Solid-State Drives Versus Hard-Disk Drives in Laptops

SSDs Rock on Hard-Drive-Intensive Tasks

We did see decisive performance wins by the SSD models on the file read and write tests that we use for our hard-drive testing. (The read and write tests consist of reading and writing folders of files, and searching for files on a drive.) On these tests, the SSD models bested their hard-drive counterparts in 11 out of 12 instances. Occasionally, the scores were close: On our Windows file search of 6.1GB of data, for example, the SDD Fujitsu Vista Business system notebook finished the test in 86 seconds, while its hard-drive-based twin finished the test in 100 seconds. Still, in most cases, the SSD models were dramatically faster. The most extreme example: The XP Pro Fujitsu finished our large-file reading and writing test in 199 seconds, far ahead of the hard drive-equipped model, which finished the test in 533 seconds.

SSDs Deliver Only Slight Battery Life Edge

Though industry experts routinely boast that flash memory consumes less power than hard drives do, our battery tests found little real-world difference between the two drive types on this measure.

The SSD version of the Dell ATG D620 lasted 5 hours, 40 minutes in our test, just 3 minutes longer than the hard-disk-equipped version lasted. The SSD Fujitsu P1610 with XP held out for 3 hours, 11 minutes--7 minutes longer than its hard-drive counterpart. And the SSD Fujitsu P1610 running Vista Business bested the hard-drive version by 9 minutes (2 hours, 26 minutes versus 2 hours, 17 minutes). The advantage in battery life boost would almost certainly increase for the SSD models if they were matched against hard-drive laptops with drives larger than the 4200-rpm components we used. The faster a disk spins, the more power is required to spin it.

SSD's Other Benefits

Numbers don't tell the whole story about solid-state drives. SSDs also tend to be more rugged than a standard hard drive because the NAND flash memory they use lacks the moving parts found in a hard drive. Drop your notebook, and the data on your SSD will be safe--even if the notebook's screen doesn't survive unscathed. Also, unlike hard-disk drives, SSDs don't generate heat and don't produce a lot of electromagnetic interference.

Conclusions

Manufacturers first incorporated SSDs into ultraportable notebooks designed for people working in healthcare, insurance, and similar fields. But as prices drop and storage capacities increase, you can expect manufacturers to begin promoting SSD notebooks to a broader range of users.

Indeed, the movement toward the mainstream has already begun. This summer, Dell introduced SSD into the company's Latitude D630, D830, and D430 business notebooks, which target power business users and travelers. Choosing the SSD option to replace the standard 80GB 5400-rpm hard drive on any of these units adds $540 to its overall price. Toshiba is expected to begin introducing SSDs into select notebooks later this year, too.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, with an SSD in your notebook, you'll see somewhat better system responsiveness, and a positive change in the way the system handles drive-intensive tasks such as reading data from and writing data to the drive, coming out of standby mode, and booting up from scratch. If you're a mobile worker who tends to bump your laptop around a little and who would benefit from performance boosts in those areas, the extra cost of having "SSD inside" might just be worth it.

Test Report: Solid-State Drives vs. Hard-Disk Drives--Which Are Faster?

The performance boost from SSD varies from notebook to notebook, but using SSD is clearly beneficial for hard-drive-intensive tasks.

Test Report: Solid-State Drives vs. Hard-Disk Drives--Which Are Faster?
The performance boost from SSD varies from notebook to notebook, but using SSD is clearly beneficial for hard-drive-intensive tasks.
MODEL Drive type Drive Windows operating system Storage size (GB) Read and write 3.06GB of files and folders Read and write large files (3.06GB) Symantec Norton AntiVirus scan1 Windows file search1 WorldBench 6 Beta score Adobe Photoshop CS2 2 Microsoft Office 2003 2 Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0 2 Nero 7 Ultra Edition 2WinZip Computing WinZip 10.0 2
Dell ATG-D620 SSDSanDisk SSD UATA 5000 XP Professional 32 380.6 345.2 72.5 110.0 76 744 383 262 911 472
Dell ATG-D620 HDD Toshiba MK8009GAH XP Professional 80 401.0 337.2 111.9 319.2 76 666 383 260 1085 527
Fujitsu LifeBook P1610 SSD Samsung Flash SSD MCAQE32G8APP XP Professional32 273.4 199.2 122.9 143.0 36 1519 676 791 675 872
Fujitsu LifeBook P1610 HDD Toshiba MK3006GAL XP Professional 30 647 533 161 297 30 2388 714 810 2768 1086
Fujitsu LifeBook P1610 SSD Samsung Flash SSD MCAQE32G8APP Vista Business 32 279.7 174.5 118.7 85.8 42 1095 695 669 644 635
Fujitsu LifeBook P1610 HDD Toshiba MK3006GAL Vista Business 30661 433208 100 39 1197 581 674 1929 849
1 Scan searches drive loaded with 6.12GB of data 2 Tests are subsets of PC WorldBench 6 beta. For more details about these tests, see Introducing WorldBench 6 Beta 2.

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