Scott Hanselman

Your New Year's Resolution - Put an end to spinning rust and buy yourself a SSD

December 19, 2011 Comment on this post [30] Posted in Hardware
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I'm still using the Ultimate Developer PC 2.0 that I built last year. THE most important aspect of that build was not the super-fast processor or the fancy video cards. It was, and continues to be, the SSD. There is no other single thing that you can do to your computer that will make it feel faster than getting an SSD. If you need terabytes of storage, get an external drive, or a SAN like I did. But if you want to waste less time compiling, get an SSD. I know you want a terabyte, but get 160gigs or 256gigs if you can afford it.

Here's some compilation results from last year where I put the Ultimate Developer PC up against a now 4 year old laptop with an SSD.

In this case I'm building NHibernate 3.0 from the command line. The older laptop is the far level and the new PC is the far right. Yes, the new PC is twice as fast, but if you look at the number of seconds spent building, the laptop does OK and that's directly due to the SSD upgrade.

Times are in seconds Lenovo W500 w/ SSD Ultimate PC 1.0 Ultimate PC 2.0
MSBuild /t:rebuild 36.05 35.52 16.12
MSBuild /t:rebuild /m 24.98 25.57 12.53
MSBuild 6.17 6.99 3.11
MSBuild /m 5.91 6.66 2.72

I love my SSDs so much that I haven't done any upgrades to my machines other than SSDs. The argument is usually "SSDs cost too much." That WAS true. You can get a REALLY nice middle of the road Intel SSD for under $200 now. I've got two Crucial RealSSD C300's that are 256 gigs in two different machines and they are now under $400. They are so worth it, more than any other upgrade.

UPDATE: I'm told by Damian Guard that the newer Crucial M4's are even better, both Crucial M4 128gig and Crucial M4 256gig.

When I upgraded my laptop's HD to an SSD it went from about 68 megs a second read to 110 megs a second. At that point I was limited by the SATA bus on that older laptop.

On a desktop machine with a newer SATA bus I get 230 megs a second (that's megabytes not megabits) and that's not even what the max on the drive can get. If I put it on a 6Gb/s SATA bus it's not impossible to see 300 megs a second or more. Of course, it all depends on what kinds of writes you're doing, sequential vs. random, plus block sizes, but since I'm not Anand, I'll leave that detail to him.

 SSDs are FAST. That is not a lie.

Point is this. Do yourself a favor and breathe new life into your computer with an SSD. You deserve it.

Here's the way to think of it. A $400 SSD will cost you just over a dollar a day if it lasts a single year. It will likely last at least 3 to 5 years, but still, if it lasts a YEAR. That's a dollar a day for hours of daily unmitigated joy. What other upgrade in your life could you do for $400 that would totally change your computer life AND give you time back? Well, a few, but I hope you see the point.

Drink one less coffee a day and get an SSD instead and you'll be as productive as two cups of coffee! ;)

There's only one downside to SSDs in my experience. When they do die, and all things do, there is no warning. SSDs don't make noise, or cough or make head sounds. SSDs don't give you warning, they just die. Instantly. So, always have complete image backups of your systems. If a drive dies, you should be able to get back up in a few hours.

Do it. It's the holidays.

Sponsor: This week's ComputerZen feed was kindly sponsored by DevExpress. Do check out their new stuff like DXv2 and perhaps check out a free trial of their complete suite of Developer Tools. I've personally been a huge CodeRush fan for years.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 19, 2011 11:39
I bought this one: Ocz Agility 3 240Go

It's soooo fast!

I don't want to throw my comp through the window anymore.
December 19, 2011 11:41
I have to wholeheartadly agree.

I went to an SSD (OCZ Vertex 4) on my recent laptop last year, and it has been unaltered joy since, perf-wise. I stopped hibernating altogether, since shutting down/booting up is such a breeze.

Opening the Visual Studio solution I work with daily is now bearable, and I have not seen my machine slow down to a crawl like it used to with spinning rust. Windows feels like it should, it just disappears in the background, leaving you to use it without wondering what the hell it is doing right now. A big part of the daily frustration went away right there.

I have had some issues with the machine not booting up after Windows Update sessions in the beginning (twice), but it has not happened in a long while.

And size is not such a problem. Mine is 240 GB, and I keep it reasonably full. I just don't load it with junk and offload videos, music and the heavy stuff to a NAS at home. Worst case, some laptops make room for two disks, so that you can have a small SSD for system and critical stuff and a 500 GB HD for big data.

Scott is right, treat yourself. You will NOT regret it.
December 19, 2011 11:45
Totally agree. SSD is best hardware upgrade!
December 19, 2011 11:56
I have been sitting on the fence for SSDs because of reliability issues. Scott you had an SSD failure and I believe it was re-furbrished for you by the vendor. Have you had any further mishaps/mis-adventures?

Has the previous failure anything to do with too many writes (Code rebuilds)?

I nearly hit buy on a 120GB from SanDisk that was very briefly available for 120 bucks at buy dot com (not available anymore), but held back due to lack of positive reviews!!!

But thanks for the egging :-)... Maybe Santa will get me one ;-)...
December 19, 2011 12:28
The lead developer at our work bought an SSD drive, to see if it made much difference to compilation. He just had as an extra drive, and checked out out our code base to it - and then built from there. It didn't make any real difference, and compilation appeared to be CPU bound.

Does it really make that much difference with the SSD drive being the drive that Windows is installed on?
December 19, 2011 12:30
All true, but 1 thing is important to me as well: reliability. I really want my HDD's to stay alive. While I know normal HDDs fail too, the average failure rate of SSD's is still higher than HDDs.

Oh, and it's also a bit about stubbornness: VS.NET's performance is so incredibly poor on HDDs because it's own I/O model is stupid: it runs heavy I/O code in parallel, making the HDD step all over the place, causing slowness. I simply want MS to fix that, instead of me having to spend $$$ on what's effectively a poor patch for this problem.
December 19, 2011 12:31
Just curious: did you disable defrag when you installed the SSDs?

Am I right in sating that a fragmented harddrive shouldn't have much impact on access time for an SSD, but the extra writes associated with constant defragging would limit the lifetime of the drive?
December 19, 2011 12:40
My SSD was the best investment I've ever made.

Visual Studio + SSD = VSoS (Visual Studio on Steroids)
December 19, 2011 14:11
So true. I've revived my 6 year old Dell with Pentium 4 3GHz (single core!) with an OZC Vertex 2, 120GB drive, and it totally outruns my Dell E6410 with i5 (quad core!). I love my old beast more than the new baby.
December 19, 2011 17:12
A great tool for figuring out what is slowing down your PC is Prism HUD. Install it and it will display info on why your computer is slow. (It shows the same info as windows built in resource monitor but in a more convenient way.

For those without a SSD you'll notice more often than not the hard drive is the bottleneck.

I've also noticed for Visual Studio 2010 you really need to have more than 4 gigs of memory to keep Windows from constantly using the swap file.
December 19, 2011 17:13
I have a 128GB Crucial M4 SATA III drive in my workstation. I'm averaging 490MB/s seq read and 200MB/s seq write = "hours of daily unmitigated joy".

It was hard to justify the investment, until I did it. I am now going to get a 256 M4 for my workstation and put the 128 in my laptop, without even flinching at the price. Amazing.
December 19, 2011 18:53
I recently got my first SSD via a new work laptop and wow! I never thought Visual Studio could open so fast...I'll have to get one at home, too, with my next new (Windows 8?) PC.
December 19, 2011 19:14
I love my SSD and agree it's one of the best upgrades you can make. However, compilation speed was the last thing it improved in my observation and I directly compared disks on the same machine.

The biggest benefit of an SSD is that Windows boots up faster and seems more responsive - little things like launching an application or visiting a webpage were more snappy. Compilation, not so much.
December 19, 2011 20:37
I have a 4 year old HP Pavillian and this year have upgraded the Memory to the 8Meg maximum and fortunately it has space for two HDDs. I now have windows on a 240Gig OCZ Vertex 2 and a Seagate Hybrid with 4 gigs ssd and 500 Gigs platter disk.

WHOOOSH! The difference is simply staggering, guys I work with have brand new i7 laptops with platter disks in and I can knock the pants off them most of the time. Not just VS but IIS, Team City and Virtual box running servers. It takes quite a bit to slow my machine down and when it does, really I am taking the mickey and a quick run along the task bar closing things that I simply haven't bothered to close and I am back in business. To give an idea, Visual Studio 2010 starts quicker on my laptop than Angry Birds does on my iPhone.

I was already using Dropbox, Github and a leased Exchange mailbox, so when my old platter drive failed (which was the reason for the upgrades in the first place) I popped out, bought the SSD card and hybrid and started a new install. The WIN7 install was only about 10 -15 minutes end to end and I was back up and running with VS2010, SQL Server, IIS and Virtual box in about 3 hours.

All in the drives and memory have set me back about £450 but a new laptop would be between £750 and £1500 and still probably wouldn't have an SSD, something that I have now come to think of as essential. A bit like Cruise Control on my car, until I had it I didn't get it, now I have it it's mandatory on any new vehicle I buy.
December 19, 2011 21:15
If the image above from your setup, which firmware are you running for your SSD?

I have exactly the same SSD as yours, with firmware 0007 and my scores were different:
Minimum (Read): 237.1 MB/s
Maximum (Read): 278.9 MB/s
Access Time: 0.124 ms
Burst Rate: 156.4 MB/s

December 19, 2011 21:41
Got SSD in mid of Jan since then enjoying performance of my laptop.. Running virtual machines is just piece of cake!!
December 19, 2011 22:02
Good advice. To add to what you've said, if the price still seems harsh for some, even a "bargain SSD" rather than an a-grade performer is still leaps and bounds beyond a spinning magnetic disk... Tom's Hardware did a great in depth series on SSDs that show nerdy proof.

I must admit I'm on the bandwagon yet; the North Bridge chip on my mobo is burning up, and some quirky stuff is happening here and there after a fresh install, so I'm waiting to build the next "bestest computer ever" in Spring. But I cannot WAIT to have a solid SSD and x64 OS going. Fuzzy feelings.

December 19, 2011 22:10
I cannot agree more to this post. I also develop software for a living and need the best hardware possible. I have upgraded to SSDs more than a year ago on my desktops and laptops with OCZs. Everything is faster, I mean much faster.

I have had reliability issues with OCZ Vertex 2 but then again, the company replaced the drive quickly each time. I own several vertex 2 and 3 so for me, reliability doesn't matter much. When one goes bad, I simply restore my latest image onto the new drive and I am ready to go in less than an hour.
December 19, 2011 23:55
This is so true. I recently built a computer for my wife (and one for my brother for Christmas, shh) and in both I settled for weak processors combined with 8GB RAM and SSDs.

The fact is, unless you are editing video, audio or compiling Chrome, you are never going to notice the difference between an i3 and an i7. And the price difference can be 20x.

But they will definitely notice a 128GB SSD. And the price is only twice as much as a cheap HDD. In fact, I was able to build each machine for about $330, and they absolutely scream.
December 20, 2011 0:43
So I really wanted to chime in here with my experience. I'm a developer at a small shop and we all switched over to SSD's about a year ago. In 7 months all the drives slowed to a crawl. Turned out that without TRIM these drives are basically useless. We had lots all the available free space on the drive and it was slowing our systems to a crawl.

Just wanted to point out to be careful to make sure to get a drive that supports TRIM since without that your drive is definitely not going to last "3-5 years".
December 20, 2011 5:49
Indeed, good remark Anton Kropp. Plus, you also want to make sure your OS supports SSD's with the TRIM command natively. Read: not anything before Windows 7 or Mac OS X Lion.

Otherwise, you may need to resort back to the manufacturer's tools.
December 20, 2011 7:19
Anyone have experience swapping a MacBook Pro HD for an SSD? My MBP is kinda old (2008 model) so worried it may not be that useful if it lacks the hardware to get the most benefit. Running Win7 via Bootcamp.
December 20, 2011 17:19
I hope my manager sees this. He still holds the belief that the performance benefits aren't worth the hassle of re-installing Windows every time it fails. (Oh, hey Chris. Didn't see you there.)
December 20, 2011 19:52
I can echo these sentiments. I got a 128GB Crucial M4. Installation was a snap; Windows installed from start to finish in about 13 minutes, and my PC boots into windows and is responsive about 20 seconds after pushing the power button. I used to have to wait a couple of minutes until applications would launch. The SSD cost about £150 and, given the price rises on mechanical drives caused by the flooding in the east, the time is right to invest in one if you've got a little more money to spare.
December 21, 2011 17:02
In case you haven't seen this - newegg has a smoking deal on Intel 160GB SSD ~$155 until the 24th -
December 23, 2011 0:45
Why settle for a flash-based SSD when you can get a DDR RAM-based SSD? ($450 + RAM sticks)

Probably cost & reliability, the same reason people avoid SSD! Also, this particular solution uses SATA2 but I believe it does support combining two connectors in RAID0.
December 23, 2011 1:15
I replaced my laptop's 7200 drive with a middle-of-the-road (AFAIK) Samsung SSD last year and compile time went from five minutes to 2 1/2. 50% improvement!

For those that worry about reliability, ALL HARD DRIVES DIE. Spindles do not guarantee slow death.
December 23, 2011 14:25
..As I tell the all the people who come to me for IT/IS help...
"If you don't have a backup of it, you don't care about it."
..Then I fix the hard drive... :P
December 24, 2011 13:32
I believe Windows 7 disables defrag for SSDs on its own.
February 03, 2012 23:24
About the pricing here's a website where you can track, monitor and see the best prices of SSD's.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.