Upgrading to solid state

Now that loose SSDs (solid state drives) are available, you may be wondering how best to take advantage of the technology. Here's a breakdown of where retrofitting current machines with solid state could reap worthwhile rewards.

Imation, one of the first vendors to market loose SSDs, is currently offering two SSD lines. One, a 2.5-inch drive with either 16GB or 32GB capacity; the other, a 3.5-inch device that stores up to 64GB. Both offer SATA connectivity.

Of the two offerings, the 2.5-inch format finds a natural home in laptops, allowing you to exploit one of solid state's major advantages over spinning devices: shock resistance.

Travel, as you know, takes its toll on laptops; just the right bump could easily damage a delicate spinning drive -- especially while in operation. To wit, Seagate's Momentus drives can withstand a shock of 900G for 2 milliseconds when idle, but only 300G for 1 millisecond when the drive is spinning, according to the company. So, if a beverage cart bumps you in the elbow while you are working, you are at greater risk of drive damage. Retrofitting with an SSD will mean your laptop will be less susceptible to drive damage.

As for the 3.5-inch format, which Imation sent me, laptop retrofitting is out of the question. Instead, outfitting a server or workstation with one of these loose SSDs will allow you to tap solid state's second major advantage: speed.

According to Imation, its Pro 7000 can sustain 81,000 IOPS when doing sequential reads, and it can transfer data as fast as 120MBps -- which sounds impressive but must be carefully compared with what spinning drives can do, considering the higher price of SSD drives.

Which is considerable.

A quick search on the Web shows that the 64GB Imation Pro 7000 sells for about US$2,000, whereas a 16GB model can be purchased for around US$900. As more vendors start offering these devices, these prices will go down significantly, but until then, careful planning is essential, as purchasing the minimum capacity necessary can save a bundle.

Without actual testing, however, it is difficult to reach a conclusion regarding the price/performance ratio of these drives. I will be running performance tests in the near future, with the intention of comparing the results with those of conventional drives. One such drive, the Western Digital Raptor, offers a similar capacity (74GB) and a SATA interface, allowing it to be connected to the same controller. From previous reviews, I know that the Raptor, which spins at 10,000 RPM, is an exceptionally fast drive, and should offer a worthwhile point of comparison for the Pro 7000.

While I'm running those benchmarks, consider this: Disk-to-disk backups can cut backup windows significantly over tape. However, disk-to-disk does not solve the problem of moving a copy to an outside vault in a satisfactory fashion. Because removable drives are susceptible to damage in transport, you still have to use tape. Drop a drive, and your backup is history. By contrast, the Pro 7000, being solid state, opens up the possibility of safely using disk drives to move backups off-site. I dropped my test drive from six feet over a concrete floor, and it's still working without problems.

Try that with a spinning drive.

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