An excerpt from my i7-920 Workstation Build Review of 21 November 2009:

""System drives hold ONLY your operating system and your programs.  They don't need to be large, but they benefit greatly from being fast.

I'm currently using a Western Digital 300gb Raptor II SATA II drive.  3 years ago this was the fastest system drive available.  Soon I'll replace it.  With what?  When the SSD market bottoms out, which will be very soon, and they offer at least a 256gb SSD (solid state drive) with 200mbps+ transfer speeds for under $300.. then I'll get one.  I might get two and put one in my laptop.

Currently SSD's are not as reliable as I'd like them to be.  The speed is certainly there, but they're still working out mystery phantom data losses and other issues with the controllers and firmware and for something as important as a system drive I'd want more refinement and even more reliability.

IF I had to replace my system drive today I'd be torn between three types of drives.  Another Raptor exactly like what I have, an Intel x25 SSD (the 256gb model is currently about $500), and one of the new SATA II 6gps terabyte drives which are even faster than the Raptor.  You WILL notice even a bit of speed increase in a system drive.  If you're interested in performance this is where you should spend some money.""

 

Introduction

Looking back at my own words I predicted a few things, and should have predicted another.  SSD's are indeed becoming mainstream, they have become a lot more reliable, they're a lot faster than even back in November, and they have dropped significantly in price.  A fast system/program drive very much affects total system performance.  However, I should have known the price floor I set would be flexible depending on just how much performance was offered.

Since this review over 100 new SSD's have come to market, several major reliability issues with controllers and data creep have been resolved, the speeds have gotten considerably faster, and the prices overall have dropped significantly.  But these weren't the only factors changing my mind.  A client showed up at a workshop with a SSD equipped laptop, an older slower SSD from last year, and it was FAST!  There's nothing quite like seeing something like this with your own eyes.

Immediately I reviewed the SSD market, read every available review, and started making a list of my top choices.  Instantly two things became clear:

1.  I'd be getting a SSD

2.  I'd be spending a lot more than I initially estimated

I don't feel bad about #2.  Why?  Because my price floor was set based on the reliability factors and performance benefits gained at that point in time.  Performance and reliability have been significantly increased more than offsetting the steep price.  At least for me.

 

Choosing My SSD

After a few weeks of reading reviews and investigating the market it became clear the best performing drive was the Crucial Technologies C300 .  Crucial has been in business a long time and a leader in the memory market since day one. 

 

Crucial C300 SSD, Bangkok Images

 

I first started using Crucial products when I realized original equipment RAM that Dell was charging me an arm and leg for, was in fact being supplied by Crucial where I could get it for less than half of Dell's price.  In the next decade and over 10 laptops with Crucial memory modules, not one has failed and Crucial has always given me excellent service.  In short, it is one of the few technology companies I trust 100%.  If you know me, you know this is saying a lot.

At the time of my research Crucial had just released the C300 drives in 128gb and 256gb capacities.  Their published specifications showed them to be, by far, the fastest SATA SSD available.  Online reviews and testing confirmed this.  Crucial also provides an industry standard 3 year warranty.

 

Features

Let's talk about some of the features that make this drive the best choice.

 

SATA 6Gb/s Interface

This is one of the very few SATA III SSD's available.  Probably because this is the ONLY SSD with speeds that exceed the capability of the SATA II interface.  It will work with a SATA II interface, but it requires a SATA III interface to reach its full performance capability of 355MB/s read, and 215MB/s write.  Please read below for a short review on a SATA III accessory board.

 

SATA Connections Crucial C300

 

TRIM Support

Windows 7 fully supports TRIM support which is the industry standard wear leveling solution that helps a SSD retain it's fast speeds despite the natural slowdown that affects all SSD's with sustained read/write cycles.  TRIM support helps you maintain your best speeds without a total drive reformat. TRIM support should be vital to your SSD selection so look for your SSD to be TRIM certified.

 

Low Power Draw

SSD use much less power than their mechanical hard drive counterparts and subsequently generate much less heat.  The C300 draws 4.3w average under full load and only .092w at idle.

 

Size & Vibration Resistance

The Crucial C300 comes in the 2.5" format most commonly found in laptops.  At 75g's it's very lightweight helping it achieve 1500g's of shock resistance and 2-500hz at 3.1g of vibration resistance.  The MTBF is estimated to be in excess of 1.5 million hours which means you can leave it powered on for the next 10 years without worry.

 

Asus U3S6 SATA III & USB 3.0 Daughterboard

Most new motherboards and high-end laptops recently released include a SATA III interface.  If you're like me and your current motherboard doesn't have SATA III, you can buy the ASUS U3S6 6Gb/s SATA III and USB 3.0 PCIe X4 daughterboard for about USD $30.

 

Asus U3S6 SATA III / USB 3.0 adapter

 

The two SATA II ports are on the back of the board and accessible from inside the case like they should be.

 

USB 3.0 ports

 

The two USB 3.0 ports are on the backplane and accessible from outside the case where you'll need them.

Installation was simple.  Mount it in your first available PCIe x4 or greater slot, power up your computer and Vista or Win7 will automatically install the necessary drivers.  Alternatively or with XP you can use the included driver disk.

That's it, it's installed and ready to go and on my system was automatically seen by my BIOS and nothing more was needed.  $30 to upgrade an older motherboard to both SATA III and USB 3.0 is a bargain, especially from a reliable company like Asus.

 

Installing the Crucial C300 SSD

 

Crucial C300, Bangkok Images

 

The C300 comes neatly packed in a very small box you could almost fit in the back pocket of your jeans.  It includes an instruction/warranty manual and the drive.  That's it.

 

C300 packed in box

 

The bottom of the drive has the model and serial numbers and all the information you'll need for warranty purposes.

 

rear Label

 

Installation was a breeze, I mounted mine in a 3.5 inch to 2.5 inch adapter (150 baht at Panthip Plaza) and slid it into a 3.5 inch HDD slot.  With SSD's you can just as easily stick a piece of double sided tape on the back and stick it wherever is easiest.

I connected a SATA cable between the Asus U3S6 SATA III port and the C300 SSD, and a power cable from my power supply to the C300 SSD.  That's it.

Powering up the system my BIOS recognized the SSD as it would any HDD and all that was left was to go into the Drive Manager and initialize and format the SSD.  Formatting was fun, I chose the long formatting method and it was done in less than two minutes.  When that happens you just know you have a fast drive.

 

Cloning the System Drive

If you're like me you've spent a lot of time building your system drive and carefully installing and configuring your programs.  With an imaging system this can take several days of your free time and these days way too many calls to software manufacturers to reactivate products you own.  There must be a better way.

There is!  I've always used Norton Ghost for my backup needs and the current version is Norton Ghost 15.  Looking through the menu I noticed they have a new "drive copy" feature and the on-line manual recommends it for just this purpose.  I gave it a try and when I was done I booted off the SSD and was greeted with a blank Windows screen telling me I was using a non-genuine copy of Windows which would require calling Microsoft to straighten out.  No way!

I then made a fresh drive image using the regular backup manager, booted up on the Norton Restore disk, and restored my image to the new SSD.  It took 15 minutes.  After which I booted off the SSD and it went straight into Windows 7 without an activation and not a single program on this drive required activation.  I would highly recommend this method of mirroring an image.

 

How does it work?

This is the easy part.  It works great!  With my Raptor HDD it took a good 4-5 minutes to fully boot and load my programs, and admittedly my system is top heavy. With my SSD it takes less than 15-20 seconds for exactly the same thing.  Programs load immediately, and by immediately I mean as soon as you touch the return key.

Simple read/write testing reveals I'm reading at about 390mb/s and writing at about 280mb/s.  Nothing else on the market comes close.  My Windows performance index maxes out at 7.9.  It was 5.9 with the Raptor.

A friend liked what he saw and ordered a C300 for his brand new Lenovo W510, a very upper end laptop.  He had much the same experience with his installation but because he only has a SATA II in his laptop his Windows performance index was only 7.7. 

 

Summary

Overall I'm really pleased with my performance gains.  Really, it feels like I just got a new high powered computer more than it feels like a drive upgrade.  Everything is now instant, everything works as it should, and I'm slowly finding new ways to use the extra real estate on the drive to enhance caches, scratch disks, and paging files.

After using a SSD for just two weeks I can say with absolute confidence that I'll never go back to a mechanical drive for my main workstation.  In fact, I'm probably going to order two more of these for my laptops.  Yes, they provide that much of a performance increase, actually more, to justify the cost.  You'll just have to try it to believe the difference.

 

Final Notes:

    • When choosing your SSD don't take the manufacturers listed speeds as gospel.  Instead, look for some solid reviews from sites you trust and make sure the listed speeds are backed up by testing.
    • A solid warranty is essential.  3 years is standard for quality SSD's.  I would also take a close look at personal experiences with how a company handles warranty issues, or search the net for the experiences of others.  Nothing would bite more than shelling out top dollar for the latest SSD only to have it break and then have to fight with customer service to get it replaced.
    • Note what comes in the box.  My C300 came only with a small paper book, no 2.5 to 3.5 inch adapter, no cables, no screws, nothing.  Know what you're buying because these small pieces can add to the cost and inconvenience subtracts from value as well.
    • IMPORTANT.  If you're buying a SSD which benefits from the new 6g/bps SATA III interface, make sure your motherboard has a PCIx x4 slot available at a minimum, AND that your motherboard and chipset supports the latest PCIe 2.0 standard.  2.0 allows 500mbps data flow in both directions, 1.0 is half of that.  Half.. means the PCIe bus can't even support the full 3g/bps SATA II speeds.  If you plan on using USB 3.0 this becomes even more important as it becomes easy to saturate or max out the PCIe bus and you won't be getting the performance and subsequently the true value of the faster and more expensive 6g/bps SATA III SSD's.. or USB 3.0 devices.
    •  
    • Ironically, this means the older 1366 socket i7 CPU's and their x58 chipset motherboards are the only type out there that fully supports these new speeds and gives you their true performance and value.  Look for a new PCIe 3.0 standard by this time next year that will further double the band to 1g/bps flow in both directions or further.  With SATA III and USB 3.0 devices now on the market and fast becoming mainstream, your computing experience is about to change in a huge way.

 

I hope you've found this review helpful.