I'll wipe my ass with a roll of Intel X-25 SSD drives!
December 21, 2009 5:48 AM   Subscribe

I need semi-definitive opinions regarding the real-world lifespan of an Intel X-25M Solid State Drive running in a Macbook Pro.

I just couldn't pass up a $214 Black Friday deal on an 80GB Intel X25-M (2nd generation) SSD, and am excited to install it into my "early-2008" Macbook Pro (pre-unibody) w/4GB of RAM. My plan is to replace the current system drive (a 500GB 7200RPM Seagate Momentus) with the SSD, and physically relocate the Seagate drive to the Superdrive bay, using the MCE OptiBay kit.

The original plan was to install just the base OS (Mac OS X 10.6.2) to the SSD, then relocate my home folder to the larger Seagate drive. But then I got to thinking I might actually want to have everything in my ~/Library and ~/Library/Application Support/ folders to live on the SSD instead. Because I am a neurotic multitasker (I generally have over 50+ tabs open in Firefox at any given moment, just as a general reference point), my logic tells me that I would see a performance benefit from having the ~/Library folder on the SSD, since all my running applications are constantly reading and writing to this folder. So my new plan is to just leave my homefolder on the SSD, and relocate my iTunes Library, videos, pictures, etc on the Seagate drive.

But as astute followers of SSD technology know, MLC-based SSDs will burn out faster the more often you write to them. I've done a lot of searching, and have found conflicting opinions on whether or not it's a good idea to leave oft-written to system files such as the OS page/swapfile on the SSD drive, because of the accelerated wear this would cause. Because of this, many Windows users simply disable the pagefile (despite recommendations from Microsoft to keep it enabled on an SSD), but this is not a viable option under OS X. Another concern with OS X and SSDs is Spotlight indexing, the disabling of which is simply not something I'm willing to do, given how useful Spotlight is.

So the question is, just how quickly will an SSD (specifically the X25) "burn out" if I keep my Mac's swapfiles, ~/Library/* files, Mail.app mailboxes on it, with Spotlight enabled? I also run Crashplan online backup, which does realtime block-level, encrypted incremental backups of my drives up to the cloud.

Additionally, will the lack of TRIM support in OS X cause a significant slowdown in overall performance (i.e. near spinning-platter speeds) if I run my SSD in this manner?

I don't really expect this 80GB X25 SSD to be a long-term thing. I fully expect the sizes of SSDs to significantly increase in the next 12-18 months, at inversely lower prices, at which point I will almost certainly feel no remorse in buying a new SSD, regardless of the level of wear on my current X25. But if my X25 burns out in 6-10 months, that won't be worth it, either.

What say you, Mac SSD-heads?
posted by melorama to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Been *heavily* using an Asus 901 with SSD (4GB+16GB) for a year, running Firefox and for a while doing some heavy (4Million very wide row voter "file") database-y crap on it, that really exercised the drive.

No problems yet. Never used a swapfile, for the reasons you enumerate. Did put the oft-written Firefox databases (yes, modern Firefox uses a couple of databases) onto a mem disk for a while, but that was for speed, and I abandoned it eventually as too much of a PITA.
posted by orthogonality at 5:56 AM on December 21, 2009

"But if my X25 burns out in 6-10 months, that won't be worth it, either."

Every estimate I've seen suggests that you'd have to continuously write to the drive for multiple years to blow cells. It's not going to burn out in 6 months.

"will the lack of TRIM support in OS X cause a significant slowdown"

Over time, yes, but never to the point where the drive's seek performance will slow to spindle speeds.

"Crashplan online backup, which does realtime block-level"

I love Crashplan, but it's a file based backup solution. Just so you aren't thinking you're getting a volume snapshot when you aren't.

"Another concern with OS X and SSDs is Spotlight indexing"

Why is this a concern? Indexing is almost exclusively a read operation.

" physically relocate the Seagate drive to the Superdrive bay"

Wow, that's neat! I'll have to take a look at this product you mentioned. My optical drive is dead, but I always need more storage... Thanks!
posted by majick at 6:07 AM on December 21, 2009

Intel claims the ability to write 100GB a day, every day, for 5 years to an Intel SSD drive. You can also monitor how much data has been written to your drive in a given uptime session in Activity Monitor (under the Disk Activity tab).

Since I rebooted my machine late Saturday evening (oddly enough, to flash my 160GB X-25M G2), I've apparently written a total of 3.97GB to the drive - while I haven't been using the machine completely solidly since then, I've been working Sunday and this morning. Keep in mind this is the only drive in my MacBook Pro, and I haven't done anything to treat the SSD better - swap file is on the system drive, Spotlight on, Dropbox indexing my files, etc. I do web development, so admittedly I have mostly small file writes, but even if you do graphic design work I doubt you'd hit 100GB - especially if you're keeping the files on an external drive.

So my opinion? You have nothing to worry about. You don't have to take my word for it, though - keep an eye on Activity Monitor and see for yourself.
posted by agentmunroe at 6:11 AM on December 21, 2009

Oh, and congrats - my X25-M is the best upgrade I've ever purchased for a machine, bar-none. Your Mac becomes the Terminator - completely unstoppable no matter what's going on, and a far better use of the funds than putting the same money towards a newer, questionably-faster-for my-uses MacBook Pro.
posted by agentmunroe at 6:14 AM on December 21, 2009

I've got a second generation X-25 and have been using it as my boot drive with my home folder on it in my Mac Book Pro since the second generation came out. (I was lucky, I was able to order one before Newegg and all the others jacked up the prices once they realized that production was not meeting demand.)

It's fantastic. Using a computer without a SSD is a frustrating experience. I have my iTunes library on a drive I've put into the Superbay so I've lost the optical but I've got a USB one (bus powered, less cables to worry about) in case I need to access a DVD or CD.

I use Mail.app with 6 large (and cached) IMAP boxes open all the time, along with spotlight and DevonThink Pro Office with 5 databases totaling 6+ GB that I constantly add to (and have things automatically added to via automator/applescript and RSS). Plus I've got my photos on here and take about 50 photos a week, more if I go on vacation. My swap grows to about 8 GB and hovers there and I reboot once every few weeks to install an update that needs a reboot.

In terms of performance, since the end of this summer, XBench shows approx a 10% performance decrease. Though right now I didn't bother to close any of the dozen apps I have open, didn't run it after a refresh reboot and have only 6 GB of free space, compared to ~60 GB of free space when I ran it at the end of the summer.

And it shows no sign of dying.

Stick everything on the SSD and large media can go elsewhere. It's just much more convenient.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:43 AM on December 21, 2009

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