All SSD Drives Are Far From Equal

I had not originally planned to consider buying an SSD drive for my new laptop. There are lots of reasons not to, including the high price, and the relative immaturity of the technology. (The relatively low capacity doesn't bother me much, I've been living fine with a 40GB drive on the current machine.

But three things have led me to consider an SSD: it's standard on some of the machines I'm thinking of; it's not as expensive an upgrade on the others; and the T400s uses 1.8” drives, which I gather are substantially slower than the standard 2.5” disks found in most laptops. Indeed, since drive speed is in substantial part a function of rotational speed it only stands to reason that for any given number of rotations per minute, a disk with a smaller radius will move less information past the read/write point (2πR will be smaller at its greatest point, and the mean will be smaller too).

Thinking about SSDs led me to this marvelous article at AnandTech, The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZ. It may be more than most people want to know, but the takeaways are clear:

  • Lots of first-generation SSDs look great at first, then work poorly. Their performance “degrades.”
  • Benchmarks of new laptops with SSDs in them that in any way rely on hard drive performance cannot be trusted unless the test suite has been tweaked to fill up the SSD with data before the testing begins.
  • SSDs vary enormously in quality. The really good ones are insanely expensive.

It also seems that the Lenovs and probably the Dells (at least for their more expensive choice) use Samsung SSDs which get relatively horrible initial benchmarks compares to the leaders, but it seems don't degrade as much as some others.

The sensible thing to do would be to get a conventional disk, and maybe upgrade in a year or two if prices get sensible. But some of the laptop makers do give you a break on prices, so that's less obvious than it might be. Plus, to the extent I'm considering the T400s, the 1.8” form factor may severely restrict the update options. At present almost all the SSD drives on Newegg are 2.5” form factor drives.

I suppose I'm overthinking this, but I enjoy it.

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