Many people buying a new machine don’t realize that the slowest part of a modern computer is primarily the storage. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that for the average user, a faster storage system will result in a much faster system than for example, buying a Core i7 instead of a Core i5.
Therefore, the next time you think your machine is running slowly, it might be in your best interest to try upgrading to a proper solid-state disk drive. Now sure, there are some challenges – of which cost and storage space limitations are the greatest. But if you can live with a smaller main storage drive, there is nothing that comes close to the speed increase from a SSD drive.
But the other small issue with upgrading to a SSD drive is the schlep of having to reinstall your operating system and apps. But now Kingston has released a brilliant little kit that makes that whole process a lot faster. While you can purchase the barebones SSD drive, the upgrade kit is actually a pretty awesome deal (about R300 extra). So how does it work?
Now for some technical details about SSDs – their speed is primarily based on the quality of storage chips (synchronous or asynchronous NAND memory), and also the type of controller used on the SSD board. Right now Sandforce’s SF22xx series controllers all reach 400MB+ speeds on the latest SATA specification, so the performance is great. Intel and a few other manufacturers might use different controllers, but I am personally a fan of the Sandforce chips, because they do their own garbage collecting, which is good for the longevity of a SSD. Older SSD’s required you to enable TRIM if you wanted the drive to last longer. Sandforce’s new SF2281 chips make that less of an issue, but can still use TRIM on operating systems like Windows 7.
The memory used inside the Kingston SSD is slower asynchronous memory, but the benchmark results combined with the reasonable price means it is a great drive for everyday users. Kingston markets it as a business-focussed drive, which I find strange. It is most definitely made for everyday home users as well. It is a small 2.5 inch drive not unlike every laptop drive out there. It is a little sleeker looking than a standard HDD in its aluminium shell, and it very light. But lets be honest here – you do not buy this for its looks. You want to get it inside your computer, and that is where Kingston’s upgrade bundle kit really makes it easy.
Included in the box is a 2.5 inch USB hard drive case that you first place the SSD in, to which you make a perfect copy of your old hard drive. Using the included bootable CD, you run the software to move your existing hard drive image to the SSD. Now obviously you need to make sure that the data on your main drive is less than the SSD drive you get – so with the kit I used, I had to make sure my main drive’s stored files were less then 240GB. So if you have a massive music and video library, you might want to move that somewhere else beforehand.
After that, the little tool does its job by making an exact copy of your current Windows install onto the SSD. Once that is complete, you have to open up your machine, then remove the SSD from the casing, and replace your main drive with the SSD. The Kingston upgrade kit also includes drive spacers to make it easily fit into a 3.5 inch bay as well, if needed. Now of course here you are at the mercy of your PC or laptop’s design – if well designed, the drive swop out is easy. After you have installed and booted up your SSD, you are free to use your old 2.5 inch drive and put it inside the external drive casing. So just like that you do not have to feel like you are giving up your old hard drive.
We tested the Kingston SSD on HP Elite 8200 business machine (with a tool-less SFF case), and the hard drive swap was really easy. Your mileage might differ. Laptops are a different story – certain machines are easier to upgrade than others. A Macbook Pro had a very easy update, but there are certain mainstream Dell and HP laptops that are even easier to upgrade. I should point out that on the Mac I used Time Machine and the included drive adaptor, and it worked very well.
So – is it worth the upgrade? Oh yes. Kingston claims the SSDNow V+ can hit 500MBps+ read and 480MBps+ write transfer rates, and I am happy to report that it definitely does hit those speeds, provided your machine does have the latest SATA 3 6Gbps connectors. I tested the Kingston with both the new HP desktop, which had the high speed SATA connections. Even if your machine does not have the latest high speed SATA ports, it still works with older SATA ports. I tried it with my older 2009 Macbook Pro, which still has the previous generation SATA 2 3Gbps ports.
Just some info about the machines – even though the kit allows you to seamlessly upgrade from your previous install, I reformatted the machines for the benchmarks. New machine, PC, with newer SATA 6Gbps ports:
HP Elite 8200, Windows 7 Professional x64, Core i7-2600 3.4GHz, 8GB RAM. Old drive is a 320GB 7200rpm Seagate drive. Fresh reformat, all latest HP drivers loaded. Old machine, Mac, with older SATA 3Gbps ports:
Apple Macbook Pro 13 inch 2009 model. Running Mac OS X Lion 10.7, Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz. 8GB RAM. Old drive is Seagate Momentus 250GB 5400rpm drive. Fresh reformat.
We did not throw these machines through massive benchmarking tests, but we did use SiSoft Sandra on the PC, and Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on the Mac. I also timed a few everyday tasks compared with the old drives in the machines, which I state below. Through these tests we got a pretty good idea of what performance improvements you can expect from using the Kingston SSDNow V+ 200: Operating System boot times:
HP, old Hard drive: 47 seconds
HP, new Kingston SSD: 18 seconds
Mac: old Hard Drive: 55 seconds
mac, new Kingston SSD: 22 seconds Operating System shut down times:
HP, old Hard drive: 20 seconds
HP, new Kingston SSD: 7 seconds
Mac: old Hard Drive: 24 seconds
Mac, new Kingston SSD: 9 seconds
As you can see, the speed improvements are massive. On the Windows machine the bootup was so fast, the little glowing Windows 7 startup screen could not even complete before the Desktop was up, and a few seconds later, it was ready for action. It should be pointed out that the reason for the slower read and write speeds in the Mac was not because of the SSD – it was limited by the older SATA chipset, but we thought it would be interesting to see what kind of speed you can churn from your older machine. And even though those speeds were half of the HP, the speed improvements above the previous hard drive is still awesome.
But boot up is only one aspect of the improvements – everyday tasks like opening and closing apps, copying files, etc… all get a massive boost. My benchmark results are as follows, using Sisoft Sandra and BlackMagic Disk Speed Test. The strange part with the Sisoft bench result is that the drive had some slower sectors in the first 5 percent of the drive, but then the rest of the drive hit 528MB/s. That obviously dragged the average speed down a bit. Transfer rates:
HP, using a SATA 6Gbps port: 484MB/s write, 509MB/s read
Mac, using SATA 3 Gbps port: 228MB/s write, 280MB/s read
Overall I can wholeheartedly recommend this drive, despite the high price. Desktop computer users are in luck though, because they have the option of buying a smaller version of the drive, and then use their existing hard drive just for storage. 60GB should be plenty for Windows and your applications. Gamers might want a little more though. That way you have the best of both worlds – a super fast machine, and also a lot of cheap storage on your hard drive. Notebook users have to pay a bit more though, because I really cannot see how you would get away with anything below 120GB of storage, and you have to be smart about how much you really need to store locally on your machine. Personally I think 120GB is the sweet spot now for notebook users in terms of price.
Using this 240GB SSD was an absolute treat, and I am sad to send it back to Kingston. But the future of SSD is brighter than ever, and all of our machines will be faster once SSD becomes mainstream. This Kingston kit makes it easier than ever for someone to upgrade their machines to super fast SSD storage, and the pricing is not half bad for the lower capacity versions. If you are considering an upgrade for your aging machine, you really need to consider getting a SSD. But for the true enthusiasts out there, hopefully you have already made the jump to the solid state storage world.
But the whole notion that a machine’s performance is primarily focussed on CPU speed is no longer true – given the choice, I would rather buy a Core i5 with an SSD, than a Core i7 with a hard drive. It is that good. Pros:
500MBps+ speeds – need I say more?
Upgrade kit makes it easier than ever to switch to SSD speeds.
Sandforce chipset means less maintenance needed. Cons:
Bigger models are pricey. Recommended retail pricing: