Performance showdown: Flash drives vs. hard drives

Performance showdown: Flash drives vs. hard drives

The test results will likely surprise you

Surprising performance results

I used HD Tach to test the drives' performance -- and got some interesting results. It was the mechanical Momentus drive that scored the highest burst speed at 214.3MB/second. The Crucial SSD came in second at 137.3MB/second, but the desktop Barracuda and its 135MB/second clung to its heels. Advanced Media's Ridata drive trailed the pack at a leisurely 71.2MB/second While the two mechanical drives and the Ridata SSD posted average reads in the 54MB-to-55MB/second range, Crucial forged ahead at 120.7MB/second.

SSDs are highly praised for their boot speed, so I would have been remiss had I relied solely on a standardized test. The results were a bit surprising. Crucial's SSD and the two Seagate devices all required 39 to 40 seconds to cold boot to the desktop. (There are a few minutes of behind-the-scenes activity during a Vista boot, but I determined that the boot was complete once the Windows sidebar appeared.) Ridata did best of them all, with a boot time of 32.1 seconds, although that's hardly the blazing speed you might expect from an electronic versus a mechanical device.

I then timed each drive during a system restart. Restarts are different than cold boots in that Vista logs you off and then closes any running processes before it starts the reboot sequence. The Crucial drive did the worst here, taking 78.4 seconds to complete. Ridata posted the best time at 54.8 seconds, but the Momentus laptop drive needed only 55.6 seconds. Even the big, dinosaurish Barracuda ran through the paces at 59.9 seconds. Again, this is hardly the overwhelming speed difference that's been expected for SSDs.

Moving data

Finally, because these SSDs have a comparatively small capacity, it's most likely that you will be transferring data from your laptop after a day's work. So I took 4,666 files and folders (a total of 8.05GB) and copied them to the drives and then copied them from those drives. I used the same secondary drive as source and destination in all cases.

Neither of the SSDs fared very well when having data copied to them. Crucial needed 243 seconds and Ridata took 264.5 seconds. That's over four minutes. The Momentus and Barracuda hard drives shaved nearly a full minute from those times at 185 seconds. In the other direction, copying the data from the drives, Crucial sprinted ahead at 130.7 seconds, but the mechanical Momentus drive wasn't far behind at 144.7 seconds. Ridata and the Barracuda were third and fourth at 156.8 and 166 seconds, respectively.

None of these results, in my opinion, show any clear and present advantage to these SSDs -- at least not on a price/performance ratio. I'd have to be in a severely time-critical situation to justify spending an extra US$550 just to shave seven seconds off the cold boot time (or 1.7 ounces in weight). Even so, I'd lose that boot advantage when it came to transferring files from the drive.

So forgive me for being contrarian, but while I recognize the exotic and alluring nature of solid state disks as a technology -- and have certainly fallen victim to their potential "wow factor" on occasion -- after spending 12 days with a pair of them and a pair of mechanical drives, I'm, convinced that SSDs have yet to live up to their true potential.

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer who has written a half-dozen books and more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology, including Apple computers, PCs, Linux and commentary on IT hardware decisions.

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