ssd

512 gigabytes of SSD?!?

Posted by Andy on May 21, 2009

The other day I had a chance to take a look at engineering samples of a bunch of notebooks that ASUS will be selling soon. It was a nice bunch but I immediately knew that the S-121E was headed straight for this blog.

Forgive the iPhone picture. Actually, I could have shot it with a Nikon D3 for all that mattered. It isn’t the notebook itself that’s so splendid but what’s inside: 512 gigabytes of SSD storage.

And the price: $1600. Toshiba announced the Portege R600-ST4203 last week with its own 512 gig SSD…but at double the price.

Naturally I don’t have one to play with yet but I jotted down some specs. It’s built around an Atom Z520 processor running at 1.33 gigahertz, which is “fast netbook” in performance (Dell uses the same CPU in its Mini 10 and Mini 12 netbooks). It comes with two gigs of RAM standard, and has a 1280×800 display and the sort of comfy keyboard you’d expect to find in a midsized notebook. No optical drive, but it has the usual assortment of ports.

I think the logline for this will be “512 gigs of SSD…and it comes with a free carrying case in the form of a perfectly adequate Windows notebook.”

Even if you couldn’t possibly be less interested in anything that runs Windows, the S-121E is nifty sign. A half a terabyte is a lot of storage in any notebook. The fact that any company would be interested in selling a model with that much solid-state storage, and can sell it so affordably, is good news for anybody who (a) uses notebooks and (b) has the temerity to actually expect to carry them places.

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RunCore Solid-State Drive

Posted by Andy on April 9, 2009

As those of you who follow my operatic adventures via my Chicago Sun-Times column and elsewhere are aware, last month I Hackintoshed a Dell Mini 9 netbook. “Hackintoshing” is the process by which selective hardware, a bevy of free open-source software, fundamental badlands heatstroke and the ability to fight on in the face of adversity all combine to get Mac OS X running on a cheap $300 Windows XP netbook.

The results were freakishly successful. I had a Tom Cruise-sized notebook that runs Mac software without any complaints or special urging.

On the minus side of the column: the Mini 9 has no room on its logic board for a conventional SATA hard drive. Instead, it features a Mini PCI Express solid-state drive.

My Mini 9 shipped with 8 (freaking) gigabytes of mass storage. That’s just enough for a slimmed-down version of the OS, a handful of additional apps, and a bare minimum of impure thoughts. Open more than a few browser windows and suddenly the OS would start screaming about the lack of space and the need to close down some apps.

So a storage upgrade was definitely in order and after looking at a bunch of different options, I got a hold of a 64 gigabyte RunCore SSD (available online for about $220).

And it was a huge win all around. A bunch of companies make PCIe SSDs, and they’re usually a lot cheaper than this one. But the RunCore has two serious features:

1) People who’ve tried them and posted about the experience don’t seem to think it stinks. I found that to be an issue with the competitors. Dell’s factory-installed device isn’t exactly a speed demon but most users of replacement drives reported performance hits that were both immediate and unacceptable.

The RunCore promises speedups of a factor of 4 to 6. I don’t like benchmark tests and as a consumer, I don’t really trust them. Like all standardized tests, they don’t deliver information about anything more than the testee’s performance on that specific test. I prefer to simply ask myself “Is there a noticeable improvement? And is that improvement enough to justify some added expense or trouble?”

Answer: yeah, I’d say so. The Dell is a faster machine with the RunCore installed. If all it did was deliver the same level of performance as the drive the Mini 9 shipped with, it’s already be a Win over its most popular competitors.

2) It’s a hellaciously convenient upgrade. The RunCore has its own tiny USB interface, which allowed me to simply clone the entire contents of the existing 8 gig drive onto the new one by just plugging in a little USB pigtail and mounting it on the Desktop as a standard mass-storage device.

Once I’d set up the drive exactly how I wanted it, I popped off the Dell’s access panel and did the swap. Done and done! That little port is a terrific innovation and I’d love to see something like it appearing on all raw storage mechanisms. Even a standard SATA drive needs something like NewerTech’s Universal Drive Adapter. And though it’s damned affordable, I’m not sure that many people would spend even $35 for something they’re likely to only use once.

I’ve been using the upgraded Dell for more than a week now and I’m perfectly happy with this thing. It’s actually the first notebook I’ve used that worked exclusively off of solid-state storage.

(Um…my TRS-80 Model 100 doesn’t really count, does it?)

And in light of my recent adventure sending my MacBook’s hard drive to DriveSavers, it’s helped to set my road map for future hardware purchases. Remember, I managed to prang that hard drive far beyond the recoverable reach of DriveSavers or any other earthly petitionee. And it didn’t happen through Johnny Knoxville-style atomic idiocy, either. I was sliding my computer closer towards me, my fingertip slipped, and the leading edge of the MacBook fell all of a half an inch or so to the table.

At the exact wrong moment.

My experience with the RunCore and with that MacBook will force me to at least consider solid state storage for all of my future notebooks. At least the ones I travel with. I’m out of reach of my full backups and a disaster on the road is a disaster multiplied. The knowledge that nothing inside this notebook is spinning and twitching might very well be worth paying a premium price.

I can certainly to things with this SSD-based notebook that I could never attempt with my “real” MacBook. Yesterday, I had a column due but I was also late for a dinner thing across campus. So I was reading and proofing my manuscript as I walked about a half a mile.

I’m capable of fits of breathtaking — we might even describe them as “heroic” — acts of stupidity, but even I won’t walk and work with a running hard drive.

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MYDL.ME is sponsored by Drobo.

Put a link to http://www.mydl.me on your blog or website to enter a drawing to win a Firewire Drobo.

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On the Next Episode of MYDL.ME – the Podcast

Posted by scott on April 4, 2009

On April 10, we’re going to release MYDL.ME #2 – the show will feature a discussion of online backup providers and a discussion between Scott and MacWorld Magazine’s Senior Editor, Chris Breen discussing SSD drives. Don’t miss it.

Our publishing schedule for the podcast is the 1st, 10th and 20th of each month.