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3/15/2010
02:05 PM
George Crump
George Crump
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Do SSDs Belong In Laptops?

If there is confusion over when you use solid state disk (SSD) in the enterprise then there seems to be utter chaos when it comes to the laptop market. The typical hope is that the use of SSDs will improve performance and improve battery life of these devices that for many people are their primary computing platform. In addition to performance and battery life there are other laptop challenges that SSD may be able to help with.

If there is confusion over when you use solid state disk (SSD) in the enterprise then there seems to be utter chaos when it comes to the laptop market. The typical hope is that the use of SSDs will improve performance and improve battery life of these devices that for many people are their primary computing platform. In addition to performance and battery life there are other laptop challenges that SSD may be able to help with.Performance?

Most laptops and the applications that run on them are not going to generate enough storage I/O demands to allow you to see a difference in performance, nor are there obviously enough simultaneous users to stress most hard drives. What most users will see, and in many cases be very happy with, is snappier application load times more so than any application performance improvement. After all for the most common laptop applications, word processing, spreadsheets and email are not really disk I/O bottlenecked. Those few I/O demanding laptop applications like video or audio rendering are heavy on write I/O which these consumer flash SSDs are not well suited for.

This does not mean that you should not buy an SSD on your laptop to see improved performance. There are some very good upgrade kits available that allow you to install an SSD in an older laptop that may have a very slow drive, and while you may only see the increase in boot and application load times for many users, including myself, that is more than enough to justify the investment. Just don't expect a big improvement "in application".

Battery Life?

There has been a lot of debate about whether laptops will see a performance increase as a result of using SSD. After all an SSD has no moving parts and in the enterprise, power efficiency of SSD is a key decision point. In the enterprise however we are talking about the difference between using a single SSD system that can generate as much IOPs as 300 mechanical drives. Obviously the math works to the favor of the SSD. In a laptop we are typically comparing a single mechanical drive vs a single SSD drive. If you do standard off the shelf laptop benchmarking tests you won't find much difference. In a more real world use case of all day use, browsing the web, email, writing a letter etc... I tend to find about a 5 to 10% increase in battery life. That 10% though could get you the rest of the way through the flight and allow you to finish your presentation.

Weight and Noise?

The real value in SSDs in notebooks may have more to do with the physical attributes of the technology. First SSDs are lighter than mechanical drives. In markets where a few ounces can make a difference, Netbooks for example, this can be a huge advantage for SSDs. Something that may need to change here is a departure from the form factor that places SSD into the same housing as a mechanical drive and using a more memory slot type of design. A final area that could be an advantage is noise. I notice the hard drive on both my laptop and Netbook significantly more often than when I am at my desk, where my SSD versions of those are much more quiet.

These two factors alone could be enough to drive SSD to be the standard on laptops and Netbooks, combine that with overall snappier performance and maybe a little better battery life and you have a winner. For a listing of all of our SSD blogs and articles go here: SSD Resource Center

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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.

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