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Hi, This is Wayne. This is my site, my stuff, my blog, blahblahblah. The site itself is powered by WordPress and the Scary Little theme. I thought it was cool, and I still do.

While Ren has been getting to know his Prius, I’ve come to know a different kind of hybrid – a hard drive kind of hybrid.

My home laptop has needed an upgrade for a while now — 250GB sounds like a lot, but with photos, videos, a large music library, tons of archived email and install/tools dating back to the late 90’s ends up taking more space.  I’ve also gotten a bit of the gaming bug, and some of the games I’ve installed are a whopping 20GB by themselves.

On a PC, having “breathing room” on your hard drive is very important.  You don’t want to fill up very much because then the system will be forced to spend time trying to find nooks and crannies to put your files, and when it has to do that, it gets very busy.  It’s like having a 2000 page phone book, see, and you put pages 1-12 in Austin, pages 13-150 in DC Area, pages 151-570 in PA, 571-844 in FL845-923 back in TX, 924-1388 in WA, 1389-1438 in Canada, 1439-1554 in NYC, 1555-1673 in Amsterdam, 1674-1899 in Utah and the rest in Mexico.  You’d get really busy trying to flip through the book, but on the bright side, you’d probably have a TON of fun visiting all those places.

Personally, I’m not comfortable unless I have 20% or more free on my main drive.  I knew I had some duplicate files, and some backups I could probably archive off to my other home server, so I did a little of that and got some free space.

Even with this newfound space, I knew I was missing out – I still didn’t have any games installed, and I only have ~40GB of my ~250GB of music loaded, so an upgrade was needed.

After a twitter conversation with Marty and n0body, I learned of a large 500GB “hybrid SSD” drive that wasn’t cost prohibative.

Perhaps I should explain hybrid SSD — in short, normal laptop drives are “decent” in the speed category, but a new technology called “SSD” is super fast – anywhere from 10 to 100 times faster depending on how it’s used.  However, SSD itself is also super expensive.  I mean, it’s made of just ram!  So sure, you get really fast performance but it sure is expensive.  Even just a 128GB SSD drive is > $200 while you can get a 250GB normal drive for under $50.  Add in the fact that SSD generally doesn’t go to large sizes like 500GB and you get why it’s not a good upgrade path.

Enter Seagate’s Hybrid SSD drive —

This drive combines the generally high storage capacity of a normal drive (500GB) with the performance of SSD for frequently accessed files.  You watch a non-boring youtube from NCIX or even watch the archived launch event if you want more info.

The drive was $139 at my local Fry’s, compared to about $89 for a 500GB traditional laptop drive.  Given the promises of faster performance, it didn’t take me long to realize the extra $50 would likely be worth it. 

My time?  Valuable.

So, I did my backups (I use Paragon because it’s awesome and free), did the firmware update so highly recommended by the interwebz, connected the new drive to my laptop via USB with the awesome Vantec SATA/USB adapter, then used CloneZilla to mirror my hard drive from my old 250GB to the new 500GB. 

        

A couple hours later, it was done.

But was *I* done? NO.  NO.  A thousand times, NO!

I wanted to see how much faster it was.  I wanted to know if the $50 was worth it.  I wanted to challenge the reports, the marketing and the hype and see if it really was as awesome as they said it was.  I also wanted to drag on this blog post a little longer because it’s been sooooo long since I posted anything of value.

So I put my old drive back in my laptop and used my iphone timer to log a few different milestones in the boot process of my Windows 7 64-bit installation.  This was on a Dell Latitude D630 with 2Ghz Core 2 Duo and 3GB RAM.

The milestones were —

  1. From power-on to seeing the familiar blue login splash screen with all usernames
  2. The desktop background displayed on screen (after quickly logging in as fast as I could)
  3. All 11 system tray icons displayed in lower right hand corner
  4. Incessant hard drive blinking stopping for at least 3 seconds
  5. Shutdown time – from “Shut Down” to power light turning off

Because the Hybrid SSD needs a few boot cycles to know what to cache and to gain the performance boost, I decided to time the boot of the normal drive 3 times and the new drive 4 times.

In almost every category, the new Hybrid SSD drive not only beat the normal drive on the first try, but got increasingly better on each try.  You can see from the graph that the time from login to showing the desktop showed the new drive to be slower, but after the 3rd boot it was significantly faster (by about 10 seconds).

Now, you’re probably like me and don’t give too much thought in the first couple of boots — after all, I’m not going to be using the laptop like that.  I’m going to be using the laptop from now on… so I think it’s better to just compare the 4th boot on the new drive with the best boot from the old drive.

As expected, every stage of the boot process showed the new drive outperforming the last one — and the most impressive boost was in the “HD stop incessant blinking” which we could all agree is the time when we seem to notice the laptop taking a long time to boot — ie, how long until I can start running programs?

The above graph is useful for seeing the individual components of the boot process and how the old compares to the new, but it doesn’t show the cumulative process, so let’s take a look at that.

Looks like in my particular case, this new drive is about 3 times faster than my old one.

I’ll take this opportunity to also report that the “feel” of the drive is a lot faster too — search results from the Start Button come up faster, apps launch more quickly, and it suspends/resumes faster.   I don’t have metrics for these, but I can attest that it indeed feels faster. 

I’m quite pleased with the result – and now that I have a ton of extra space, I’ll re-install some games, put more of my music on the drive, and maybe even take some more video footage for the DITL series.

And lo, the people did comment thus:

14 Comments

  1. martymankins says:

    Wow. This is awesome. And you did the numbers and benchmarks with both the old drive and the new drive. With these kinds of results, I need to do some research on this drive in a MacBook Pro, as I am of the same mindset in needing a good buffer of free space at all times. And to be able to have a nice speed boost like this, it makes for a most promising upgrade.

    And you blogged about it all, too. This could very well mean there is a DITL in all of our futures.

    • whall says:

      martymankins — I just realized I failed to specify which drive is the “old” one – it’s the Seagate Momentus 7200.3 250G (ST9250421ASG). RE: DITL: It’s on my mind often, and I actually have some free time now to work on them so … maybe.

      • martymankins says:

        Good to know DITL’s are on your mind (hearing a revised version of the Willie Nelson song).

        As for the drive, it appears there are many discussions on this, with most reporting that the drive works great in a MacBook Pro with the SD24 firmware update.

  2. Dave2 says:

    Congrats!! Not so good for Macs though…in my attempts to get it to work I had all kinds of stalls, random spin-downs, refusal to spin-down (bye bye battery!), and a full-on catastrophic FAIL. Eventually I gave up. Perhaps when they’ve had some time to work on a firmware updates which works for Macs, I’ll try again.

    • whall says:

      dave2 — I saw tons of forum postings about Macs having problems that PC/linux didn’t have with this specific drive, and almost all of them said the SD24 firmware fixed all the known problems – was this not the case for you?

  3. Absurdist says:

    You switched the colors on me in the second graph… Don’t do that. You know how confused I get…

    Pretty cool. When my HP died in the fall, I got a nifty sleeve for twenty bucks and voila, had an extra 300GB of space to store stuff. Nothing like this, but pretty cool, since the HP just **died** on me. Which, of course, they ALWAYS do after about 24 months (for personal computers).

    And how did you know how the Mexico phone books are put together? Your analogy is perfect for how ours are put together down here. Page 12 is colonia Polanco, then turn the page and you get like, Guadalajara or something. Too bad I can’t defrag the yellow pages…

    • whall says:

      Absurdist – wow, I didn’t even realize I didn’t keep the colors consistent. I had thought I was doing ok in Excel re-ordering the groupings so they’d be in chronological order (ie, Login Screen first, then Show Desktop) but doncha know it, I forgot something.

  4. Ren says:

    I’m confused about the difference between this and normal hard drive cache. The only obvious-to-me advantage is that the cache is saved across boots, but who reboots their laptop often enough for that to matter?

    Is it just a size advantage? 4GB of SSD versus, what, 16MB of on-board cache typically? Yup, I bet that’s it. Cool!

    • whall says:

      Ren – yup, you got it. Both the size (4GB) and the persistence across boots is what gives it the boost. When some of the files needed to boot are kept in the flash, it helps a lot. What would be cool is a report of the SSD contents – is it file-based? byte-based?

      Or what would be even better is if they employed de-dupe type storage with ASIC assist, so that it could represent even more data in flash than just the 4GB.

  5. Sybil Law says:

    So jealous. I need an upgrade. This sounds AWESOME.

  6. That is pretty sweet. I thought those hybrids may be a little better than a regular HD but those results look a lot better than just being a little better. I may have to pick one of these hybrids up because 120 GB just isn’t enough anymore.

  7. Avitable says:

    I just built a new computer and put in a 120 GB SSD drive that I’m using for the OS and all programs, and a 2 TB normal drive for file access. The speed increase has been tremendous and I loved how quickly Windows installed.

  8. Janna says:

    Dude… I realize I’m still in the dinosaur world of dial-up, but it took your blog 30 minutes to show up on my screen.
    Then it ate my first attempt at a comment…
    AND my second.
    Trying again…

    Oh, no!
    Is that Jurassic Park music I hear in the background?
    Why is that goat suddenly missing?
    Gaaaaahhhh!!!
    It can’t be!
    Jeff Goldblum!

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