Intel Solid State Hard Disk Drives

Admittedly the title of this blog post is a misnomer as the correct term is "Solid State Drives," but old habits die hard. Just ask the old IBMers who still call them "hard files." These are the same folk who tell you to send your presentation "foils" from the meeting and mean that they want your deck of PowerPoint slides. But I digress… I've written about my experiences with SSD drives at length on this blog. Try here, here, and here if you need to go back and refresh your memory. I am a huge fan of SSD drives, and I was excited to finally get a chance to try the new Intel SSD we've just started selling. As background, I've been using a Samsung 64GB SLC drive since June. I've been more than pleased with its performance, but like all things, what once was "WOW," soon becomes normal and accepted. Intel has been touting the performance benefits of its new drives and I wanted to see if and how the new drive would compare in real world testing on my own system. My results aren't scientific, but are definitely real as I was able to duplicate the same environment for both my current drive as well as the Intel drive on my own system with my own working preload. I obtained an Intel 80GB X18-M drive. Right away, the drive gets bonus points for having more capacity than the 64GB I was living with on the Samsung drive. The drive itself uses a newer SATA 300 interface which proved problematic for migration purposes on my T61. While it would show up and operate fine in an Ultrabay drive adapter once Windows was booted, my migration tool of choice, Acronis Migrate Easy, did not want to talk to it when it rebooted into its migration environment. After much fussing, it finally occurred to me that our ThinkPad W700 would make a perfect migration platform as it has support for dual internal drives plus the required CD drive for booting the software. To make the drive fit, I used a 1.8" to 2.5" adapter and had no problems. Also, I did defrag before and after migration to maximize the number of contiguous free blocks on the drive. (As a side note, you absolutely should defrag your SSD on a regular basis. If I need to expound on that in a future post, then let me know in the comments) After migration, I slid my drive into my T61. It booted up without problem. My goal was to do my normal work routine and also do some basic performance testing to see what the drives were capable of. And, should it matter to some readers, my operating system is Windows XP 32 bit, and yes, I have the latest Intel Storage Matrix driver loaded onto my system. I timed cold boot to a fully loaded Windows desktop with all of my startup programs loaded, opened Lotus Notes, a large PowerPoint file, and then did some copy/paste functions with a large single file plus about 1.7 GB of small files. The results are pretty straightforward. The Intel clearly has a performance advantage over my current Samsung drive.  Technically adept readers are probably yelling at their screens saying that this isn't a fair test. I'm clearly pulling a spark plug wire on a 5.0L Mercedes and then taking it to a drag race. For those that have no idea of what I'm talking about, my T61 has an older SATA 150 interface. The Intel drive is capable of newer SATA 300 speeds. In my T61, I'm not giving the drive enough bandwidth to truly give it a workout. In order to give the drive a chance to show what it was capable of, I next installed it and the Samsung in turn as a second drive on my W700 and performed some testing again. In this case, my OS on that machine is Windows Vista 64 bit. There's no question that my T61 was keeping the drive from operating at its optimal speed. I saw small performance gains yet again. However, in my initial testing, the Samsung drive seemed to be performing better than the Intel drive, which did not make sense at all given Intel's marketing claims and my own experience in my T61. Upon consultation with some technical folks from Intel, they determined that my drive was still only operating at SATA 150 speeds. I'm still trying to figure out what's going on here, but in fairness, I am not going to post Intel vs. Samsung specs in this W700 configuration until I get this sorted out. I'm sure it's a BIOS or driver issue somewhere.

Conclusion For giggles, I also tried some performance testing in a ThinkStation S10 workstation. It was faster than my desktop sized 3.5" 7200 rpm HDD! I don't care if I make Seagate, Maxtor and all of the rest unhappy with this next statement, but the hard disk is dead. Long live the hard disk! There's a new sheriff in town – SSD. They're fast, and boy oh boy do they make computing a much nicer experience. If you care about performance at all, buy your next desktop or laptop with an SSD drive. Put your programs and operating system on that drive. Then buy a second spinning HDD to act as a large storage tank for your photos, videos, and music. Back up everything regularly. (You should be doing that anyway.) As a future experiment, I'd love to try Intel's enterprise/workstation lineup of X25-E drives in my ThinkStation. If Intel's "standard" drive shows performance gains over my current ThinkStation drives, I can only wonder what their "enterprise" line will show with its faster write speeds. This drive plus some serious photo editing should be something to behold. Oh, and one more thing. I ran across this blog post today about how some call center employees are suing their employers for the time it takes to boot up their machines. They claim that it can take 10 – 15 minutes or more to login, load all of their programs, process their updates, etc. At night they have to do the same thing in reverse. During that time they don't get paid for their work. 10 minutes per day x 5 days per week is an hour per week of their time that they are not getting paid for. Believe their claims. I've worked in a call center before. Call center employees don't exactly get the newest PCs. There is encryption, malware protection, VM type programs, login scripts, patching, services etc. that all decide to take their sweet time getting started. The machine I used ran OS/2 (which was supposed to be fast) without virus protection or any special configuration and it took 7 minutes to reboot while the hard disk was thrashing within an inch of its life. Can I suggest to these employers that they buy some SSDs? They're cheaper than a lawsuit.