If You Buy One PC Upgrade This Year…

By Alec Meer on April 4th, 2011 at 5:01 pm.

I'm like Don Draper, but 1/3 of the size

…Make it an SSD. I am not making spurious claims or waving my silly little e-willy around here. It’s the single most immediately noticeable system upgrade I think I’ve ever done, and as such I’m keen it isn’t stranded in a techhead and rich-gonk ghetto. This is an upgrade for any PC gamer, not purely for the well-monied ‘performance enthusiasts’ who get a bit worryingly sweaty when looking at bar charts.

To state the bleeding obvious for those to whom this has never been mentioned (because most of those who already know already know, and thus shouldn’t be reading this), a Solid State Hard Drive is a hard disk made from memory. Rather than the traditional spinning magnetic platters, these are more akin to that in an SD card, but far faster and far more capacious. To use the kind of sweepingly generalised layman’s terms that will result in someone pitching up and lecturing me about how offensively wrong I am, you’re looking at something halfway between a memory card and your PC’s RAM – a drive that can remember data like the former but shift it around at high speeds like the latter.

Net result: Windows, games, everything takes dramatically less time to load. Sticking one into my PC (without indulging any other upgrades) made it feel like someone had injected caffeine into its eyeballs, kicked it in the buttocks and told it the love of its life was right over them thar hills. I’m in Windows within less than a minute, and once I am I don’t get that traditional bonus minute or two of post-startup slowdown as it tiredly loads various bits and bobs in the background. I’m not going to give you benchmarks because they’re incredibly boring, but believe me that it flies.

There’s a big difference in games, too. I picked up my drive (which I’m loathe to specifically name-check, as it isn’t an especially good one in the grand scheme of things so I don’t want to be perceived as having recommended it above others) mid-way during my Dawn of War II: Retribution review, and the loading time difference was frankly obscene. Even now, during my occasional pokes at Last Stand mode – something I’m trying to find a neat hook to lead to RPS-based documentation thereof – I get a tiny, naughty, nerdy thrill at the surely inaccurate but nonetheless pleasing map-loading screens that show how far along the process you are compared to the other players. I’m always loaded first, and left frustratingly attending the spinning platter boys as a result, but I always feel quietly relieved that at least I’m not frowning in annoyance at my own tardy system’s wheezing and chuntering. Even smaller stuff like Fate of the World benefits immediately and noticeably.

The SSD doesn’t mean I can make games look prettier or even run faster once they’re loaded; you’ll still need a new graphics card and/or CPU and/or memory if your PC’s sputtering along painfully in that regard. The difference is I’m not spending so much time waiting for my PC to catch up, and the time between wanting to do something and doing it is impressive reduced. I can deal with in-game sluggishness, I know how to tweak and lower settings, I know and accept full well that some games simply don’t run well. At least I don’t have to wait bloody forever to find out.

Resorting, as I am right now, to my unpuny (but not mighty either) laptop, my patience for loading times and general system responsiveness is frayed to demolition point. Waiting for Word to load to write these words made me utter naughty swears which caused people at the adjacent table to glare at me. I shall be ramming an SSD into this slab as soon as I am financially able, trust me.

This isn’t just empty platitudes to a new technology, trust me. I truly believe that every PC gamer should make an SSD priority number one for their system upgrades, far above and beyond a new graphics card or processor. That said, I’m acutely also aware that it’s a terrible minefield of confusing numbers and inflated prices out there, shamelessly following the bewildering and cynical trends laid down by graphics cards and processors. So here’s just a few things to bear in mind once/if you choose to embark upon the great shopping hunt.

- Check write speeds as well as read speeds. The latter is the more important number, as it dictates (at least in theory – more on which soon) how quickly stuff is going to load. However, if you’re likely to be regularly copying data onto your hard drive, for instance by shifting large files onto it or installing stupidly large videogames, you want a decent write speed too. I am generalising somewhat here, but make sure the quoted write speed is in excess of 100MB/s. The higher the better, but there are diminishing returns as matters get faster, so don’t overspend. For read speeds, aim for 200 MB/s as a bare minimum, and closer to 300 MB/s as an ideal.

- Don’t believe the numbers. You drive will not be able to read 300 MB/s. I won’t go into the long and short of it here (I’m sure someone will), but just keep that figure in mind as a touchstone for decent performance. If you spy a particular drive that looks tasty, look up reviews of it and you’ll quickly find some observation upon bullshit numbers if that is indeed the case.

- Your PC/motherboard needs to have SATA 2 ports at the least. The drives will work with SATA 1, but it’ll introduce some pretty serious bottlenecks in performance due to having half the (theoretical) data transfer rate. SATA 3 is better still, but again – diminishing returns. If your PC already has it, all to the good (and make sure the drive you buy explicitly supports SATA 3) but please don’t do anything silly like buying a SATA 3 PCI Express card purely to add support for it. 10% extra on Really Fast is nowhere near as noticeable as 10% extra on Quite Slow. For now at least, a decent SATA 2 SSD will do all you realistically need, and put your old hard drive to quivering shame.

- Saving money on buying a small drive is no saving at all. The 32 and 64 GB drives are a whole lot cheaper than the 128GB+ drives, but you’ll be locked in constant battle for free space and will simply have no room whatsoever to install games. My drive is 128GB, which still isn’t much but gives me enough to have around five large-size games installed at any one time, alongside a fair few svelte indie games, my most regularly-used apps and Windows – with a few gig still to to spare. You could install all your games on an additional, high-space traditional drive, but while Windows and general system performance will see the benefit, the games will be largely unaffected. Get 128GB or more, and pair it with a high-space cheapie standard hard drive (e.g. 500GB, 1TB, or 2TB if you insist on keeping all of your Gentlemen’s Relaxation Videos once you’ve watched them) for data like documents, pics, music and all those movies you steal.

- Some programs refuse to be installed anywhere other than the main system drive, which is a massive pain in the fleshy bits when you’re as short on space as an SSD can make you. Steam is an obvious culprit here, as even after all these years it mystifyingly prevents users from installing games anywhere other than the drive it too is installed on, but if you’re an eyeTelephone/Pad user you’ll find your Apps defiantly lurk on the C: drive. I’ve not the space to go fully into it here, but research Symbolic Links – with a wee bit of pretty easy tinkering, you can trick programs/Windows into believing that stuff is installed on C: (or wherever), but in fact loading it from another drive.

- TRIM is a silly and slightly naughty-sounding word, but a vital one when it comes to SSDs. These little bastards can wear out as a result of long-term reads and writes, which in practical terms means a degradation in performance over time. TRIM can help to keep this at bay, kinda by wiping free space and restoring it to a virginal status. That sentence is factually wrong but conceptually valid. Only the more recent drives support TRIM, though some of the older ones can have their firmware updated to include it. If you’ve got an old drive, check its manufacturer’s site and old man Google. There are third party hacks to enable it on a few drives that don’t officially support it, but don’t get your hopes too high.

- Update to Windows 7 if you haven’t already. It’s pretty good anyway, honest – it is the version of Windows I have complained about the least in my long, tiresome history of complaining about Windows. That aside, XP and Vista will play nice with SSDs, but 7 is a little more prepared for their vagaries. However, there’s a bunch of Windows-default shit you should turn off to both improve performance and increase drive lifespan. Prefetch, search indexing, that sort of thing: anything that’s prone to regularly bothering the drive with incidental read/write requests. The thing with having a very fast drive is that it doesn’t need to do stuff like indexing – it can scour itself so quickly for whatever you’re searching for that having a constantly-updated database of the contents won’t bring much to the table anyway. Some drives (e.g. the pricy but sturdy Intel ones) ship with apps that auto-configure that sort of thing for you, but failing that try SSD Tweak Utility. There’s a paid version if you want to get waist-deep in tweaker-filth, but the free one will sort out the most important stuff for you with just a couple of clicks. Hooray for other people making things for lazy people.

- Grab a free program called CCleaner – it’s remarkably good at sweeping unwanted crap such as temporary files, browser caches and leftover install/update data from your drive. Run it pretty regularly to free up a few gig.

- Windows System Restore can use a ridiculous amount of space. Turn it off if you’re feeling brave (or use another backup program to save restoration data to another drive), and regularly use ‘delete all but the most recent restore point) and you’ll find you have quite a few more gig back in play.

- An SSD will also save on power-consumption and reduce the noise your PC makes (they’re silent in operation), so they’re particularly handy for laptops. This doesn’t even slightly mean they’re irrelevant in desktops though – they’re at their best when paired with a meaty processor, able to keep up with all the data they’re throwing about. However, you will find that the vast majority of SSDs are laptop-sized, so you may need to buy a special caddy for desktop which essentially makes them the size of standard hard drives. Or you can just do what I do, which is have the thing dangling unprettily off its cables and occasionally falling off when I move my PC around.

- You’ll get an immediate and impressive performance boost if you buy now, but be aware that the performance/price of these things is improving rapidly. Don’t feel bad if you hear of far more wondrous, affordable SSDs within months or weeks of picking one up. C’est la vie in tech. Sure, upgrade again later (for instance, use your first SSD for games etc and whatever the new hyperdrive is for Windows and primary apps)

That is the end of my boring list. I am quite sure the gentlemen below will have far more, and more precise, recommendations to share with you. Some may even claim that you shouldn’t get an SSD. They are quite wrong. It is the best upgrade you could possibly get for a PC right now.

Tomorrow: I shall talk about games instead of hardware again, promise.

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250 Comments »

  1. sneetch says:

    I have an SSD and I approve this message. It makes an amazing difference.
    /thumbs up!

    • BAReFOOt says:

      We’ll see who is the last one to laugh, when the thing becomes slower and slower, and then prematurely dies because the rewrite cycles are used up.

      Sorry, my data is far to valuable for the poor SSDs. (To give you a perspective: I’m running a triple-mirrored RAID-Z [ZFS] with daily scrubbing and backups including reed-solomon ECC, checksumming, verification and off-site backups going back as far as a year. I also use S.M.A.R.T. for death prediction.)

    • Jamison Dance says:

      And I use a free Dropbox account. Jeepers creepers, what kind of stuff do you have on your personal computer that requires that much redundancy? Or do you simply delight in acronyms and the dropping thereof?

    • durns says:

      Holy carp – what do you store on there, business critical information?

    • thestjohn says:

      I think that’s what happens when you get serious about keeping all your gentleman’s relaxation videos after watching.

    • Sarlix says:

      I presumed he kept missile launch codes on there.

    • jalf says:

      Well, as much as I approve of a sensible backup strategy, the whole “slower and slower and dies prematurely” thing is pretty much nonsense.

      And, of course, no one suggested you keep your critical data on the SSD. It was suggested for games and for Windows. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care about having an off-site backup of last year’s C:\Windows contents.

    • Soon says:

      Mua ahah ahah ahah!!
      Was it me?

    • f300 says:

      Everyone talking about rewrite cycles and dying in 2 years etc should read this: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4159/ocz-vertex-3-pro-preview-the-first-sf2500-ssd/2

    • Bishop says:

      I have 3 SSD’s in a RAID 0. Takes 3 seconds to load call of duty black ops and I’ve never seen anyone load a game quicker than me online. In battlefield bad company 2 I could plant two bombs and steal a tank before the first enemy had even loaded (till they added a patch that meant I had to wait for everyone D: )

    • Tams80 says:

      Wulf, I concur, hibernate is absolutely brilliant and has gotten significantly better in Windows 7. I hardly ever shut down too. In fact I dread to as I look after my laptop so poorly that a cold boot will almost take ten minutes sometimes, yet hibernate will take at most 30 seconds, on a bad day. Sometimes Windows has a tantrum if I go into hibernate in a game (by closing the lid); other than that it is fantastic though.

      SSDs are great, my only worry is their lifespan. I know hardrives also have limited lifespans and I remember reading somewhere that SSDs are no worse, but I still worry about it.

    • roryok says:

      @BAReFOOt My hard drives go to eleven

    • djbriandamage says:

      @f300, FYI those Intel X25 SSDs are about double the price of ordinary SSDs. Also, Intel just announced that they will stop manufacturing that line of products.

      -edit-

      Oops, I take it back. I recognized that X25 chart from a previous Anandtech article but the one you posted is a follow-up for an OCZ drive. Thanks very much for posting this! Great to see these technologies trickling down to more affordable vendors!

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    Agreed on this. I built my new system around (this links is not representative of SSDs in general) http://www.ocztechnology.com/ocz-revodrive-x2-pci-express-ssd.html And it’s a corker.

    • Hunam says:

      I just saw the prices on them!

      You shall be henceforth known as Jim “The Money” Rossignol

    • runbmp says:

      I was considering the SSD option as well, with so many blogs pushing SSD now as a viable option. My choice came to the RevoDrive as well, its absolutely stellar in performance.

      However I remain hesitant, I have a gut feeling that I should wait another year. I really don’t mind the load times I have right now.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      It’s the first time I’ve ever spent serious money on a PC. I should probably paid for a holiday, but oh well.

      I actually bought this one, not the £800 one. http://www.scan.co.uk/products/120gb-ocz-revo-drive-bootable-mlc-flash-x4-slot-full-height-65k-iops-read-540mb-s-write-490mb-s

    • Surgeon says:

      Sorry to butt in Jim, but just in case anyone misses it, the first link is to a RevoDrive X2, the second link is to the first revision, the plain old RevoDrive. The first revisions are cheaper, but they are a bit slower. Although you’d probably not even notice.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yeah, I mean I am not even sure anyone would really notice the difference over these vs normal SATA SSDs, since they are all so much faster than conventional HDs. But anyway. I AM FLAMBOYANT.

    • Surgeon says:

      I’ve just upgraded from a WD Velociraptor to the RevoDrive X2, and the difference is just phenomenal.
      Boot time from cold for Win 7 has dropped from 1 minute 35 seconds to 24 seconds.
      And everything loads in the blink of an eye.

      So kids, take it from me, drugs trials are a really handy way to upgrade your PC :)
      Safe ones are anyway.
      Although no drinking for 4 months was a serious amount of heinous anus.

    • Wulf says:

      I do wonder what the point of cold boots is, though, does anyone really still use them these days? I swear by hibernating, and it’s never given me any problems on XP, Linux, or 7. In fact, 7 is the most speedy hibernator I’ve ever seen, especially if you hook up a ReadyBoost flashdrive to help it with that. On an older normal HDD, I see boot times of 30-60 seconds, it’s never, ever over a minute, and I don’t have to wait for apps to open, either, since Firefox and everything is already there, opened, ready, and waiting.

      I don’t think a cold boot time is something to brag about any more because of this reason. Game boot times, map load times, and things like that are worthy bragging points, sure. But saying that it cold boots fast is about as important as saying that you have something that writes floppies in picoseconds. No one in their right mind would use floppies, anyway, so having a drive that write floppies in seconds is superfluous.

      I do worry sometimes though that there is a large body of people out there who’re unaware of the joys of hibernating or afraid of trying it, afraid that Windows will eventually fall over. Ever since XP though, providing you keep a clean install, this just doesn’t happen. In fact, I barely ever reboot 7 because it runs so smoothly over very long periods of time, and I don’t see any visible performance increases even after a fresh reboot. Windows 7 is good like that. So I tend to only do a cold boot of Windows 7 when it pesters me to update things.

      So… this is all just praising hibernation, really, more than anything else. If you’re running Windows 7 and you haven’t tried it yet, then I absolutely must urge you to do so. You may worry about decreases in performance but I’ll say now that this is a myth borne of old OS knowledge and is no longer currently relevant. (Microsoft needed to keep up with Linux in this regard, they couldn’t have an OS that became increasingly laggy forever.)

      Really, if you’ve been cold booting just because you didn’t think that hibernate would help, you’ll probably kick yourself when you see how well it does work. Oh, and yeah, I’ll say again that adding a USB stick to your setup with it all ReadyBoosted is going to result in a marked difference too, so try that as well.

    • daf says:

      Even better then hibernation is S3 suspend, it will power everything down except ram giving you “boot” times of 1-3s depending on how fast your monitor can turn on at the cost of a little more off power consumption, well worth it.

    • HexagonalBolts says:

      The prices are huuuuuuge. Is this something that is likely to very quickly drop in price?

    • althalus87 says:

      @Wulf: Cold boots are of particular importance to those of us who have weird issues where games get really choppy and motion-sickness-inducing if the machine has been in and out of hibernation once or twice…

      Edit: Yes, windows 7, computer is only about 2 months old

    • Wulf says:

      @althalus87

      That shouldn’t be happening, as it never happens to me, I get the same speedy performance out of, say, The Ball coming out of hibernation as I do out of a cold boot, and I tested this earlier just to be sure. So this shouldn’t be happening to you.

      Did you try the ReadyBoost thing? An SD card might be faster for those purposes if you have a reader built in, not sure which would work speedier, but anyway, either or is worth a shot. Especially if it’s a drive with a lot of space dedicated solely to ReadyBoost, then it can make a tangible difference.

      Other than that, all I can think of is checking your RAM with MemTest. Because this strikes me as highly bizarre. I actually haven’t had a problem on Widnows 7, and I tend to use hibernation over long periods, to the point where I normally couldn’t tell you when I rebooted last.

    • bill says:

      @Wulf:
      I’ve obviously been on windows too long, because my laptop came with the power-off button set to “hibernate” and the first thing I did was change it to shut-down. Having used previous versions of windows i was sure that hibernating would be a very very bad idea. Going too long without a restart was never advisable.

      Are there really no issues with hibernate? I want to try switching to it.. but it just sounds.. risky…

    • kavika says:

      @bill:

      Don’t do things that are “risky”. Mitigate your risk by making sure you can blow away your system at any second without losing anything priceless. If you have critical data, e.g. your wedding video or your business strategy, back it up :)

      Hibernate has never resulted in data loss for anyone that I’ve talked to. I also have never had any data loss from hibernate. I’m sure there are counter examples, but again, back up your data.

      Hibernate works great, assuming your system/drivers don’t cause highly noticeable performance problems, in which case a reboot solves it. I’ve noticed this to be particularly problematic on a few systems, but never on my home system, and never to the point where I didn’t save time in aggregate by using hibernate, and rebooting if it didn’t work out.

    • Mman says:

      I recall hearing about a few bad experiences with Hibernation ages ago that made me dismiss it as some sort of gimmick. Checking it out again after reading this has made me realise it should be really useful to me, especially on my Laptop that is frequently used/left alone by others (making it hard to tell when I should turn it off, but Hibernation gets around that by making start-up much quicker without spending extra power).

    • roryok says:

      Agreed, EVERYONE should be using hibernate.

      @daf S3 suspend is no good on a laptop as the battery will eventually run down, and on a desktop I find if I accidentally move the mouse the whole machine comes on. Which I don’t like. Also, you can’t unplug like you can with hibernate.

      That’s the key difference that people often fail to understand: Hibernate uses NO power. You can unplug your PC while hibernated and stick it in a corner for six months, all your windows will still be open when you fire it up again.

    • bill says:

      Ok. I’ve switched to hibernate and it seems pretty cool. I think there were some issues with XP era hibernate, so i didn’t consider it for vista.. but it now takes 45 seconds to have a usable desktop, rather than about 4 minutes for a cold boot.

      I’ll still do full restarts from time to time though, as i can’t shake the (long ingrained) feeling that windows slows down over time.

      Since my preconceptions have been shattered with Hibernate, maybe i should check out Readyboost too… i always thought that was a gimmick as well.

      EDIT: And after 2-3 days of Hibernating in Vista we have our first BSOD… connected?

    • Ragnar says:

      Agreed, hibernate works really well in Win 7. Honestly, it works pretty well in XP too. I have a netbook running XP that gets restarted only to install Windows updates.

      Though these days, I tend to just leave my desktops up 24×7 so that they’re accessible as media servers to the PS3. While XP will feel slower after a few weeks, I’ve had 7 up for months at a time with no perceptible performance degradation.

      Also, ReadyBoost is faster than using standard Hard Drives, but a lot slower than Memory, thus it really only benefits you if you have little memory and thus must page to the hard drive often (ie less than 1-2GB RAM). You’ll get much better performance from upgrading the memory in your computer.

  3. Teddy Leach says:

    Too poor: can not get SSD.

    Too poor: can not get multi-core processor.

    SADFACE.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Yeah, too rich for my blood at the moment too. I have had one on my wish list for quite some time, though. I eventually plan to get Windows and its cache up on a SSD and put everything else on RAID 0. I should probably also get hardware RAID. I suspect that most of the benefit of an SSD comes from Window’s long time dependance on virtual RAM and not straight up loading things off the hard drive.

    • Sarlix says:

      Awww :-(

      If it’s any consolation I’m still squeezing every last possible bit of potential out of my aging amd x2. We’re not all fancy men with 16 cores and a 10 meg pipe.

      edit: geldonyetich – I don’t see how your post is alleviating Mr Teddy’s sad face!

    • Hunam says:

      People like us are the reason gog.com are still in business.

    • Wulf says:

      I have a multi-core processor (2 cores) but no SDD. I’ve been planning on upgrading for a long time, but I never get around to it, it’s a lot of money and I find that I’m exceedingly satisfied with my current computer, which has a nicely quiet fan, runs speedily enough to handle UDK games and all, and… well, I just can’t fault it, so justifying an upgrade would be difficult.

      And lots of developers keep this in mind with the PC as well, the best thing about progression in regards to gaming is ideas rather than technology, because we have so many new sorts of gaming joys presented to us. A great example of this is the Potato Sack bundle, and so many other games, and Valve’s upcoming Portal 2, innovative games that don’t require a high-end PC.

      Not to mention that there are joys of old that are still worth a few replays. I’m currently enjoying the PC port of Stranger’s Wrath, and I’m playing through Giants – Citizen Kabuto again. Again. Because that game never seems to get old. In fact, I’m actually still amazed by how fresh Giants still feels – because you know how I like to break games? Giants lets me find bizarre paths through the levels. A lot of games feel so restricted these days, you have to go this way, you have to do something that way, no room for the sort of wildly creative approaches that I enjoy cooking up.

      I’d honestly prefer games that focus on better ideas rather than increasingly better graphics. I don’t care whether something has a hollywood blockbuster budget and looks like a film, that couldn’t interest me less. But rather, more, is it fun? Is it innovative? Is it clever? Is it funny? Does it have a genuinely unique setting? Does it have well written characters? Is it awe-inspiring/brilliant/genius in some completely unexpected way? Does it speak of the love of its creators? Does it try to surprise/challenge you and the way you look at games? Is it memorable? And so on.

      So I’m perfectly happy with where I am right now, tech wise. Hollywood graphics just aren’t what I’m looking for in games, and when you look back and realise that there are many old games (Uru) which are far more breathtakingly, hauntingly beautiful than those billion dollar blockbuster games anyway, the very interest in them seems to become redundant.

    • jalf says:

      I suspect that most of the benefit of an SSD comes from Window’s long time dependance on virtual RAM and not straight up loading things off the hard drive.

      I’m sure that what you actually *meant* was “from Windows’ long time handicap of having so many silly users who do everything to sabotage their own computer’s performance”.

      Go into Windows’ pagefile settings. Set the pagefile to “Let Windows manage….”

      And watch Windows take off.

      Set a specific pagefile size, no matter how big or small you make it, and watch Windows dump everything to the pagefile all the time.

      When I manually control my pagefile, my harddrive is always doing a few scattered reads. Once I let Windows manage it, the harddrive literally goes into sleep mode while I’m playing games. I’ve had stutters mid-game before because the harddrive had to power on and spin up for the first time in 45 minutes.

      Seriously, there is *nothing* wrong with Windows’ pagefile strategy. You just have to let it *use it*.

      Which also means that harddrive (or SSD) performance should make *no* difference in-game. If it does, you either have too little RAM, or a stupid pagefile strategy.

      On load times though? SSD kicks ass.

  4. Jonathan says:

    But they’re still so expensive! :(

    Oh, and please post about hardware all you like. It’s part of PC gaming after all, and even though things are TOO EXPENSIVE it is still nice to dream.

  5. Nostromo says:

    They are still way overpriced for me! Maybe in 1 year!

  6. CilindroX says:

    Bought a Mushkin Callisto Deluxe (60G) for my laptop and never looked back.

    Still waiting though, until I can get a 160/200G main drive for around $200 for my desktop.

  7. Hoaxfish says:

    buy harddrive OR buy non-shit graphics card so I can actually play modern games

    well, RPS says buy the harddrive since I’m only thinking about buying one

    • nimnio says:

      Careful now, that’s not exactly what Alec said:

      The SSD doesn’t mean I can make games look prettier or even run faster once they’re loaded; you’ll still need a new graphics card and/or CPU and/or memory if your PC’s sputtering along painfully in that regard.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      He also said I truly believe that every PC gamer should make an SSD priority number one for their system upgrades, far above and beyond a new graphics card or processor. I have to, with respect, strongly disagree with that statement. I won’t argue that an SSD does improve load times and is a worthy investment, but only after your CPU, GPU and RAM are competitive first. Speaking from experience, if a significant portion of your time at the PC is spent gaming, then upgrades in RAM, CPU, and GPU will make far more obvious gains in performance. This is especially true if your rig currently falls near or below the recommended minimum specs for modern AAA titles.
      A quad core processor, a DX11 compatible GPU with 1GB of VRAM, a motherboard that supports much faster RAM latency will all make very observable improvements each for much less then price of a large SSD drive.
      It could also be argued that modern platter drive in the 1TB range with good RPM and bus architecture will level the performance difference between SSD a matter of seconds on any load, at a fraction of the cost. So upgrade yeah, but upgrade SSD LAST.

    • Dervish says:

      Thank you, DigitalSignalX. Why anyone would prioritize shorter loading times over improved in-game performance is beyond me.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      I know right? CRAZY. :D

    • Droniac says:

      @DigitalSignalX

      Agreed except for the RAM comment. Lower latencies and higher clock speeds are great for the enthusiasts, but have no real world value in nearly all games and applications. See also the recent Anandtech memory tests that indicate only WinRAR and animation studios (Cinema4D, LightWave 3D) benefit – marginally (6-7%) – from high performance RAM. Those Anandtech tests demonstrate DDR3 C7 1066 and C9 1333 to be practically identical to C7 1866 in almost every benchmark. Which means the only key points to look for in terms of RAM are price and size.

      A SSD is a much better upgrade than high-performance RAM. Although the video card, processor, and motherboard should definitely still come first (and in that order).

    • Kulantan says:

      I think that Alec is right given that games all currently have to be playable by the console toys. That limits the usefulness performance upgrades quite a bit. I would take a SSD over other performance upgrade if I could already play, say, Crysis 2 on standard quality.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      @Droniac: You’re right, RAM speed really shouldn’t be an issue. What I was really thinking about was when I upgraded my motherboard to support a multicore processor, the I went from 4 GB of 168 pin SDRAM to 4 GB of 240 pin DDR3, which just blazes faster on memory intensive apps due to both bus architecture and latency.

    • Kdansky says:

      All the games I currently play run perfectly fine on my system, which is already two years old and was never cutting edge to begin with. Even Crysis 2 was smooth as butter (at least the graphics, not the experience). But all these games have noticeable loading times. I’d rather have better loading times and the same graphics than better graphics and loading screens.

    • kavika says:

      @Droniac
      > Although the video card, processor, and motherboard should definitely still come first (and in that order)

      Depends on the target market, their computer buying habits, and their computer usage habits. Not all gamers can afford repeated upgrades within the same PC upgrade generation.

      I heartily agree with the video card and processor for people who use their PCs 50% or more for gaming.

      The only reason I’d possibly agree with the mobo part is that the last four times I’ve upgraded my CPU or any of my friend’s, I’ve been forced to upgrade the mobo. Besides that, I’d put a mobo upgrade nearly last, with more RAM and a faster HD above it.

      For people who use their computers a good deal, and spend nearly equal time doing other types of non-web-surfing (office productivity, video or audio work, software development, etc), I would agree that an SSD would be a better boost than nearly all that stuff, in a mainstream-to-slightly-aging computer.

      As for your specific comment on high-perf RAM for gamers, I agree that it is purely for gear heads with too much money to spend on their computers. The money is much better spent on other upgrades, or, you know, going out for drinks with friends.

  8. nimnio says:

    Thanks for the advice. I’ll remember it when I go to upgrade compy.

  9. Bugg says:

    Having just purchased an SSD last month, I fully agree. Being able to boot into Windows and load games/levels in seconds is fantastic.

    Now that I’m spoiled by the speed, I find myself even more annoyed by intro videos and logos. Nothing would make me happier than a new trend in which games bring you to the main menu almost instantly.

    • battles_atlas says:

      Those videos infuriate me, especially when you can’t skip them. Don’t make me edit some obscure settings file just to keep my sanity. I’d actually prefer looking at a blank screen, or certainly a load bar, than the same fricking animated logo again and again. Same goes for game intro – I hate that wrinkly old twat in the wigwam in Civ V. Shut up and die old man, I have a world to build.

      Still, it could be worse. It could be the hectoring anti-piracy ads at the start of every single one of the 20-odd discs in my Shield boxset. There is a demand to pirate right there.

    • Highstorm says:

      Or asking you to please silence your cell phone now.

    • lonkero173 says:

      I would suggest deleting the video files from the game folder. Most games keep them all nicely separeted and can deal with them missing so you can for example delete that f***ing nvidia/intel logo but still keep the skipable intro etc. Also some games hide loading times behind the video so civ 5 for example will not start any faster if you delete the intro (you just get a long black screen). Also steam games have a nasty habit of re-dowloading the video when updating.

      Now if someone just had a way to get rid of that ‘online interactions not rated’ and ‘press start/enter’ to play’ crap….

  10. Alaric says:

    Completely agree! I have OCZ Vertex 2 SATA II MLC SSD and it is the best thing ever. The sheer speed is unbelievable! Also, coupled with 6 GB of RAM it completely eliminated the need for a page file. I have it disabled since I built my rig, and haven’t had a single problem.

    The only thing is, you need to really read up on how to configure your system properly to get the most benefit out of an SSD, but it is time well spent.

  11. MikeBiggs says:

    Thanks for the info, I love a good chat about hardware :D

    I don’t stay up to date unless I’m looking to upgrade so I have no real idea what’s going on with hardware atm.

  12. Tyrmot says:

    Nice! Just ordered a C300 last Friday! Can’t wait to see the difference….

  13. Vinraith says:

    I’m sure it’s an enormous upgrade, yes. Unfortunately, in order to buy one in anything resembling a useful size, I’d have to spend more on the SSD than I did on the computer itself.

    • Alaric says:

      It’s worth it. When I was building my most recent gaming rig, I wasn’t sure if I truly need to spend $400 on a 120 Gb SSD. In fact I was leaning towards just sticking with 10,000 RPM Raptors as I have in the past. Well, at the last moment I said, ah screw it, and decided to go with the best the money could buy. I haven’t regretted it since. I still use raptors for storage, but system, games, Photoshop, and Visual Studio HAVE GOT to run on an SSD. It was absolutely, 100% worth the money!

      By the way, right now that same SSD is a mere $200.
      http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820227590

    • ChampionHyena says:

      Precisely this. When your Steam library alone stretches into the 300s, that’s just not enough bleeding bloody space, even with rampant reinstalls and uninstalls.

      EDIT: Aargh! Beaten to the punch. “Precisely this” refers to Vinraith’s lamentations over getting an SSD in anything approaching a useful size.

      For the record, my work laptop (a Lenovo) has an SSD, and it is indispensable for getting down to business quickly. I’m certain that an SSD makes everything faster, but where am I gonna fit anything?

    • Vinraith says:

      120 GB? Riiight, glad that’s working out for you.

      I think I’ll stick to my array of terabyte drives, thanks, until a usefully sized SSD doesn’t cost $3000.

    • Alaric says:

      Well, to each his own I imagine, but why would anyone you use their system drive for storage?

      Personally I don’t have terabytes of porn and MP3s, so I was always more than comfortable with a pair of 350 Gb Raptors in Raid 1 for all of my needs. Now I have the Windows 7 “Users” folder on that Raptor, and all of the stuff that requires speed is on my SSD.

      I like to keep my computer clean and organized, and never have anything installed that I don’t need. That goes for games too. If I want to play something I download/install it. Otherwise, why have it?

      Also note that nobody says you have to get rid of your terabyte HDDs. Adding a system SSD, however, will greatly improve your system performance.

    • Vinraith says:

      Having to manage that small a space on a system drive is simply too much hassle. Constantly installing and uninstalling is a waste of my time, and a strain on Windows such that then I’m forever having to wipe and reinstall it as well. Neither the trouble nor the expense is worth it at this point, my system performance is fine. When the prices come down, and the durability goes up, I’ll obviously re-evaluate that position. For now, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages IMO.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I have hundreds of games on Steam, they all sit on a regular 1Tb drive. Then the SSD has Windows, WoW, and room for 3-5 other games. Whatever the new game I’m playing at that point in time is. No need to constantly install/re-install.
      Also you can just junction one of the directories in your Steam folder as far as I’m aware. On Win7 anyway. So when you want to play a game on Steam, copy to SSD, point the folder at the SSD files and away you go. By using the symbolic links / junctioning you don’t have to constantly uninstall and re-install. As the system thinks it’s in the same place. You just copy it over.

      Edited to add: if that sounds too fiddly, the time you’ll spend doing that might be a couple of minutes, which you will make back in load time savings almost right away.

    • Vandelay says:

      Agreed. I built a new system at the start of the year and considered getting one of these, but it was always going to be in addition to my standard 1tb drive (which is already half full, mainly from games.) The prices are in no way attractive enough to replace your hard drive with.

      I decided that I might get one later, but, after actually using my system, I don’t really see much point. It flies already. Windows 7 already boots in about a minute, games load exceptionally quickly, I don’t have problems booting multiple applications, etc. Shaving a few seconds off these doesn’t really seem that worth it, when pretty much every game I’ve tried takes less than 20-30 seconds to load anyway.

    • skalpadda says:

      This. The price for a drive of useful size is just too high.to feel worth it. If I’m spending that much I’d like the upgrade to enable me to do something I couldn’t previously. For now, I’ll keep my tradition of picking up my guitar and getting some quick practice if I run into something that takes too long to bear staring at a loading bar.

    • malkav11 says:

      I don’t demand that my system drive be the biggest drive I have – it isn’t. But at this point I wouldn’t want to run my system on anything much smaller than 500GB, as otherwise it is, as Vinraith says, too much hassle. If I were the sort of gamer who plays one or two games at a time and that were it, I would probably be okay with an affordable SSD, but I flit around like crazy. I have 700 GB of Steam games installed right now, for example. And even if I installed almost all my games on my big drives (thus, imho, defeating the purpose of the SSD to begin with), game developers love to arbitrarily stick gigantic files on your system drive without asking.

    • pauleyc says:

      @Deano2099:

      I imagine something like Steam Mover would be the perfect solution. Disclaimer: I haven’t tried it yet, my SSD upgrade is planned for the weekend.

  14. Bungle says:

    I don’t have to read this article to disagree with it 100%. I have two magnetic 1TB drives in RAID-0 as my boot drive. That means I have 2TB of internal storage as my boot drive – it cost me $150 total, and I can handle sustained transfers of 150MB/s. Is it as fast as an SSD? No. Seek time is slower too. But I have 800% the capacity and it cost 10% as much. Debate over. You can keep your milliseconds.

    • adonf says:

      I don’t have to read your comment to say that that I agree with it as I just bought two 1TB hard disks to upgrade my old RAID 1 (my worst fear is of a HD crash and loss of all my horse porn). Also it’s time to replace this 8600GT so SSDs will have to wait.

    • Azradesh says:

      Agreed and I’d spend that money on making my games run smoothy and beautifully then have stuff load a bit faster.

    • Deano2099 says:

      Why not buy a single 2TB drive then?

      Also cheaper.

    • Red_Avatar says:

      I definitely agree. Why?

      a) your system drive sees constant activity with temp files being written back and forward, cache files being updated, meaning that the drive will quickly degrade in the space of a year or two.

      b) when certain sectors die, they’re gone and you end up with corrupted files. Unlike regular disk based hard drives, you get no SMART warning – the sector in question will simply read and write incorrectly

      c) because of the way solid state drives are designed, they’re very prone to corruptions just like USB sticks. You know how easy it is to find your entire USB stick or memory card wiped? Imagine that happening to your entire system drive.

      d) they’re way too expensive and what is the benefit? Almost none if you have 8GB memory – Windows places most regular software in memory making Photoshop load very quickly. And what will 8GB cost you? Half what a 100GB SSD costs.

    • Sivart13 says:

      Yeah, and if one drive fails, both of them do, so like, sweet double failure combo bonus.

    • Dreamhacker says:

      I haven’t read anything and I agree 100%.

      Jokes aside, the cost and storage space arguments are very much valid. I realize that disc spinners are the biggest bottleneck left in an otherwise modern computer but the storage, or lack thereof, is just crippling. It makes sense to put you system on an SSD, but when people say “remember to stick all you games on the SSD too”, thats about when you realize they have it all backwards. We’re talking a 32-50 GB harddrive… there’s not going to be crap left on that drive after the OS and one or two modern Ubisoft games.

      Wake me up when you can buy 500GB SSD’s for less than all the other parts of the computer put together.

    • Hallgrim says:

      @Deano: Just FYI, RAID-0 means he is running the two drives in parallel, so his read/write times for sustained operations is 2x as fast.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAID

    • Deano2099 says:

      I know what RAID is. But he’s saying spending more money on doubling the speed of the drive by buying an SSD is a waste. Then he spends more money on increasing the speed by about 50% by running a RAID-0, and apparently that’s not a waste.

      It’s a ridiculous argument.

    • Archonsod says:

      If you have sufficient RAM you can simply make a RAM disk. Works even better than SSD.

      I’d agree with the sentiment though. I don’t mind waiting an extra five minutes for something to load if it means better looks/performance when it does load, so I’d much rather stick with a larger drive (in fact given I need to support 3 OS’s I haven’t really much choice).

      Should also note that a lot of the tweaks mentioned for the SSD would work on a regular HDD too. Indexing for example, Windows can still search without an indexed drive, it’ll just take longer. Given searching the drive is likely a relatively rare occurrence for most people, indexing it just doesn’t make sense – you’re taking a constant performance hit in return for improving the performance of something you rarely use anyway.

      And don’t get me started on disk defrag’s default setting of running in the background.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      SSD is the bastard son of RAM and HD. I’d rather buy extra RAM and install my games directly onto RAM disk (I can personally recommend ImDisk). I’ll just have to fashion a simple script to save configs and savegames between reboots.
      Edit: Beaten by Archonsod. That’s what I get for not reading 100% of the comments.

  15. Azradesh says:

    No, SSDs have a limited life span, cost more and, if you have enough RAM, only provide a performance increase with start up and loading times. RAM costs less and is more useful.

    • LlamaNL says:

      That limited lifespan is about 95 years longer than your regular ass hard drive. Even in a worst case scenario with 95% of the drive full and a daily write of 20GB it’ll still last you 15 years.

    • Sivart13 says:

      If the game your playing was originally developed on console, odds are it isn’t using your four gigs of RAM and you get more benefit with the faster hard drive streaming assets in and out.

    • stahlwerk says:

      LlamaNL, like most llamas, speaks very wise words. The wear leveling of modern SSD controllers is so good that an SSD that’s written to in moderation should outlast most spinning disks by multiple MTBFs.

  16. brog says:

    I went for a SSD* when I bought my new laptop, and have been well pleased with it. It’s hard to determine the actual difference in performance since everything else is new as well, but it’s lovely and quiet and the speed at which Windows starts up doesn’t give me time to go off and get a drink while waiting for it anymore.
    Thanks for the tips on turning off indexing etc. One should turn off the hard disc memory emulation thingummy also.

    * or an SSD – what’s the a/an convention with acronyms? Do we pretend we’re reading it as the words it stands for, as one word itself, or as the names of the letters?

    • Highstorm says:

      It sounds as “Ess Ess Dee” in my head, so I prefer “an SSD” to “a SSD”. I’ve often wondered the same thing, but figure it’s likely personal preference with no real defined rule.

      Though I’m sure a quick Google search will spill egg on my face.

    • steviesteveo says:

      The a / an rule is all about the first sound in the following word. If the first sound is a vowel sound stick “an” in there — for example it’s “an hour” because the h is silent.

      I’d say that SSD starts with an “ess” sound so it’s “an SSD”.

    • brog says:

      stevie: thx for the primary school explanation.

  17. Nullkigan says:

    I’ve been using symlinks to put a few of my favourite steam games (steamapps is 300 gb total) onto my SSD. My C300 is invaluable to my Shogun 2 efforts. It lets me load minutes before other people and provide intel updates on the map composition, letting my team formulate plans over mumble. Sadly, the intro movie still takes a few moments to load.

    However, there’s a bit of a fumble at the moment with the Intel SATA 3 ports and some SSD controllers – apparently the drivers are not working correctly and freezes will occur. To give a specific example, this was happening with my P8P67 Pro and C300 128gig. Suprisingly, I got no freezes when running games from the drive. Eventually google turned up something called LPM as the culprit, a power management service which was causing the drive to disappear when windows wasn’t using it heavily. Disabling it in the registry has left me freeze free at the cost of the drive always using its full power rating.

    Until Intel release the next set of RST drivers with updated power management, new builds may suffer similar problems. My last build was a straight up assemble-install-go, this one has had a lot of registry tweaking.

  18. BobsLawnService says:

    Does anyone know whether they’ve sorted out the problem with SSDs where after a while (Not that long really) their performance starts dropping becuase of something to do with the way they write to memory? (Sorry I can’t be more specific.)

    • James says:

      Did you read the article? I’m pretty sure it was mentioned in its own paragraph.

    • Nullkigan says:

      @BobsLawnService

      This is what TRIM is for. Instead of using the traditional approach of repeatedly replacing zeros with ones, which will burn out the cells, TRIM instructs the drive to put new writes on other cells. It balances out the load.

      The original generation could last e.g. 10,000 writes, and if you were unlucky you’d then start to get issues (though the drive will still read afterwards so you don’t lose any data). With TRIM, it’s 10,000 writes of your /full drive capacity/. Anandtech did some calcs and said that a heavy user would do ~9 gb of writes per day. 128/9*10000+ is a many years of usage.

    • BobsLawnService says:

      Hi James,

      I swear I read the article in its entirety but it is hell hour here at the moment so I must have missed it. I’ll hunt it down.

  19. RagingLion says:

    Thank you for the recommendation. The fact that it is a relative oddity for RPS to post about such things makes me take this seriously.

    • James says:

      Yeah, thanks Alec. You are, in my book, the most trusted name in SSD. It’s a small book, but still.

  20. James says:

    I think I’m going to spend around $2000 on a new machine soon, anybody have any suggestions about what percentage I should spend on my SSD?

    Also, any trusted sites that custom build would be great. I’m lazy and crave instant gratification, so I can’t be bothered to just put it together myself.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      For $2000 you can get a serious PC. Aim to get an SSD of at least 120gb… or read Alec’s article above.

    • James says:

      I read the article, that’s why he’s in my book and you’re not!

      I’m asking because I’m curious how others would balance that cost against everything else, given my price range. I’ve never spend anything close to this on a PC before so I would like to waste as little of it as possible.

      Your other comments in this thread are helpful, so I take back the book thing.

    • phuzz says:

      If you’re looking for guides on what hardware to get, I trust Bit-Tech or Ars-Technica. I hear in the US new-egg is generally a good place to buy from (I’m in the UK though).

    • -Spooky- says:

      Indeed. 120 GB SSD is enough for a OS partition.

    • n00bst0rm says:

      arstechnica just posted their 2011 system builder guide, I haven’t read it but it’s usually pretty good. Otherwise if you’re unsure of some piece of hardware others recommend just look it up on anandtech. On a personal note I just built a system this summer and spent almost exactly $2000:
      1 x ASRock 890GM PRO3 AM3 AMD 890GX SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
      1 x GeForce GTX 470 (Fermi)
      1 x Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600)
      1 x Western Digital Caviar Black WD1501FASS 1.5TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
      1 x Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit 1-Pack for System Builders – OEM
      1 x ASUS VW266H Black 25.5″ 2ms(GTG) HDMI Widescreen LCD Monitor
      1 x AMD Phenom II X6 1090T
      Plus the fans, power supply, case etc. all for $2000. My recommendations if I had to do it again:
      -AMD cpus are good enough and quite a bit cheaper, I’d go with them esp. since most loads aren’t cpu bound esp. for games
      -the GTX 470 is decent but not super, a 500 series might be worth it but note that I can run damn near any new game on all but the highest settings, also watch the heat and what way its going
      -the 1920×1200 monitor is beautiful also only ~$280 just going up to 2560 (30″) is at least $1000 if not $1300 – screw that
      -go with 8gb of RAM just do it you’ll never look back. I sat down at my machine the other day and I had three games open, a web browser, and my music, my machine didn’t even blink. Seriously your life will change. Also I got 4gb sticks so you could potentially go to 16gb with that setup…
      - DO NOT buy razer gaming mouse or keyboard i got both and they both died with ~6mos. Razer just sends you a new one which will die too
      -the system builder license of windows is genius you can get pro/business cheap and then run XP in virtual mode if you want (takes a decent bit of setup tho, and technically you don’t get tech support from MSFT if you care… I don’t)
      -buy extra fans
      The only way to make this system much better is
      -cards in SLI/crossfire but to actually take advantage of that horsepower your going to spend ~$2000 in monitors alone not too mention the cards
      -another 8gb of ram but right now games aren’t 64bit and neither are most apps so prob not worth it unless your doing something exotic
      -an SSD, which I think is going to be my graduation present for myself:)

  21. Napalm Sushi says:

    Sadly, I fear a super star destroyer is tantalisingly beyond my university budget.

  22. frenz0rz says:

    Just took a peek at current SSD prices on Amazon.

    £100 for a 60gb HD? WUT?! I dont care how fast it is, I’ll not be spending anything until either a) SSDs drop noticeably in price, or b) I finish my degree in a couple of months time, and am immediately employed with a high-paying job that still allows me plenty of free time to play games, drink beer and watch Gentlemen’s Relaxation Videos.

    I am a modest man of modest needs.

  23. RLacey says:

    I suspect this’ll be an upgrade before too long (and I’ll certainly look very carefully if/when I come to buy a new PC outright), but the cost for a drive of anything like the size I’d be after is still prohibitive :(.

  24. The Army of None says:

    Bloody hell are these things expensive :*( I have an absolute beast of a rig hard drive aside, so this IS my next upgrade (this or a sound system) but the moneys…

  25. Ravenger says:

    I have a Vertex 2 SE 60gb – couldn’t justify to my wife the cost of the 128gb. :-(
    My Windows 7 PC now takes longer to go through the bios boot sequence than it does to load Windows.
    If you move your Windows 7 user folders onto your HDD then you’ve got enough room even with the OS and a lot of apps installed to have two or three large games installed too.
    Another tip, is that you don’t need to do a fresh install of Windows to upgrade to SSD. If you’re like me and have a C: system partition for the OS and Apps, and have games installed on a different drive/partition then it’s easy to use something like Acronis Partition Manager free edition to make a backup of your C drive and to restore that backup to your SSD. You need to use backup tools and not clone tools to ensure the data is aligned properly.
    Another method is to use Paragon HDD to SSD which handles everything for you. I managed to get a free license by registering via the German Paragon site.
    One last thing, with the OCZ Vertex drives at least, the write speed you get after a few weeks of use will be much less than when you first get the drive, because of a feature to prevent premature drive wear. It’s only something you’ll notice in benchmarks though, in real-world use you won’t notice the difference.
    It’s about time Steam had a feature to let you install games on different drives. For example being able to create several Steam ‘repositories’ on multiple drives, and being able to select which repository you want when you download a game. I’d prefer that to a screenshot or movie capture function which seems to be the priority recently.

  26. Kieron Gillen says:

    Just one question: what’s a Hard Drive?

    KG

    • Alaric says:

      It’s when you are driving from Chicago to New York without stopping other than to fill the gas-tank.

    • Tei says:

      ooops.. why I am here?

      Oh.. I remenber.

      This was raaage in 2007, but is still fun:

    • Ravenger says:

      It’s the opposite of a ‘Soft Drive’. Obvious really.

    • Tams80 says:

      Tei; you good sir have educated one. Be proud.

      Now my next chat-up line…

    • n00bst0rm says:

      Who is General Failure and what is he doing in my hard drive!?!?!?

  27. Bluebreaker says:

    so this post is like the crysis2 trollpost?

  28. Tei says:

    I remember my first impression of a computer with more than one core (that was in 2002? maybe before). The pure snappiness, the… silence of almost zero swapping.
    Now we have CPU’s with more than one core, but that snappiness has ben lost because software have increased CPU demand, creating stickiness. So a 4GHz Windows 7 feels as fast as a Windows NT with 200 MHz.

    There is, of course, a way to reduce the demand from the CPU and everything in the system. Remove crap. Remove all the crap that create notifications icons. Set services that only run once to “manual”.
    Use a external firewall (not a personal one), etc..

    Then you can launch something like filemon (from sysinternals) and a network monitor, and you have a windows that in idle state, is not reading or writting any file, and is not making any connexion. Is this Zen state wen a Windows OS is enjoyable.

    But it take cojones and skill to have windows like that, even at the face everything you may want to have installed. Stuff like iTunes need some stupid services for not reason whatsoever, and again some TSR programs for not reason whatsoever, even when is not running *sake fist*

    • Kdansky says:

      Sake fist?

      Do you punch people and they get drunk? That’s so awesome!

    • n00bst0rm says:

      Care to share some benchmarks showing that 98/XP was “snappier” on a Pentium 4 vs 7 on a core 2 duo or later. Sitting here with my laptop with no “BS” services disabled and it seems plenty snappy to me. You know, computers are supposed to make your life easier if you wasting lots of time tweaking it for an extra couple ms then…

  29. Navagon says:

    Are the PCI-E ones substantially better or is a SATA one fast enough as it is? I’ve been tempted to get one for a while and considering I’ve now got a 1TB drive to store most things on it doesn’t seem like such a bad move to get one of these when I can realistically afford to do so.

  30. drplote says:

    It’s not terribly difficult to get Steam running on your non-primary drive. If I remember right, it basically just involves installing it to your primary drive, copying to the secondary drive, and then updating a few references. I forget the specifics but know there were a number of links that told me how to do it after a quick google search, as I ran into this exact issue when I installed a 128GB SSD as my primary drive. I have way too many Steam games installed at once to try to keep them on the SSD.

    Although, unfortunately, it seems to be an all-or-nothing affair with Steam. All your Steam apps must be on the same drive. I keep hoping they’ll learn from Impulse, which lets you change the install directory for any given game that you download.

    • Deano2099 says:

      If you’re running Vista or Win7 it’s easy:

      Install to the big drive. Copy the game folder in steamapps\common to the SSD

      Open a DOS promt (run, cmd) and do:

      mklink /J “C:\Program Files (x86)\Games\Steam\steamapps\\team fortress 2″ “E:\Steam\Steamapps\\team fortress 2″

      Where the first one is wherever you have Steam installed, and the second is where you copied the game to.

      Done.

      http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1138731

    • Kennelly says:

      If doing a new install of steam, you can just install it straight to “E:/GAMES/Steam” (for example – that’s where I put mine) in the first place, no need to ever put it onto the C: drive first.
      Re. Deano’s advice – You need to initially MOVE the game folder to its new location, not copy (otherwise when you create the junction, the folder name already exists). You can use Microsoft’s linkd.exe (instead of mklink /J) to do the same thing on XP… described fully here:
      http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=664376

  31. jplayer01 says:

    Honestly, the SSD for my laptop was the best PC purchase I’ve ever made (aside from the laptop itself).

  32. Theory says:

    Monstrous price + small capacity + short lifespan. I don’t think so.

    I’ve never felt that anything has been loading slowly since upgrading to 4GB of memory anyway. Going from 2 to 4 was a nice, affordable leap. :)

    • Azradesh says:

      Plus you can slap in another 4GB for an even bigger affordable leap.

  33. Darko Drako says:

    Tis true they are great!

  34. Lewie Procter says:

    “Grab a free program called CCleaner – it’s remarkably good at sweeping unwanted crap such as temporary files, browser caches and leftover install/update data from your drive. Run it pretty regularly to free up a few gig.”

    Although be careful, on default settings it will delete saves for Machinarium and other flash based games.

  35. Brahms says:

    Yeah… Or just wait a couple extra minutes. If you’re playing an online game it’ll probably wait for the slowest person to join anyway, or like TF you’ll have to wait in set up time.

    I’d rather have my games look better than load faster.

  36. Tei says:

    Re: syslinks
    These are volatile black magic. The windows kernel hackers are geeks and nerds, and created a kernel that is Unicode aware and designed almost like a Unix ( like Mac OS/X, Linux ), but everything that has ben built on top the windows kernel has ben built by barbarians that don’t understand any geek technology.

    Also, hardlinks are hard to understand.

    Related link:
    http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2009/09/28/9900082.aspx

    • phuzz says:

      Symlinks are pretty well founded in Vista and Win7, they’re used by windows to point the old XP style “Documents and Settings” to the new ‘Users’ folder among other things.
      They’re basically like Shortcuts+

    • Archonsod says:

      Yeah, symlinks have been in Microsoft OS’s since the DOS days. The only reason Windows doesn’t make more use of them is it’s usually installed to a single partition.

    • kavika says:

      @Archonsod:

      …and the shell has problems resolving them. At least portions of it do, e.g. dos.

      Batch scripts are still pretty darn common, to the point where this can cause problems.

      I.e. On Windows 7:

      Start -> Run -> cmd.exe
      cd “C:\Users”
      dir

      > Directory of C:\Users
      > … kavika
      > … Public
      > …

      cd “C:\Documents and Settings”
      dir

      > Directory of C:\Documents and Settings
      > File Not Found

  37. Pointless Puppies says:

    I don’t know what games Alec is playing, but the ones I play have loading times constitute maybe 1% of the total playtime. Why I would buy an incredibly expensive drive with a short lifespan and very low capacity just to make that 1% of total playtime better is beyond me.

    Nope. I got other bottlenecks I’d like to sort out before making loading screens shorter. Considering how by far the most important part of playing a game is, you know, actually playing it, suggesting to spend a ridiculous amount of money for gaming that doesn’t actually improve real gameplay performance is nonsense to me.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      (The 1% worst time of it, because you’re not playing it and immediately breaking the atmosphere, etc. “It hangs for 30 second every 10 minutes is, for my money, a serious fault and worth paying to minimise. Imagine if your 3D card did that.)

      (Not that I have, as I’m too lazy to reinstall my PC. Though Shogun 2 is making me want to.)

      KG

    • Nova says:

      With the relatively high prices for larger SSDs I wouldn’t buy one for games. Just get one for Windows+programs (e.g. the smaller Intel drives).
      Don’t give too much to the “My RAID is as fast as your SSD guys”. It makes a massive difference.

    • Deano2099 says:

      It gives you back time, in your life. Time you’d otherwise spend staring at a screen. Which is by far the most important commodity in my life.

      That said, if all you use a PC for is to play games then it’s a hard argument to make. If you do anything else, and if you multitask much at all, the overall quality of life improvement is far, far more significant.

    • Pointless Puppies says:

      “(The 1% worst time of it, because you’re not playing it and immediately breaking the atmosphere, etc. “It hangs for 30 second every 10 minutes is, for my money, a serious fault and worth paying to minimise. Imagine if your 3D card did that.)”

      1) Missing the point. Even if that 1% was by far the worst part of the game (and it is, you’re not doing anything), it still constitutes a microscopic amount of the gaming experience, and one that doesn’t actually affect minute to minute gameplay (as opposed to say, a graphics card that lets you run a game only at 40 FPS tops, which affects performance at every second of that 99%). If you have no real bottlenecks in your system and you’re just looking for SOMETHING to upgrade, then yes SSD is a good choice. But actively choosing an SSD when a new card could improve your performance instead? Never.

      2) It’s loading times. If 30 seconds in a loading screen is so detrimental to the gameplay that it makes you run out and buy a low-capacity, low-lifespan, high-cost storage medium over other upgrades that actually affect the game at 99% of the time, I really don’t want to know how you managed to play any PC games at all before SSDs came around. Loading times are never desirable, but buying an SSD JUST to kill them is overkill.

      3) SSD’s don’t immediately solve all loading problems. Take multiplayer games, for instance. The game doesn’t start until everyone’s ready, so even if you zap into the game in 0.0001 seconds you’re still going to wait for the rest of the players to come in.

      SSD’s are one of the best cases of diminishing returns. Just like the people inching to squeeze every last power out of current hardware and spend well over $500 on a bleeding-edge graphics card, there’s a point in hardware when the cost increases exponentially despite a marginal increase in performance. Choosing an SSD at this point in the tech’s life is only truly appropriate when you have nothing else to upgrade and have money to burn.

    • Deano2099 says:

      I’m failing to see why an extra 10FPS (assuming you’re already running at 30FPS+) is strictly better than quicker loading times?

      Surely that’s just a matter of personal preference? Some people really see a difference between 40 and 60 FPS, some people like me can’t even tell. Some people get annoyed by long load times, some people don’t care.

      The nice thing about an SSD, is that unlike a graphics card upgrade, you feel the benefits outside of games too.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Let me tell a story about one of my favourite games, System Shock 2.

      It’s set on a space-ship. It loads as you move between sections. On my original PC – the one I reviewed it on – it took a couple of minutes or so to go between floors. As such, I tried my hardest to avoid going back a level. With System Shock 1 – with its seconds load between levels – I bounced between floors as tactics demanded it. With System Shock 2, I took a ship level pretty much as a level.

      I returned to it a few years later, with a much more powerful PC. Obviously, the loading collapsed and the game was transformed. It was the game it should be.

      Loading has always been my least favourite thing about PC gaming. Ironically, consoles are pretty much as a bad now but the constantly immersive worlds of a cartridge always struck me as the strongest card in the old-skool consoles. I find it laughable people talk about immersion in – say – Half-Life when every few minutes you stop for 20 seconds with the screen froze and the word LOADING appearing in enormous letters.

      To choose a current example, when playing Shogun, the thing which most makes me think about whether I want to fight a battle or not is whether I can face the minute or so it takes to load the battlefield. Point being: any game with any loading in and any kind of freeform structure – or even without – has its experience fundamentally altered by loading.

      (You remember Trials 2? Beautiful game. Midtown Madness too. Instant restarts. We can all think of similar arcade games, with similar quick-play structures, which are entirely ruined by the fact that a restart after an error takes too much time. In some games, even a handful of seconds can be too much time. All of it reduces the game.)

      Given a choice between playing a game on HIGH versus VERY HIGH graphic settings and having loading times cut by a factor of ten, I’ll lose loading.

      Of course, I’m not buying one because I’m lazy and can’t be bothered installing it.

      KG

    • Deano2099 says:

      Oh ye gods, entering and leaving houses in 3D RPGs…

      That said, Dragon Age Awakenings somehow still managed to give me minute long loads doing that on the SSD…

    • Deano2099 says:

      Actually I guess it sort of depends what sort of games you play. If you’re pretty much an exclusive player of linear man-shoots, or linear RTSs then yeah, it’s no great benefit.

      If you play a lot of open-world explorey stuff it’s a much bigger factor….

      But I can certainly see how someone that just wants to play CODBLOPS wouldn’t see a great improvement. But if you’re playing Fallout 3 or The Witcher…

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      Fallout 3 and The Witcher load up just fine on my platter.

      To each his own. Alec or Kieron want to buy an SSD, fine. Just don’t make it look like it’s a crucial upgrade for gamers. It will give the wrong idea to anyone not technically oriented and who may feel encouraged to spend money on something they actually don’t need that much. Of the whole class of computer users, gamers are in fact the ones who benefit the least from an SSD.

      This article is unfortunately not good advise.

    • SuperNashwan says:

      Tch, kids these days. I remember waiting ten minutes between every single turn of UFO: Enemy Unknown on my A600 as the feeble processor tried to crunch the AI. 20s off a level loading isn’t worth hundreds of pounds to me.

    • kavika says:

      @Pointless Puppies
      > low-lifespan

      This the part I chiefly disagree with. See the ars article linked elsewhere in the comments thread as to why this often isn’t actually an issue in real usage for many or most people.

      @Everyone

      I also agree with the previous posts about loading times altering gameplay. I don’t come back to Dangerous Joe after two playing sessions precisely because of this problem (and it is on one of my consoles, so I don’t know that I can fix this, or want to bother trying).

      Besides that, an SSD can greatly help outside games, especially in a laptop where HDs are notoriously slow, and Raid isn’t really an option.

  38. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    Gentlemen’s Relaxation Videos;
    New addition to my lexicon.

  39. yhalothar says:

    SSDs are awesome. The best thing about them is their random access time – you can load literally tens of applications at once on startup with relatively little impact on your boot time, whereas a traditional HDD would just choke.

  40. Jimbo says:

    I concur. I only started using one about a month ago but it’s night and day compared to the POS HDD I was using before.

    I ain’t a tech guy by any means, but shouldn’t it help with game performance if the game is pulling from the hard drive while you’re still playing (ie. without load screens)? I can’t think of a good example, because I don’t really know what I’m talking about (Skyrim maybe?) but that is a thing that can happen, right?

  41. Ginger Yellow says:

    Someone – maybe Anandtech, maybe Tom’s Hardware, maybe even Eurogamer, recently did a comparison of real world performance between SSDs and top quality hard drives in the context of replacing a PS3′s standard model. The SSDs came out very well. That said, given that I’ve filled up most of my 850 GB of storage and I haven’t even installed 10% of my Steam library, I’m not sure I could afford a big enough one to be useful.

  42. Horza says:

    I think I’ll stick to the cheaper fast windows loading by never turning it off (sleep mode ftw).

  43. something says:

    I truly believe that every PC gamer should make an SSD priority number one for their system upgrades, far above and beyond a new graphics card or processor.

    You’re wrong. A modern CPU + graphics card combo is necessary to make games work. An SSD is desirable but not needed.

    • sassy says:

      I don’t like your tone at all. Especially when you happen to be wrong. Alec clearly states that this will only affect loading times, at no point does he state that it will help you play the game itself (in fact goes into a bit of detail that it won’t).

      Alec is making the assumption that the majority of us have reasonable systems. A valid assumption for a PC Games blog. To run the games of today really doesn’t take much, good graphics cards from 4 years ago are still running all modern (non dx11) games. The assumption goes that most of us have the capability to play all modern games with some adjustments, so he believes our money will be better spent on an SSD as it will better improve the overall game experience far better than any graphics card will.

      Really people need to learn to read a whole article before commenting.

    • Deano2099 says:

      If your system is so old you can’t actually play current games on it, then you’re not in the market for performance upgrades. You’re in the market for something that lets you play the actual games. Obviously that’s more important.

      But it’s like me saying “actually, if you buy an Xbox 360 then you’ll be able to play Red Dead Redemption and Rock Band, which you can’t play on a PC, therefore a 360 is a better upgrade than an SSD”.

      Improving system performance isn’t the same as getting a system that will run games to start with.

  44. Sarlix says:

    “Rather than the traditional spinning magnetic platters”

    For a moment there I thought we were back in 1873.

    I’m still on a super lightweight version of XP, which does see me enter windows at around the minuet mark (from switching on my pc). However I can imagine these newfangled SSD’s could do much for in-game stuttering which can be found in the more open world games such as fallout(s) and the upcoming Skyrim do-dar.

  45. Megadyptes says:

    Totally gonna buy one of these in like five years when the prices come down. Can’t wait!

    • Frank says:

      Ditto.

    • SuperNashwan says:

      In five years’ time we’ll all be using memristor drives instead.

    • kavika says:

      @SuperNashwan

      Maybe this is sarcasm :)

      But in case it isn’t, it’s going to take more than 5 years for any significant changes to come down the pipe.

      The PC industry is iterative on purpose, to milk each research and plant-tech-install cow to a significant profit before moving on to the next one, spurred by profit-based competition, market saturation of the current tech, and new software to take advantage of iterative changes they *do* make. That’s why we don’t see new complete physical re-dos of our systems every year, and most “new” computing concepts are still from 60s-80s white papers.

      Plus, memristor would still be solid-state, would it not? (I don’t know that much about it, but it sure doesn’t look like there are any moving parts)

  46. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Wait, so does TRIM mean the degradation is no longer an issue or it just happens slower? The one reason I’ve pretty much written off SDD’s as an option for myself for the foreseeable future is I heard they have a life of about 2 years, and with those prices and the fact I’m not all that well off atm, so when I build a system I build it to last, I’ve pretty much been ignoring them.

    • James G says:

      TRIM solves the short term degradation issues which result in a reduction of performance over time. There are also protocols to ensure that writes are spread across the whole drive, which affect the write-cycle lifespan. IIRC these protocols aren’t strictly related to TRIM.

      Now, in terms of overall lifespan, SSDs still have a limited number of write cycles, but as far as I understand it this is drastically more than two years. Most information I found when choosing my new drive implied that in practical terms you don’t need to worry about SSD lifespan any more. (Besides, its not as though standard HDs live forever.)

    • JohnnyMaverik says:

      “Besides, its not as though standard HDs live forever.”

      Very true. As long as I can use it for up to five years with out having to worry about the life span (obviously not including random failures which are just luck of the draw) I’m good with it. Probably guna be building a new desktop (currently laptop bound, although it’s a fairly good one) before the end of 2012 so I guess I should probably start thinking about SSD’s or an SSD as an option.

    • steviesteveo says:

      This is really the problem with early models — everyone heard about the very early SSD having short lives and that has really affected how people see the technology even today.

      People are dismissing SSDs based on how they were back when we still used floppy drives.

  47. adonf says:

    Also to increase Windows loading time: hibernate mode. As someone mentioned earlier, it takes longer for my PC to go through the BIOS screens than to load windows and reopen my usual apps. And it costs exactly $0/$0/0€

  48. Nameless1 says:

    This is the site I’ve found more resourceful in this matter, I’ll link one of the last articles on the actual best ssd on the market (I don’t know if it has been already released). Enjoy :)
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4159/ocz-vertex-3-pro-preview-the-first-sf2500-ssd/1

    It is VERY important that you KNOW what you’re buying, in a market so young.

  49. Mooglepies says:

    Too expensive when a decent 1TB drive is plenty fast enough and far cheaper (opinion).

    I’d want my steam folder on it and currently these drives are too small to support that without spending crazy money. Or is there a way to install steam games outside the steam folder that I missed?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      My Steam install is on another HD, actually. I have a 120gb SSD and 2TB of other HDs.

    • James G says:

      Alec suggests using Symbolic links, which works quite well.

      Gamesave manager makes a lot of this easy if you don’t want to faff about with the command prompt, but there are plenty of other tools to achieve similar results.
      http://gsm.duncsweb.com/

    • Uglycat says:

      I cannot vouch for this as I haven’t tried it yet but: http://stefanjones.ca/steam/

    • Ilinx says:

      I run an SSD for Windows and Steam on separate, larger drive with symbolic links for the games I really, really care about. Works an absolute treat too!

    • steviesteveo says:

      Well, it only helps for files that are on the SSD.

    • IncredibleBulk92 says:

      Symbolic links sound really complicated. Just download the latest of gamesave manager. It’s almost as easy as using copy and paste.

      I want to buy an SSD too but if I do that I might as well get myself a new motherboard so I can actually plug it in and if I do that I need to buy myself a new CPU because intel no longer support 1156 socket… It’ll be expensive. Guess I’ll wait for SSD’s to go down in price.

  50. phuzz says:

    What Alec forgot to mention is:
    YOU KEEP YOUR OLD HARDDRIVE TOO
    So running out of space isn’t an issue, because you put all the ‘big’ stuff, and especially any pictures, documents, videos, pron etc that doesn’t need to be super fast on your spinning disk, and use the SSD for windows and a few games. This is where symlinks come in handy.
    I don’t have enough cash for an SSD in my main rig (got one at work though and it FLYS), but I only have an 80Gb windows partition and have had no problems at all, because i have a couple of other, big, harddrives for storage.
    Seriously, if you already have a big harddrive then a 120Gb SSD is big enough. And for the people saying “1Tb drive is fast and cheaper and bigger”, you’re missing quite how much faster an SSD is even than a really, really fast mechanical harddrive, I can’t emphasise enough how much quicker an SSD ‘feels’ compared to the old spinning platters.

    • roryok says:

      thanks, I was wondering if there was any issue with having an old spindle drive on the same system. My gaming / video editing rig at the moment has four harddrives – a 320GB, 2 x 250GBs and a 300GB IDE. Some are really slow old ones – the 250Gbs are 1st generation SATA drives with 8mb cache – but they’re handy for storing lots of video

      I’ve often felt like the drives are holding the rest of the system back though