If you follow desktop computer trents, chances are you know that Solid State Disks, or SSD, are quickly replacing Hard Disk Drives as the storage medium of choice. SSDs are more expensive per GB of storage than their spinning relatives, but make up for the smaller space by being much faster.

I’ve had an SSD for over a year now – I bought a 256GB drive to replace the relatively slow 500GB 7200 RPM drive in my 3 year old laptop. It was a good improvement – Windows booted up in half the time, most programs opened a lot quicker too. However, due to limitations of the motherboard in the laptop, I could not take full advantage of the drive’s speed: the board uses a SATA-2
interface, whereas the drive can get its best speed from a SATA-3 connection.

A few months after I bought the SSD, I got a MacBook Air, with a built-in 64GB SSD. This new laptop quickly became my primary computing device, so the 256GB SSD wasn’t seeing much use. I put it in a USB 3.0 enclosure, and would take it around with my MacBook as auxiliary storage. The cheap enclosure broke after 6 months, so yet again I had a nice drive that was sitting in a drawer.

Tonight I decided to put it in my home desktop, a 5 year old rig that was long overdue a reformat anyhow. I use it mostly for light programming work, photo editing, browsing, and web development. It is powered by a Core 2 Duo E8400, a Gigabyte X38-DQ6 motherboard, 4GB of RAM, and two 250GB 7200 RPM drives configured in RAID-0 for better performance. It also has an extra 500 GB, 7200 RPM drive, as well as a 2TB external hard drive for more backups and even more extra storage connected via USB 2.0. Just like my old laptop, the machine is limited by SATA-2 connections, so it cannot get the full benefit of this particular drive, but as the benchmarks show, its still an improvement over
RAID-0.

Here are some numbers to show what kind of a speed difference a SSD can make in a 5 year old machine when it comes to I/O. All benchmarks were done inside Windows 7, using drives connected to the Intel SATA controller built into the chipset. I used ATTO Disk Benchmark, with overlapped I/O and a queue depth of 4.

512 KB transfer size, total of 32 MB

Disk Write (mb/s) Read (mb/s)
250GB 7200 RPM x2, RAID-0 104.2 130.5
SSD 254.3 261.2

16 KB transfer size, total of 16 MB

Disk Write (mb/s) Read (mb/s)
250GB 7200 RPM x2, RAID-0 59.4 132.4
SSD 190.4 104.8

Using a SSD, writing large blocks of data the speed was almost 250% of the spinning disk, and read speed was right at 200%. With smaller chunks of 16kb, the SSD still had writes that were about 3 times as fast, and reads that were only slightly slower.

SSDs might not be cheap, but they are cheaper than buying a new computer. 128-256GB drives can easily be found for under $150. When you reinstall everything on the new drive, you could even wipe your old drive and use it for auxiliary storage – keeping the operating system and program files on the SSD, and data files, games, videos, etc on the spinning disk.

If you have an older PC that is starting to feel its age, a SSD might be a nice upgrade. If you are wanting to do HD video editing, or play the latest games, other upgrades might be better.