SSD Upgrade Phase 2

Posted by Scott

Three 120GB OCZ Vertex SSD's bundled up

Three 120GB OCZ Vertex SSD's bundled up

After last month’s foray into the wonderful world of SSD’s via my newly super-powered Macbook Pro, I decided it was time to take my main tower PC to the next level. It wasn’t an easy decision at first, but it soon became a lot easier when two of the four drives in my RAID0 Photoshop swap array went down (for more on RAID, see my earlier post on the subject). I also had a very large format project beginning the next day and was dreading slogging through it with plain old HDDs. So I had two choices:

1. Go the (much) cheaper route — around $300 — and replace the drives in the array with two new ones of the same, ye olden tymes HDD variety.

2. Take the plunge and buy SSD’s at around $400 a pop.

I’ve made the mistake in the past of skimping and then regretting it later and I am finally starting to learn my lesson on that one. After all, computers are the central element in my professional life and how I make my living. With that in mind it’s easier to justify the large expenditure, as long as the performance gain is substantial enough. And was it ever. I’ve fallen for performance gimmicks and hype here and there in the past and have been disappointed time and again. This wasn’t one of those times.

When I built this particular machine I decided to go big with the processor and got what was at the time a the state-of-the-art Intel Q9650 Core 2 Duo Extreme. I didn’t really skimp on the rest of the components either, it’s definitely a solid rig. Still, I always felt it wasn’t living up to it’s full potential, especially considering the coin I dropped on it originally. Lately, when things are moving slow or just not acting right, I’ve caught myself considering building a new machine. Considering how recently I built the thing and how much it cost, this is just ridiculous. This was supposed to last me a while and be — to a certain degree — future-proof (which, in the computer world, means about 3-4 years). So it sort of came down to spending the $2500 to build a new tower or spending $1200 to make the existing one faster. In light of my experiences with the SSD and my Macbook Pro, I came to the conclusion that the best course of action was to replace the old HDD’s with SSD’s.

I ended up settling on a three drive configuration: One dedicated drive for the OS (Windows 7 RTM 7600 — which has been working out amazingly well) and two drives for the RAID0 array. The Windows drive is clocking in at around 245MB/s (over six times as fast as the average I/O on my old HDD) with a .1ms seek time (which is off the charts fast). The RAID array with just two drives is running around 480MB/s which is significantly faster than the four HDDs I had in there before.

All the numbers are great but there’s a lot more to the story than just raw I/O performance. The drives have removed the one big bottleneck that was left in my system, allowing all of the other components to reach their full potential. The performance increases I’ve seen go far beyond what you might expect from just a faster disk drive. It’s like a whole new computing experience, I feel more able to experiment and a lot more confident about overall stability. I almost feel like the computer used to choke on big data read/writes and would just finally crash. With the new drives it just rips through anything and never really hits that tipping point where things lock up. This new found stability could also be due to the fact that I installed the final RTM version of Windows 7 when I put in the new drives. I had been using the beta, which although very stable in it’s own right, didn’t quite compare to what I am experiencing now.

The bottom line is that SSDs are the real deal. Yes, they’re still expensive, but if you work with computers and very large files, you owe it to yourself and your workflow to look into what they have to offer. If your rig is feeling sluggish, getting a SSD to perk it up might actually turn out be a bargain when compared to the price of a new machine. Of course, a more pragmatic person might wait another year or so until the numbers come down, but I didn’t really have that luxury this time around. I’ll be posting the detailed data next week once I get a chance to do some more tests. The next step is to split that Windows drive and install OS X. If only they made Sonar for Mac I’d make the switch.

34 Comments Leave A Comment


Dragos M says:

September 16, 2009 at 2:15 am

Can you please tell me the version of the windows you are using? I read it’s the final RTM but what is the version number?
I use win7 beta for quite a long time and I also think it’s really OK, but I have some problems with some applications. Maybe the version you are using is better.


Scott says:

September 16, 2009 at 6:53 am

I’m using build 7600, the RTM that leaked a while back. It’s been rock solid and very snappy, especially with the SSD. there are some compatibility issues, but I’ve been lucky so far, everything I’m using works fine (cakewalk sonar, CS4, VSTs etc..)


Craig says:

September 16, 2009 at 7:36 am

I appreciate the posts on the SSDs. They have been informative, educational, and have opened me up to buying an SSD sooner as opposed to later.

I am looking to buy a new computer in the next few months and am looking to go with a PC tower that I can install both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard.

Do you have any advice on what PC hardware I need to buy so that Snow Leopard recognize the hardware and install correctly?


Rob says:

September 16, 2009 at 8:25 am

@Craig – a Mac Pro ;)

The Snow Leopard Boot Camp drivers are actually very good! They’ve built in HFS+ support so you can pull files from your Mac partition…

@Scott – I just got a 7200RPM HDD in my MBP after using a 5400 for almost a year, and am a little disappointed – I suppose I should’ve ponied up for the SSD!!


marc says:

September 16, 2009 at 8:28 am

I know photoshop is your main app, but how does other (less intense apps run)? Mainly flash and illustrator?

Designing for the web my files are smaller, but there are times I feel like my new MacPro just isn’t running at top speed. Things should be instant, but often I feel like they’re the same as on my old iMac.

Also, what do you do about the disk space? SSD are so small compared to 1TB drives.


Scott says:

September 16, 2009 at 8:31 am

yeah, a real Mac would be the easiest solution, but if you’re short on cash OS X works great on a lot of other hardware configurations. The way I would go about it is just look at what’s in a real mac: ATI video card, intel CPU, intel chipset (on the mobo). You dont’ have to get those components, but it makes everything a lot easier.

yeah, I’ve never noticed much of a difference between 5400/7200rpm (or 10k for that matter).


M says:

September 16, 2009 at 8:37 am

One day i will do the same. On my music machine i have an SSD as the OS and program drive. I saw a major improvement, like windows opening in 20 seconds. But I’m still recording to regular HHD. One day i will upgrade, heck I’m still using a first generation duel core.


Jay Williams says:

September 16, 2009 at 8:54 am

Man Scott, you’re really making we want to upgrade my Mac Pro now. I know the biggest bottleneck in my system are the hard drives. The CPU/RAM just can’t get the data fast enough. I guess when one of my drives finally bites the dust, I’ll make the plunge and replace my main system drive with a SSD.


two.oh says:

September 16, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for the write-up. I’m curious to know how well SSD’s would perform while running post applications such as After Effects, Maya, or Nuke, and where I would potentially see increased performance. I don’t know if you’ve ever used these applications, so I’m curious to know what your thoughts are.


Scott says:

September 16, 2009 at 1:23 pm

the VR’s are old, get really hot, and really aren’t that fast. they are still prone to slow seek times and mechanical failure because they’re still the old head/platter model. they only have 16MB cache as well. so yes, I thought about that, but they still don’t compare to SSD’s.

Any app that depends on reading/writing large data files will benefit from SSDs. Tasks such as rendering may not see as big of a performance increase because that’s mostly a CPU intensive task. But if the program uses a swap disk, you’ll see gains. Even Bridge runs great now — I set the cache location to the RAID0 array.


Emil says:

September 16, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I’m so happy too se that theese disks speeds up the entire system!
Just ordered a 120GB OCZ Vertex for my Mac Pro. And like other people I feel that my hdd’s are slowing down my system so much that I could just as well be working on an old pentium pc.

I’m going to run OSX, apps and the files I’m working on on the disk, and mirror it every night to 2 1TB disks (7200rpm). I’ll swap those when the prizes drop to, but for now I’m good :)

Thanks for an great article!


Scott says:

September 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Congrats…when you get it make sure to check that the firmware is (> 1.3) , that’s the one with the garbage cleanup routine. If it’s not, there’s utility to update it on OCZ’s site. Although, it should be because that FW’s been out for over 2 months now.


Allen says:

September 16, 2009 at 6:30 pm

“I’ve never noticed much of a difference between 5400/7200rpm (or 10k for that matter).”

Thanks Scott, I think more people need to hear this one.

Think I’m going for SSD on my 2.4ghz MBP – santa rosa, but I’m a little worried after reading some of the tech problems. I need the speed and the space – bad.


leon says:

September 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm

…and im confused right now – there are sata ssd drives and also there is a pci ssd drives? which one is better replacement for hdd drives?


Scott says:

September 16, 2009 at 9:20 pm

just be sure whichever SSD you go with has the indilinx controller with firmware rev. 1.3 or greater and you can avoid most of the messy stuff people are talking about. I say “most” because, as with any nascent technology, there are bound to be issues that reveal themselves over time.

you can get an adapter bracket or just set it in your case, there’s no moving parts so it doesn’t really matter, you could magnet it to the side of your case if you wanted. The connectors on the back are identical to a 3.5″ SATA drive so there is no need for cable or power adapters.

Yes, there are PCI SSDs like the OCZ Z-drive. The Z-Drive is just an SSD that uses the PCI bus to overcome the bandwidth limitations of the SATA II spec. It’s expensive, but when you consider the fact that it delivers the speed of 3 SSDs on a RAID0 card (around $1700 total), it’s actually not such a bad deal. I’d imagine these will come down in price eventually and become somewhat commonplace. although, they are sort of a stop-gap, when SATA3 comes out it will be fast enough to handle 600MB/s, not as fast as PCI express, but still fast enough for most people.


Niklas Lundberg says:

September 17, 2009 at 12:10 am

Great article, glad to see that you made the switch. I’m abit curious myself and I was meaning to ask you regarding my Mac Pro setup (not sure if its properly set up) which drives i should replace with SSD’s and what other changes I need to make to maximize performance, would really appreciate your input!

OSX: 160gb, 10,000rpm Raptor
Projects: 2x 500gb, 7200rpm with Raid 1 (mirrored)
Scratch: 250gb, 7200rpm

External Backup: 2x 500gb, 7200rpm with Raid 0


CMYK says:

September 17, 2009 at 6:08 am

How do SSD drives measure up against 10,000RPM drives. I recently swapped my main os drive for a 10,000RPM drive and the results where amazing, boot time, app start up’s. I was thinking about adding the same drive as a cache disk but after reading this i’m conflicted.


Scott says:

September 17, 2009 at 4:45 pm

I would say buy 2 SSDs….one as your OS and one as your swap. If that gets to pricey then try one drive as your swap, this will benefit photoshop the most. The ideal situation would be 3, used in the way I described above…but then you need a RAID card and things get really expensive.