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Installing an SSD on a HP netbook
May 10, 2010 10:03 PM   Subscribe

I have a HP Mini 110 with a 160 GB HD running Ubuntu. I'm pretty happy with it, but I don't really need all that space (currently I'm filling a tiny portion of it) and would prefer a faster boot time. What kind of improvements in speed should I expect if I swap out the hard drive with an SSD? What is the level of expense and difficulty involved in the install? Would I be better off just getting a newer notebook with an SSD already installed? What is the best source for a suitable SSD?
posted by Artw to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'd be putting an Edelbrock intake on a Pinto. Get a faster CULV notebook or just let your netbook sleep; I never boot mine except when necessary to upgrade.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:25 PM on May 10, 2010

I've got an OCZ Vertex Turbo 30GB SSD, and I haven't benchmarked it, but it feels only slightly better than the boot speeds I was getting from a hard drive (but I run a lightweight window manager so the same percentage increase in speed would make a greater absolute difference for someone running a desktop environment.)

That's $130 at New Egg now. To me, that seems like a lot for what's likely to be just a few, maybe a dozen seconds per boot. Unless you'd really like a longer battery life, too, I couldn't recommend it. (As a fan of quiet computing, I'm pleased with it overall, though.)
posted by Zed at 10:48 PM on May 10, 2010

Which Ubuntu are you using? Karmic Koala and later versions have a new boot sequence that's much faster than anything earlier.
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 PM on May 10, 2010

Though this isn't apples-to-apples data, I've evaluated a few different SSDs in production middle tier servers for an incredibly high traffic web site, and most of them were severely disappointing, often performing worse than the raid 1+0 arrays they were supposed to replace - even with tuning by the vendors.

Unless you can stick a fusion I/O card in there (you probably can't, and even if you could you don't want to know the price tag. but to anyone running high performance apps i can't recommend them enough - holy CRAP those things are fast), my guess is it's not worth the effort. The experience definitely kept me from SSDing my laptop.
posted by flaterik at 1:14 AM on May 11, 2010

Are you shutting down your netbook entirely, or are you putting it into sleep mode?

According to this website, sleeping an eee PC for 24 hours uses approximately 700mAh, while the battery has a total capacity of about 5800mAh. In other words, 24 hours of sleep drains perhaps one eighth of the battery's charge.

I suggest you evaluate using sleep mode, as it won't cost anything and will radically reduce boot times. It's certainly what I do with all my laptop computers.

Unexpectedly, the page also suggests that under certain circumstances it takes more power to shut down then restart a computer, than it does to sleep then wake it. But that's crazy talk!
posted by Mike1024 at 1:25 AM on May 11, 2010

It really depends on whether your applications are disk-bound or not. If you're swapping to disk much, or if you're loading big applications on a routine basis, you can see an enormous speed increase from an SSD. This is particularly marked on a Mac, for whatever reason; something about the filesystem on the Mac seems to bottleneck pretty badly on drive seek time, so you'll typically see a very large improvement on those systems. I've never seen the same kind of response curve on Linux or Windows. It seems to be unique to HFS+.

If you have enough RAM to fully buffer your normal working environment, you may save a little time on boot, but you won't gain much in routine use. ( RAM caching is faster than an SSD.)

There are many, many crap flash drives out there. The quality of the controller is everything. At the moment, there are two controllers that are really good: Intel, and Indilinx. Indilinx is usually a little slower, and the firmware for that chipset is in fairly constant flux, so you have to read the forums for your drive carefully, wait for a good revision, and then stick with it. They are much cheaper than Intel drives, so your extra attention is compensated. And they're way faster than anything else except Intel.

Intel drives are the gold standard at the moment. They're very expensive, but you just plug them in, and they just work, and you generally will see better performance than just about anything else. Of all the drives, they degrade the least over time; as SSDs get full, they get much slower. Intel drives handle that better. They've updated the firmware one time, to add TRIM support, and while they had issues with the flashing program, the firmware itself was fine. Any drive you buy now will have the new firmware already installed.

With a TRIM-supporting OS, like Win7, you shouldn't get any slowdown over time at all, at least on the Intel drive. Presumably, that will also be true on other SSDs as well, but I don't know for sure. I don't think Linux supports TRIM yet, so as you write to the drive, it will gradually get slower, as the free space gets used up. SSDs are much slower at rewriting blocks than they are at writing fresh ones. TRIM tells the drive that a sector no longer has useful data, so that it can be added into the free pool again; without TRIM, eventually every sector on the drive will be marked 'preserve', which slows writes down by about 3/4. Intel drives handle this situation better than any other offering, and will retain more of their peak speed under a non-TRIM OS. Indilinx does a decent job, too. Most other drive firmwares will get SLOW AS SHIT when you get to that point, actually slower than a real hard drive. So you really want Intel or Indilinx.

The OCZ Vertex drives are all Indilinx, as far as I know. Other OCZ flash lines use different controllers, and they're much poorer.
posted by Malor at 3:28 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

In rereading that, it occurs to me that I wasn't very clear about when to use an SSD.

For most people, in normal desktop use, buy RAM first if you haven't maxed yourself out yet. Then if you're still RAM-constrained, buy an SSD. A big RAM/HD combo will boot slower, and will launch your programs more slowly the first time you run them, but subsequent use until shutdown will typically be faster than having less RAM with an SSD. So, just try to avoid shutdowns... as others are saying, using suspend/resume will avoid the biggest drawback of a hard drive very neatly, while preserving all the usefulness of lots of RAM.

On my 12-gig Win7 machine, I barely notice the difference between SSD and no SSD -- my whole working environment fits comfortably in the cache, so things load at blazing speed no matter what. Saving SSD money and putting it toward RAM will usually be more cost effective if you're on Linux or Win7. If, however, the machine can't go past 4 gigs (common), or when you're using an OS that can't support more than that, like XP, then an SSD can come in very handy, as programs are getting very large.

Just as a general note for others: even when not RAM-constrained, Macs really seem to benefit from an SSD. It's especially noticeable when you're hitting the drive with two or more things at once. The improvements from better drive seek time are very pronounced, no matter how much RAM you have. I suspect something's bottlenecking in the filesystem code.

SSDs are a much more appealing buy under that OS, and because of that, my recommendations are exactly reversed from Win/Linux: adequate RAM on a Mac, with an SSD, will probably be faster than lots of RAM and a hard drive.
posted by Malor at 4:04 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. This probably is no help, but I just have to chime in here.

I don't believe I ever noticed a slow boot time, ever, with my Ubuntu. That was one thing I noticed right away. The boot time was just about instantaneous on my itty bitty 72GB computer.
posted by magnoliasouth at 5:26 AM on May 11, 2010

You could also consider using (Ubuntus alternative to) readyboost by adding a fast ~4GB SD-card or a tiny USB thumb drive. This could help boot times of often used programs for a fraction of the price of an SSD.
posted by Akeem at 6:23 AM on May 11, 2010

I have a Mini 110 (running OSX, naturally) with the 16Gb stock factory SSD, and disk access is quite a bit slower than I expected. It takes almost a minute to boot from a cold start, too, not that I do that very often (monthly?). It does wake up from sleep very quickly in an iPhone sort of way, though, and the thin/small battery gives me about 4.5 hours so I'm happy with that. I don't have the fatter optional battery, though I've considered it.

From reading around the web, I believe the not-very-fast-SSD is just the nature of the specific drive HP used in the Minis, and a third party SSD (especially those Intel ones everyone loves) would be considerably faster.
posted by rokusan at 7:02 AM on May 11, 2010

If you are running Ubuntu 10.04, there are at least two bugs that drastically increase boot time.
posted by at 7:25 AM on May 11, 2010

It's currently on 9.10, and it's by no means slow - I just like the idea of making it super, super fast. Getting it to wake from sleep in an iPhone like timeframe would definitely be a plus.
posted by Artw at 9:46 AM on May 11, 2010

(SSD might make me happier about slinging it in a bag without shutting it all the way down as well, which I've always been kind of nevrvous of doing even if the drive is parked. )
posted by Artw at 10:15 AM on May 11, 2010

I'm really not sure it'll make that much difference. It'll boot faster for sure, and it will be somewhat more reliable, but I don't think you're likely to get very good bang per buck on that purchase.

I guess it all depends on what boot speed is worth to you... a small OCZ Vertex drive isn't that expensive, and sometimes knowing you've done all you can, even if it doesn't make that much difference, is worth the extra money.
posted by Malor at 12:08 PM on May 11, 2010

^--- but max your RAM first!
posted by Malor at 12:16 PM on May 11, 2010

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