SSD, The Future is Now!

Computers these days have lots of memory, fast CPUs and big hard drives. In almost every way, they are better than computers from five years ago. The problem is that when you use them, they feel like the same old computers. They are faster, but you still feel like you’re waiting for them to boot, waiting for programs to load, waiting for games to load, waiting for them to shut down, and waiting for them to reboot. Enter Solid State Drives (SSD) and all that is about to change.

It’s 2010 and SSD prices seem to be dropping quickly. I picked up a 64GB Kingston SSDNow V Series at Newegg for $94 after rebate. For me, when new technology drops below $100, I don’t feel like I’m overspending for the cutting edge. $50 off the regular price helps too.

My current desktop is an AMD Athlon64 X2 Dual Core Processor 4600+ with 4GB of RAM. Not the most cutting edge system, but I haven’t had reason to upgrade it yet. I installed the SSD as the boot drive in my system. Ubuntu 10.04 32-bit didn’t have any issues during the install. Wow, does it seem peppy. I haven’t noticed a change this big in a hardware upgrade since I upgraded my 486 SX25 to 486 DX100. My Ubuntu desktop was reborn! It was like the old days of windows, when formatting the drive and performing a fresh install of Windows95 was the only way to clear the registry. It was like I just bought a new computer from the future. No more waiting 60 seconds for the system to boot and then another 60 seconds to get to my desktop, it felt instant. From power on, my machine is at the login prompt in 30 seconds. Half of that time is the BIOS load. Once I hit enter to login, it’s less than 5 seconds for my desktop to appear. That’s a huge leap from the 2-3 minute boot and 2-3 minutes to launch my desktop. My point is, that to the average consumer, an SSD makes the computer feel faster. None of the other specifications matter to the typical end-user, it’s about clicking a program and how quickly they can use that app.

Myths and Recommendations
When buying an SSD, do your homework. Don’t buy one just because it’s cheap. Read reviews and make sure it isn’t an older generation drive.

If you buy an SSD that’s been made recently, your SSD will certainly outlive your computer. It’s common to read that SSDs have limited writes. While that may be true, most SSDs will last 50+ years even if you performed the maximum amount of writes per second. I don’t think I’ve used a regular hard drive for more that 4 years, so I’ll probably replace an SSD before I see performance issues. Read more about SSD myths here, it’s worth the read. In a nutshell, SSD tech has come a long way, but consumers still have the idea that a flash-based drive will have a short lifespan. The firmware and controllers these days work to optimize the drives to avoid problems. The SSD I purchased has an MTBF of 1 million hours which is 114 years. I think that will be long enough for my use.

If you search for information on using SSDs with Ubuntu, you will often read recommendations to not use a journaling filesystem. While that may speed things up and increase the drive life, I prefer the security of journaling in case of system shutdown. My thinking is, I’ll try to minimize writes where it makes sense, but not at the cost of complexity or data security.

You will also commonly see ‘noatime’ as a recommended mount option. This is usually a good option and will reduce writes, with little impact on other applications.

/dev/sda1 / ext4 noatime,errors=remount-ro 0 1

You can put everything on an SSD or put your OS on the SSD and everything else on a regular HDD. On my Ubuntu 10.04 Desktop I’ve done just that. My /home, /var, /tmp and swap are on a regular HDD, everything else is on the SSD. The system boots in less than 30 seconds from power on and it’s noticeably snappy launching apps. I also don’t feel like I’m abusing the SSD with partitions that have lots of writes. In my limited testing of application launching, most apps took a few extra seconds to launch the first time (which is expected), but subsequent launches are instant. If you’ve used, then you know all about slow launching apps.

Take note of some of the dates of these articles below. If they aren’t written in 2010, they are probably talking about older generation SSDs. I’m not suggesting you use all the information found at these links, I just found them useful in my research.

No SWAP Partition, Journaling Filesystems, … on a SSD?
Karmic Koala with Solid State Disk: How to Optimize Ubuntu for SSD
How to optimize Ubuntu for SSD?
Linux – Tips, tweaks and alignment

Go right now and start looking at SSD drives. My default install of Ubuntu 10.04 used about 10GB of space. You can get drives in the 32GB-64GB range for under $100 if you shop around. Rebuild your system with the SSD as the boot and OS drive, you’ll never want to use a single HDD system ever again. I just removed my old HDD, installed ubuntu with the SSD and then mounted the old drive after the install. Boot times are insanely fast and apps on the SSD launch instantly. It’s the kind of performance you expect from a modern computer.

My SSD experience has been so positive, I’m contemplating purchasing one for an older laptop I have. The speed of the drive would make up for the slowness of the CPU. The risk is that the laptop won’t support the drive or that the SSD won’t have much effect. I don’t have evidence to back this up, but I suspect it would extend the laptop’s useful life. From now on, any desktops I build will have an SSD boot drive, the speed is addictive.

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