About SSD drives performance

Sometime I get criticized about that, but I’m quite a massive disk space user: since I use my laptop as a desktop replacement, I always bring a lot of data with me and of course a lot of “things” (mainly accessories) that might be useful for some reasons. This make me feel quiet, but on the other hand makes my computer bag being really heavy sometimes.

Anyway, there are some situations where having a computer with you could be quite useful, but obviously you don’t want to bring all that weight all around. In the last year, lightweight “netbooks” gained a lot of hype and I considered to buy one for those occasions, just like browsing the web or checking e-mail in a weekend at seaside or something similar. In the vast (?!) universe of netbooks, about 10 days ago I chose and bought a Dell Inspiron Mini 9″ with Linux preinstalled.

After adding some packages, I quickly reduced the remaining available disk space to less than 2GB, less than my camera MMC storage! I seriously began to look for a mass storage drive replacement, and in order to spend an affordable amount I searched on eBay: in a few days I got a new Intel 16GB SSD drive connected to my new netbook.

SSDs (Solid State Drives) have the reputation to be amazingly faster that traditional hard drives, so a lot of manufacturers use them in netbooks to make them seem faster despite of their low power consumption but quite “calm” processors (like Intel Atom). However, after reinstalling and reconfiguring my Ubuntu, something seemed to be different… my netbook wasn’t reactive as before.

Was it just an impression? Was it real? To appease my curiosity, I used hdparm to benchmark my two SSD drives. The original STEC 8GB reported an uncached read speed of more than 68 MB/sec, while the Intel 16GB one only offered 37 MB/sec! The results were interesting: even if SSDs on average have smaller access times than traditional magnetic hard drives, their performances in terms of data read speed aren’t always a good bargain like lots of people think.

Since both these drives make my netbook sport an equivalent boot time (38 seconds excluding POST and Gnome user’s environment loading after login) and I won’t use it for more than chatting or browsing the web, I will stick to the slower Intel 16GB one, but it is clear that we shouldn’t rely on beliefs: SSDs aren’t all the same.