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laptop hard drive choices
February 7, 2011 3:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a laptop replacement purchase; I think I know the one I want, but am having trouble deciding whether to go standard hard drive or SSD.

The one I want comes with a 300+ GB 7200 HD. A 128GB SSD is almost $300 more

Is it worth it? I hear great thing about SSDs, but wow: $300?! (Gets close to doubling the price, FWIW.)

Could I get away with buying my own SSD and installing it after I get the laptop? Will I be able to move the Windows 7 install over to the SSD? Conversely, should I take the opportunity to switch to Linux?

If so, could/should I get a smaller drive? My current laptop has a 20GB drive and I don't think I've ever gotten anywhere near filling it. I keep music, photos, etc in a portable hard drive.

Special snowflake notes: My current laptop is an almost 5 year old Macbook that stopped booting up last weekend. :( I'm looking at the HP Pavilion dm1z. I'll be using it for writing, web browsing, and some web development work. Weight and cost are probably the two most important factors for me. I'm comfortable in both Mac and Windows, but don't have much Linux experience. I've taken apart quite a few computers in my time. Other computers in the house are all Windows, as is my work computer.
posted by epersonae to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yes, an SSD is totally worth it.
posted by iamabot at 3:54 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're not doing anything that requires lots of very fast reads from the disk, you're really not going to get much out of an SSD.
posted by jjb at 4:02 PM on February 7, 2011


I really really love me my SSDs, but they involve serious trade-offs, and you should do a lot of research on which specific one you get.

First of all they're small. Anything over 180 gb tends to get real expensive real fast. And performance varies and is based on many factors. On the other hand, a good drive will yield a performance boost akin to moving from a CPU from 2005 to one made in 2011, I can't say enough about the performance, its stupefying. Also these drives are drop-proof and take much less power than normal ones. So if you care a lot about performance and don't need to store massive amounts of data, its totally worth it.

You should get an MLC drive that supports TRIM and whatever the latest sandforce controller is. I think the OCZ Vertex series is a good balance of cost and performance.

I also bought a notebook with a normal hard drive and an SSD separately, and then put the drive that came with the computer into an external case. You end up paying about the same, but get a nice external hard drive for free.
posted by tempythethird at 4:08 PM on February 7, 2011


SSD will get you better boot times and lower power usage. If you are doing work with lots of data movement, it will benefit you greatly. You should be able to move the Windows 7 install over to the SSD, make sure you get recovery disks, or make them when you get the computer.

As for $300... $240 for one of the Crucial C300 128GB SSDs. Or this 120GB Mushkin Callisto Deluxe SSD at $220 when it gets back in stock.

Personal pick: based off of my love for my older Mushkin SSD, I would wait until that Callisto is back in stock and buy it, it also has the current best Sandforce controller, which you want.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:12 PM on February 7, 2011


Get a SSD. Make sure it has the sandforce controller.
posted by jchaw at 4:20 PM on February 7, 2011


tempythethird is right about considering the tradeoffs - if you don't have anywhere else to store big things (external hard drive, NAS) you may find yourself strapped for space. I can't think of other tradeoffs except for cost, but maybe someone else can.

Here's my experience: two years ago I bought this ancient thing. Even at the time it a cheapo SSD, an it was a bit of a gamble. It was a 100% wonderful experience. My boot time dropped precipitously, and everything was more responsive. There is no other $140-$300 upgrade that will boost your performance quite like this. And you could have all the CPU speed and RAM in the world and it wouldn't make up for the weakest link in the chain - the HD.

Plus, the reason I replaced my HD was I dropped my laptop and borked my original HD. No more delicate platters to worry about!
posted by Tehhund at 4:29 PM on February 7, 2011


I can't think of other tradeoffs except for cost, but maybe someone else can.

The common "trade-off" is the lifetime of the solid state drive. Basically it boils down to this: the cells (where things are written) in SSDs eventually wear down to where they can't be re-written. MLC (multi layer cell) drives can take 10,000 to 100,000 writes to each cell.

Early MLC drives, which are cheaper to make, were on the bottom end of that 10,000 rewrite limit. Early controllers didn't do a good job of spreading the writes amongst the cells, i.e. would write over the same spot, causing usable drive space to shrink quickly. They also would be wasteful in their writing algorithms. The newer controllers have eliminated this. The Indilinx, Intel and Sandforce controllers have gotten very good at this. An article that I can't find anymore basically stated that the usable lifetime for a solid state even on a highest theoretical user on a 128GB SSD should get 7 years before the write limit becomes an issue. Reality says it should not be an issue for anyone.

The reason everyone says to use a Sandforce controller is because it is in the higher class of controllers, and Sandforce controllers are the quickest at IOPS (inputs/outputs per second). The more transfers, the better. Sandforce can do 50K IOPS.

Positives: SSDs are really quicker at sustained transfers: 250-350MB/sec vs 135 MB/sec for HDDs. When it comes to 4K Random file transfers, SSDs will still go 25-30MB/sec, where HDDs will sometimes slow to under 1MB/sec. This is where your money goes. Also: solid state drives are sturdy. Drop a HDD from a counter and kiss it goodbye. SSDs? Well, watch the Kingston SSD Destructo Series to see what they can and can't handle.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:08 PM on February 7, 2011


If you are talking about doubling the price, I wouldn't say it is worth it. I would look at it as a $200 upgrade in a year.
posted by gjc at 6:49 PM on February 7, 2011


One potential issue with a future upgrade is; do you have a second machine or external HD enclosure to store/house your (then) current image? OTOH, getting a 2.5" enclosure for the original HD (especially if your laptop has eSATA or USB3), you're in a great position for having slow storage and a fast working drive. eSATA and USB3 are immensely faster than USB2. I don't have experience comparing it with firewire, but iirc, they should both be faster.

Use something like Acronis True Image or some other imaging software. Seagate and Western Digital have "free" HD cloning tools that you can download from them (regardless of what HD you have). Make an image of your HD, on, er, the HD (or some external HD). Remove HD. Install SSD. Boot laptop via USB/CD with a "restore/boot disc" created by the imaging software. Plug in original HD (now in external enclosure) or external HD when prompted. Done.

I love my Thinkpad T510s. I rarely use optical media so I replaced the DVD with a HD and have an SSD as the main drive. External DVD. Data (and caches and temporary files) go on the internal second HD to prevent wear on the SSD. Win7 boots to useable in about 5 seconds. Photoshop 5 loads in under 5. Firefox is essentially instant (without being resident).

$300 is a lot for an SSD. 3rd party will save you a lot of money. In most laptops, unless the manufacturer is doing something sleazy to get people to go to them for upgrades, changing out the drive is really easy.
posted by porpoise at 9:51 PM on February 7, 2011


SSD pricing is still too high. I split the difference and got a Momentus XT drive, which is a hybrid SSD / HDD. It's a good value and is getting great reviews.
posted by intermod at 9:57 PM on February 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is all very helpful information, thanks! I have yet to pull the trigger on actually buying something, but it looks quite likely that I'll buy a laptop with the standard HD, then scour NewEgg for a good deal on an SSD. :)
posted by epersonae at 2:02 PM on February 9, 2011


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