Sizing up an SSD system

Sizing up an SSD system

Hard drives are almost a commodity item these days, with people stacking together several 250GB or 300GB drives in RAID arrays or just adding an extra drive when they run out of room. Sure, there are a handful or 10,000rpm drives out there, but is that a game changer? Not really.

One of the more interesting developments in the pipeline is a new use for a technology that's been around for years. SSD desktop hard drives are not exactly ready for prime time but could eventually radically change the way we think about storage. A small vendor from San Antonio, Texas contacted us recently, asking if we'd be interested in checking out a system with an SSD hard drive. SSD stands for Solid State Disk, and an SSD hard drive basically uses flash memory instead of spinning platters--kind of like a USB key.

The DV Nation Mini PC is based on AOpen's Pandora Mini PC bare-bones system, a small-form-factor PC that apes Apple's popular Mac Mini. The basic specs were a little dated--a 1.7GHz Intel Pentium M CPU along with 1GB of RAM and an integrated Mobile Intel 915 Xpress graphics chip. The unique thing about this system was the 16GB Samsung SSD drive that took the place of a regular hard drive.

With only 16GB of storage space, there isn't a lot we see doing with the system on a day-to-day basis, but we ran our standard benchmarks to see if the extremely fast performance promised by the SSD drive had a positive impact on everyday computing tasks.

Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: In seconds

iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Note: In seconds

Note: In seconds

As you can see, the SSD drive didn't help us in out Multitasking, Photoshop, or iTunes tests--but, to be fair, these are not hard-drive-intensive tests. Additionally, the older Pentium M CPU put the system at a distinct disadvantage when compared to more modern PCs.

We expected to see an impressively fast bootup time, but at 56 seconds from power-on until Windows was fully loaded, the DV Nation was no faster than a standard desktop, such as the Cyberpower Back to School 2006.

There are some advantages to SSD drives. They consume very little power, they run cooler than normal hard drives, they're quieter, and they have a longer potential life span, with no moving parts to wear out or break down (SSD drives are generally considered to be good for 1,000,000 write cycles).

At the moment, SSD systems are very expensive--the 16GB drive in this system cost $1,199 alone, for a total price of $1,738, but prices will fall as capacities increase. Right now, we can't see this as a practical solution for consumers, but in a year or two we might very well see more systems that include an SSD drive, although more likely as a companion to a regular hard drive rather than a replacement.

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