Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review of OWC 480G SSD laptop drive

After waiting for SSD notebook drives to get big enough that I could fit everything on it that I carry around on my Hitachi 500G 7200 rpm mechanical drive, OWC finally came out with a 480G SSD last summer that was over a thousand dollars. Just recently, they lowered the price a lot and I got mine for a total of $908, including Fedex 2 Day shipping and a $25 rebate for using Amazon Checkout when I bought it through their website.

I think the price change is related to recent Sandforce chip changes and maybe also that the next rev Sandforce 2000, reportedly twice as fast as these, may be only 8 weeks away.

I got the drive on time from OWC and, unlike the Seagate that just came in an antistatic bag like a McDonald hamburger, this one came in nice retail packaging. Since I mention the Seagate, I should also say that this Hitachi that I eventually replaced it with was slightly slower, but without the confidence eroding clicking, and maybe less pinwheels until recently.

Before installing the new SSD drive, I ran some crude benchmark tests, then used SuperDuper! to clone my old internal drive to my external backup, a firewire 800 G-Drive Mini, which are the nicest bus-powered enclosures I have seen. After making a bootable backup, I opened the laptop to install the new SSD drive, then booted from the firewire backup.

Upon logging in, OSX offered to "initialize" the unrecognized/unformatted internal SSD drive. When I said yes, it opened Disk Utility, where I clicked the disk, named it, and erased/formated it as MacOS Extended (Journaled). Then I launched SuperDuper! and told it to restore everything from the external backup drive that I had booted from onto the empty internal SSD. That process read data off the 5400rpm backup drive and over the firewire at about 50MB/s (according to the "Disk Activity" graph in Activity Monitor). While 300 gigs went from here to there I did laundry and played with my baby.

Once my backup was restored to the internal SSD, I rebooted and here is the comparison:

Boot time comparison
7200rpm OWC SSD
Apple logo 38 sec (but probably with unset startup drive system preference setting) 4 sec (after setting startup drive in system preferences)
Login Window +30 sec +13 sec
Boot Total 68 sec 17 sec
Login and launch all startup items, including Firefox +80 sec +9 sec
Usable Total 148 sec (2.5 minutes) 26 seconds

I was pretty impressed with how fast it launched all my stuff after I logged in. The OWC website linked above has a graph showing powerup to desktop in 19 seconds. Mine's not doing that, but I am still happy with it.  Correction on March 28,2011: Thanks to the article on macperformanceblog that tells you to set your startup disk after upgrading a hard drive, my machine really does go from off to login window in < 20 seconds! If I can type my password fast enough, my machine is totally ready to use in a total of < 35 seconds!

Here are 2 more before/after comparisons.


dd test
Writing to /test on the 7200 rpm drive:
#sudo time dd if=/dev/zero of=/Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/test bs=1024k
[waited a while, then CNTRL+c]
97679048704 bytes transferred in 1565.832047 secs (62381562 bytes/sec)

Reading /test on the 7200 rpm drive:
#sudo time dd of=/dev/null if=/Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/test bs=1024k
[waited a while, then CNTRL+C]
39557529600 bytes transferred in 543.910842 secs (72727967 bytes/sec)
#sudo rm /test

Writing to /test on the SSD:
#sudo time dd if=/dev/zero of=/Volumes/Macintosh\ SSD/test bs=1024k count=16384;
17179869184 bytes transferred in 66.070450 secs (260023493 bytes/sec)

Reading /test on the SSD:
#sudo time dd of=/dev/null if=/Volumes/Macintosh\ SSD/test bs=1024k
17179869184 bytes transferred in 61.126414 secs (281054753 bytes/sec)
#sudo rm /test

So that tells me compared to the 7200rpm Hitachi writing 59MB/s and reading 69MB/s, the SSD's 248MB/s writes and 268MB/s reads are about 4 times faster. Plus, the battery runtime that the battery monitor is reporting now looks about an hour longer than it would have been with the mechanical drive.

This and the cheap 8 Gig RAM upgrade also from OWC put an end to any other hardware upgrades for this computer.