So, how about a perspective from a user on installing an SSD in a notebook and letting us know the pitfalls and the difference it makes in speed and other matters?
We have chosen to install one of the latest SSDs from MTRON, a key manufacturer of high speed and high reliability drives. As an OEM they also supply to companies like Imation and we reviewed the MTRON Pro recently here.
This time we are doing a reality check on the MTRON Mobi 3500 with a 64 GB capacity. 64 GB is the bare minimum I would consider for notebooks except netbooks that can probably function OK with 32 GB. It does mean that you will have to make compromises with where you will store the big items like photos, music files, video and internal backups. I use my notebook mainly for e-mails, surfing and core applications like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Office and flight planning software. So basically anything that I would need on the road (or in the air). Heavy duty programmes like Photoshop and all my main data reside on my desktop. If I wanted extra data capacity on my notebook I can either use an external hard drive, a high-capacity USB drive or memory that will fit in the ExpressCard slot. The last option sounds like a good one to explore in a next review as this is a normally empty slot for most of us. There are now several manufacturers that make SSD memory that will fit in these ExpressCard slots.
This particular version of the MTRON range of SSDs comes in a plastic housing and a more or less exposed circuit board back in black epoxy (see pictures). This is a departure from the Pro line which has an aluminium enclosure which seems much sturdier.
First things first.
This means backing up everything after having cleaned the system of redundant e-mails, files and programs. It also doesn't hurt to defrag the old hard drive. We can now ghost this drive to another computer and then back onto the new SSD. This might take a couple of hours each way. Another option is to use a backup facility like the Rebit and restore straight from there. Initially we tried it with the Rebit and that would have worked fine were it not that my backup files contained more than twice the capacity that my new SSD could hold. I could have fixed that but was in a hurry to get the new system operating before my next trip. The Norton Ghost utility did the job eminently and four hours later the new system was ready!
Basically everything worked fine from the restart except one thing I had forgotten: to make a list of all my passwords. For some reason these were not ported across.
Of course, the very best way to get the best out of your computer and new hard drive is to do a clean install of all the programs. It takes a bit longer and is a bit more fiddly but it is a task that I don't particularly like doing too often. With us being on the bleeding edge way too often and installing all sorts of gear and programs, it was something that I would gladly forgo for the moment...
The first thing you notice is the speed with which applications are now opened. Particularly heavy applications like Microsoft Word or any of the Adobe programs that force you to take a coffee break while you wait for the opening up, benefit very well from the phenomenal speeds that an SSD is capable of. You might have seen the blog posted recently where they hitched together a couple of dozen of SSDs and they managed to open up every program on that computer within half a second!
That's a bit over the top but indicative of where we are heading in computing. All that is possible but at a price: this particular 64 GB unit costs under 400 bucks. If you think this is high – remember this is a SINGLE Level Cell SSD – really aimed at servers and high-end application.
My notebook, more than a year old, really needed a heart transplant. It had become so sluggish even after applying all the tricks and tweaks that a seasoned pro can throw at it, that the only remaining bottleneck had to be the hard drive. In fact, the Windows Experience Index where you can see how well Vista performs, now shows the hard drive at 5.9, which is about as high as you can get!
Not only do programs open up quickly, the read and write speeds are such that programmes like Dragon NaturallySpeaking can perform much faster as well. This makes using these programs a delight now.
Another great benefit of using an SSD instead of a drive that spins around at multiple thousands of revolutions a minute, generating heat, is that now my notebook can be a real laptop -- if you know what I mean.
In its earlier configuration my ASUS V1 business notebook became unbearable to use because of the extreme heat that it generated. Now it still will get warm, as is normal, but can be used easily for extended periods of time on your upper legs.
Apart from the blazing speeds there were periods when programs seemed to hang for up to 30 seconds at the time. This happened for instance when you were editing in a document. My feelings is that it might have something to do with the fact that this particular SSD has a SATA-II interface, rather than the SATA-I that my old notebook still has.
The jury is still out on this issue.
It is obvious that SSDs are the way to go, particularly when you are a power user. You pay a premium now to benefit from the latest and greatest the memory makers are throwing at us and that is probably a good thing, at least for them otherwise their production lines would be swamped! We can see a lot of SSD makers now coming with products that both have the capacity and a more realistic price level to give us a reasonable alternative when choosing between the types of drive we want in our computers. Be mindful and know that most manufacturers will go for the cheaper MLC process rather than the SLC one. As explained in our last review there is a (theoretically) huge difference between reliability of one versus the other. And that translates into Single Level SSDs being more expensive. If you need that level of reliability the MTRON is the one to go for. This, plus the fact that with standard HDDs their generated heat and moving parts are always the enemies of reliability, makes any choice for an SSD already a no-brainer.
It is a fairly easy process to replace your hard disk drive with a solid state device. Go for it!
Check out also our other review where we replaced the old drive with a new SSD using an Upgrade Kit from Imation which includes Acronis True Image software and SATA to USB cables.