the extra $1,300 for an SSD-equipped MacBook Air? Or have you been tempted to swap the current mechanical hard drive out of your portable and slide one of these high tech bad boys inside? I did.
I sweet-talked Advanced Media Inc. and Crucial Technology into loaning me their 32GB SSDs and convinced Seagate Technology LLC to hand over a sample of its 3.5-in. desktop and 2.5-in. laptop mechanical hard drives. When I got back to the lab and checked my pockets, the official list looked like this:
- 32GB Crucial Internal 2.5-in. SATA Solid State Drive
- 32GB Ridata 2.5-in. SATA SSD
- 250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 3.5-in. SATA hard drive
- 200GB Seagate Momentus 7200.2 2.5-in. SATA hard drive.
Surprising performance results
I used HD Tach to test the drives' performance -- and got some interesting results. It was the mechanical Momentus drive that scored the highest burst speed at 214.3MB/sec. The Crucial SSD came in second at 137.3MB/sec., but the desktop Barracuda and its 135MB/sec. clung to its heels. Advanced Media's Ridata drive trailed the pack at a leisurely 71.2MB/sec. While the two mechanical drives and the Ridata SSD posted average reads in the 54MB-to-55MB/sec. range, Crucial forged ahead at 120.7MB/sec.
I then timed each drive during a system restart. Restarts are different than cold boots in that Vista logs you off and then closes any running processes before it starts the reboot sequence. The Crucial drive did the worst here, taking 78.4 seconds to complete. Ridata posted the best time at 54.8 seconds, but the Momentus laptop drive needed only 55.6 seconds. Even the big, dinosaurish Barracuda ran through the paces at 59.9 seconds. Again, this is hardly the overwhelming speed difference that's been expected for SSDs.
Finally, because these SSDs have a comparatively small capacity, it's most likely that you will be transferring data from your laptop after a day's work. So I took 4,666 files and folders (a total of 8.05GB) and copied them to the drives and then copied them from those drives. I used the same secondary drive as source and destination in all cases.
Neither of the SSDs fared very well when having data copied to them. Crucial needed 243 seconds and Ridata took 264.5 seconds. That's over four minutes. The Momentus and Barracuda hard drives shaved nearly a full minute from those times at 185 seconds.
In the other direction, copying the data from the drives, Crucial sprinted ahead at 130.7 seconds, but the mechanical Momentus drive wasn't far behind at 144.7 seconds. Ridata and the Barracuda were third and fourth at 156.8 and 166 seconds, respectively.
None of these results, in my opinion, show any clear and present advantage to these SSDs -- at least not on a price/performance ratio. I'd have to be in a severely time-critical situation to justify spending an extra $550 just to shave seven seconds off the cold boot time (or 1.7 ounces in weight). Even so, I'd lose that boot advantage when it came to transferring files from the drive.
Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer who has written a half-dozen books and more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology, including Apple computers, PCs, Linux and commentary on IT hardware decisions.
HD Tach Throughtput Tests
|Burst Speed||Average Read||Random Access||CPU Utilization|
Boot Up Times (in seconds)
Transferring 8.06GB (in seconds)
|Copy To||Copy From|
Read more about Data Storage in Computerworld's Data Storage Topic Center.
- Best iPhone, iPad Business Apps for 2014
- 14 Tech Conventions You Should Attend in 2014
- 10 Desktop Apps to Power Your Windows PC
- How to Add New Job Skills Without Going Back to School
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- OpenStack Hype vs. Reality: CIO Quick Pulse Open-source architecture can enable IT departments to build infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) clouds running on standard hardware.
- OpenStack and Red Hat: IDC White paper Most OpenStack deployments are by public cloud providers that are early adopters of technology and use OpenStack in a do-it-yourself deployment and support...
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform Datasheet Seamlessly transition to the cloud. Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform delivers an integrated foundation to create, deploy, and scale a secure and...
- Pay-as-you-Grow Data Protection: IBM Tivoli's Full-featured Data Protection Suite for Small to Medium Businesses IBM Tivoli Storage Manager Suite for Unified Recovery gives small and medium businesses the opportunity to start out with only the individual solutions...
- Make or Break: New Auto Products Must Go To Market On Time This Webcast quantifies the value of time to market for the auto industry and highlights how Primavera Enterprise Portfolio Management can help organizations.
- IBM Flash Webcast: Optimizing your Datacenter for Efficient Storage & ROI Register for this webcast to learn the benefits of flash storage from IBM Customer, Leonardo Irastorza of Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd and Storage... All Data Storage White Papers | Webcasts