A little while ago I wrote a very loose account of my experiments to evaluate my own use of Solid State replacements for spinning hard drives. The result was I acquired two devices and now have them in use. This is about the final installation and actual use for the first sixty days. I hope this will encourage others to try similar upgrades.
In another article I have expounded my relatively easy transition to an all laptop “portable” network. IT has changed position in my life and become more hobby than calling. I am retired so I work more with cameras than computers. I now live in an apartment rather than a home of my own. The need for easier dismantle and setup of the network became an issue and I successfully (my viewpoint) made the transition.
There is one disadvantage to being all laptop, it can become very expensive to have the fastest equipment. In my somewhat constrained retirement I must watch that I do not overspend! So I tend to buy equipment from the most economically priced sources. I cannot afford much brand loyalty. My choices are therefore not based on such preferences, unless I can get my preferred choice on sale. That process is what controlled my SSHD experiments in 2016.
Installing the SSHDs actually became an exercise in drive swapping because I had both my acquisitions in three different laptops over a period of six weeks. I have two 17” HP pavilion laptops (the older one fading) and an Acer Aspire. That older HP is now almost nine years old and is being gradually retired but served as one test bed. Both drives were tested in all three and performed beautifully. The final choice was the newer HP which is now my main workstation, and the Aspire which is my transportable photo lab (yeah! think darkroom!). The older HP (I lovingly call the “beast”) has become my lab rat for other projects and now only has one spinning drive.
So I have made my choice and lets look at the short term results.
The newest of my two HP Pavilions. This laptop is no spring chicken. I purchased in new in 2011 and it ran Windows 7 Pro for almost five years. I had always intended it as a replacement for the “beast” (my older HP 17”) and to be a Linux system. However the beast soldiered on and being lazy I did not make the switch. Finally, a major change in my photo equipment forced my hand. My Linux systems running Slackware became less desirable because I needed constantly up-to-date software and wanted an easier update process. Maintaining the latest possible version of digiKam became by itself a very time consuming issue. After considerable testing (basically trial and error) I elected to move to Mint 18.0.
The 17” HP laptop can install two hard drives so I set it up as a hybrid. First I installed a second spinning drive (750Gb) and tested that with already installed Slackware Linux, to ensure no problems. Then I replaced the first hard drive with the smaller of my acquired SSHDs (500 Gb). This drive was then freshly loaded with Mint 18.0.
The result was really gratifying. The boot time went from almost 90 seconds, with all spinning drives, to about 20 seconds with Linux on the SSHD. This performance has been steady now for about two months and I am very pleased.
I use this laptop for email, accounting, writing (this for example) and occasional photo work. Most of my photo editing is done on the portable lab Acer Aspire so I only edit images occasionally on this machine.
The total drive space is over 1.2 Tb of which 750 Gb is spinning and assigned entirely to data. All the OS and software is on the SSHD which speeds up loading. The surprise for me is that working with images on this system is not significantly slower than the Acer Aspire.
This is the Acer Aspire. The second SSHD I acquired is almost 1 Tb. Since the Acer can only accommodate a single drive this was the one choice possible, that it should be the large SSHD.
One of the reasons I looked for SSHDs in the first place arose from massive increases in image data. Recent digital photography advances have cameras using sensors with very large image files. Close to 25 mega pixels for smaller cameras, approaching 50 mega pixels for “full frame” cameras, so called “medium format” camera up to 100 mega pixels. I have not yet gone that far. The images I store currently are about 6-8 Mb for an APS-C sensor and 15-23 Mb for a full frame camera. That is for JPEG images. Both sizes of camera also can take simultaneous RAW images using total storage up to over 40 Mb for a single image. Moving all this image data can be a network killer too! Yes, good cameras are expensive in storage costs. My older camera at 10 mega pixels was not quite so expensive in storage. Greater image color quality, dynamic range and detail does have a cost.
In case the thought has not occurred, you cell phone and tablet shooters are getting up there too!
Once the Acer Aspire was setup with Mint 18.0 I loaded the image viewing and processing software which revels in the faster access. Image loading time are not significant faster so I suspect display is taking more that I realize. For photo aficionados I actually do use all I have loaded! The software includes digiKam, Darktable, GIMP, Gthumb, Gwenview, Krita and various other useful packages.
DigiKam and Darktable are image collection managers. DigiKam also includes excellent editing capability and I tend to use that most.
Gimp and Krita are image editors requiring some education and benefit from user experience. The rest are for viewing.
I was skeptical about the advantages of SSHDs for a basic user like me. When you are used to the performance of spinning drives there does not seem to be a over riding need to change. I now feel differently and am really glad I made the move. Black Friday sales made is possible from a cost point of view. I did spend about sixty hours playing, and installing Linux to select my upgrade, a week (about) of testing time and appropriate stress. Looking back it was time well spent. I am a happy user.
One deduction from this brief experience: if you have multiple drives, upgrade the operating system drive first then put all program files on that drive if possible. In my setup it appears that that is the biggest bang for the buck. If you have sufficient coin left over for another SSHD the choice is less marked but you will gain in faster access and data transfer, it will not be quite so obvious. Bear in mind that most laptops are single drive, fortuitously both the HP 17” Pavilions I have allow two.
I should add that in both final configurations I also placed the Linux “swap area” on the SSHD. I have not yet determined that this actually the route to go, it just seemed a good choice, since I deal with large image files it seemed to me to be the best idea.
The final performance picture is very nice and makes more powerful laptops less a requirement. When you are retired that time is enjoyable and compared to other costs relatively cheap. The whole process was fun. My experience was part of that fun and suggests to me that with SSHDs and Linux almost anyone can easily upgrade a laptop. I was lucky with the sales, what somebody else may pay is likely to be a bit more. It is probably well worth it. I will now consider an SSHD as a logical and highly desirable upgrade, especially when breathing life into an older laptop with Linux. One small caveat: if the laptop is more than 10 years old be very careful as usb and other ports may not be suitable and (as far as I know) there is no IDE SSHD available, there is such a thing in laptops as TOO old!
If I have made this laptop upgrade seem too easy I apologize. Once the decision was made, really it was not a very difficult process. Simple maintenance in any computer usually involves simply changing a component. I encourage people to do that if they have the time and interest. Opening up most laptops is a bit more of a challenge than a desk top unit, good Internet advice is out there for most brands.
To get started look up your laptop on the Internet. You will probably find a You-Tube video or something similar to show how to do what you need. I have seen Acer, HP and others. Unfortunately some are not shown or some are very difficult to dismantle. You can still select the part you need and ask for help to install it. Many forums provide this aid.
Hard drives, memory and batteries are the commonest items needing replacement. Make sure you are getting the correct part, after that
skill with small hand tools is useful. You can get help or at least ask for hints. I have changed screens and keyboards too but that can be a real challenge.
Telling this story has found a number of people like minded. Please do more for yourself, it is fun and success is at least as good as a tonic. If you need help there is an amazing amount on the “net” and you will find a huge amount of support for Linux too. Enjoy!
Why Write This?
Most people I know have heard about SSHDs and wonder what it might do for their own system, thats as far as interest travels. There is interest, muted by concerns about cost and reliability, stopped dead by lack of knowledge. I wanted to find out what was possible, in my own network and for others, at as low an experimemnt cost as possible considering the technology is fairly new.
I have friends who have SSHDs installed with good results. Their reports are glowing, so much so that I tend to take them with salt – more than the traditional grain!
So I set myself a very basic project: learn more and test that knowledge. This was done without highly technical involvement for personal information, in a rather unscientific process.
I started by reviewing what was available. I found about ten possible brands and that all of the had two generations of device on offer. Based on this research I acquired some perfomance understanding and comparison.
Seeing some “sale” pricing, I set myself a very low budget of C$300 to purchase 2.5” devices (hopefully two) and dived in.
Informing Oneself: a very important step. This not just making a performance evaluation. I needed to find brands which I could comfortably expect to perform to my satisfaction. I found that brands available included both the traditional rotating drive maufacturers and well known memory sources.
There are, for sure, differences in quality, presentation and performance. These differences seemed small when compared with the more extreme difference between the spinners and solid state.
Setting Parameters: a rather difficult process if you want to be precise. In the interests of time I abandoned real precision in comparison. I set only two parameters: Price and Comfort Factor. I decided I was not testing the device, I would accept whatever performanc I could get at my price, this was going to be substantially better than a spinning drive. Comfort factor was more important in this exercise than comparison between suppliers.
Getting to Know Suppliers: I chose to watch the sales over the Christmas season. I found a retail supplier that provided me with what I wanted at a price close to my budget. This was more good luck than good management.
Getting to Know Brands: most of the available brands I already knew, two were entirely new to me. The specs for all these brands were similar enough that I eliminated that as a factor. My Comfort Factor was to hope that I could try out brands I knew. I was able to purchase two drives in November and late December from known makers. Fortuitously, the first I bought (500GB) came from a memory company, the second (1TB) from a well known hard drive maker. Both on sale at my budget range. Both my acquisitions are in what I regard as the slightly older technology.
I had my test subjects, laptops in which to do the trials. At this pont I should add that I am a dedicated Linux fan. The operating system I prefer has performed well for me as my main system.
I am a very long time user of Slackware, also I have a Mint Linux laptop in use having switched from Ubuntu which I personally do not like. My dektop system is KDE which I love, that inspite of some recent “upgrades” which have effectively destroyed much of its flexibility. Shame on you KDE!
I have used both opeating systems to see perfomance differences between my spinning disks and the SSHDs being tested. I have also tried three other distributions in the process, Arch, Manjaro (in development) and Kubuntu (because I already had the DVD).
The Performance: there is a marked difference is speed of operation in anything depednat on disk accesses. I could see no difference between the 500GB drive and the 1TB drive in any of my tests. There is no doubt in my mind that the performance improvement over spinning drives is well worth the effort. Boot times are cut in half, applications generally run much faster (faster load, faster operation with data), netwok transfers and internet downloads obviously faster. Applications for me include Linre Office, digiKam and other related imaging applications. All are faster with the SSHD. I am ecstatic with my new found power!
In this experience I have no hesitation is recommending an SSHD as a choice if a laptop drive is to be replaced. I do not endorse a particular manufacturer.
Purchasing a new system may involve different considerations, such as preloaded software and operating system. If there is an option to purchase a laptop with an SSHD already installed – do it even at a reasonable difference in price! However, price is a killer at the moment as few units are available with the SSHD as standard. Given the retail price of a 500GB SSHD is now getting lower it is close to reasonable to convert provided there is no pre-installed restriction by the OS or the software you desire. For me as a Linux user it could be “no contest”.
The Comfort Factor should not be a concern. As I said the SSHDs I tested were made by firms I trust, either as memory makers or well established hard drive makers. I would suggest following that advice unless you get a really good sale price.
If you want to boost the performance of a laptop. Mine are five years old, an SSHD can do wonders. If the price is good even better. However, there is still a price difference making SSHD acquisition a difficult choice for most. I suspect this difference will narrow or disappear in the next ewo or three years.
I believe the device is reliable and has exceptional performance. Costs are coming down, in my opinion it is a wave of the immediate future.
Author: Peter Litchford
Bio: "Peter is retired but still active in IT. He maintains a personal network
and is an ardent photographer."
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2.0 Tom's Hardware SSD Guide - Weblink
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