Solid State Drives Benefit Notebook PCs

Why would you — or should you — consider a solid state drive (SSD) for your notebook PC?  Most important, an SSD can save time and stretch battery life nicely. For some, those benefits may outweigh the high cost of acquiring one.

Having just swapped a 40 GB drive for a 160 GB replacement in my trusty notebook PC, I find myself wondering about solid state drives, or SSDs, instead of rotating drives. Although these drives are terribly expensive—even a budget 120 GB SuperTalent MasterDrive MX goes for about $575, and a 60 GB model for $395—they offer real benefits to notebook owners. Let’s review what the money you’d spend on an SSD could buy you:

  • Light weight: A 40 GB conventional drive weighs 95g (3.35 oz); a 160 GB drive weighs 120g (4.23 oz). The 60 GB MasterDrive weighs 60g (2.11 oz); the 120 GB model 66g (2.33 oz). In a notebook, every gram counts!
  • Low power consumption: Notebook battery life is a big deal. A conventional drive draws around 0.8W at idle, up to a maximum of 2.3W (seek average) or 2.1W (read/write average). The SuperTalent SSDs draw about 1.0W at idle (more expensive models draw as little as 0.1W), but only 1.2W at peak rates (read/write average; there’s no seek on an SSD!). Studies show power consumption dips between 8 and 12% for an SSD versus a normal disk, and translates into a similar boost for battery life.
  • Speed: Though a 7200 RPM drive (like the 160 GB Seagate 7200.2) outperforms an SSD on disk writes almost 2 to 1 (73 GBps versus 40 GBps), the SSD shines at reads (up to 96 GBps versus 80 GBps), and access time (0.1 ms versus 4.17 ms). Because laptops typically don’t run apps that acquire or write lots of data, this gives an SSD more kudos than write results suggest. The next MX generation will offer 100 MBps write and 120 MBps read speeds (so SuperTalent tells me).
  • Boot time: On a 160 GB Seagate 7200.2 drive it takes 42 seconds to get from pressing the power button to the Vista desktop; from the SSD it takes 28: a 33% speed-up. Need I say more?
  • Noise: Any rotating disk drive makes noise, especially when its read/write heads move around its platters (a process called seeking). While some drives are noisier than others, all make some sound while heads are in motion and platters are spinning. An SSD has no moving parts, and is totally silent.
  • Heat: I recorded average operating temps of 33° C (91.4° F) for the 160 GB drive and 32° C (89.6° F) for the 40 GB drive (a Hitachi Travelstar HTS541040G9SA00). Under heavy load, readings rose to 42° C (107.6° F) and 39° C (102.2° F). The SSD ran at the ambient temperature inside the notebook case, about 30° C (86° F), all the time.

Given better battery life, lighter weight, no noise, less heat, and fast operation, cost is the only bar to putting an SSD into a notebook. At about 4 times the cost for 40% of the storage, cost is a major hurdle. But if you’ve got the bucks, an SSD can save time and stretch battery life nicely. For Windows users seeking to boost productivity on the go, this will be worth it to some, and the focus of envy for all!


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