Return to Solid State

Three years ago, I first reviewed an SSD (solid-state drive) under Linux. At the time, I had an ultra-portable laptop with a 4200rpm hard drive that really bogged down the performance on what was otherwise a pretty snappy little machine. Although there definitely were SSD reviews around, I didn't notice many comprehensive reviews for Linux. Instead of focusing strictly on benchmarks, I decided to focus more on real-world tests. In the end, I saw dramatic increases in speed for the SSD compared to my 4200rpm drive.

That may have been true back then, but what about today? For example, one thing that always bothered me about my first comparison was the fact that at the time, I had only a 4200rpm 1.8" drive available to me, and I was limited by my ATA/66 bus speed. My new laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad X200s, came with a 7200rpm 2.5" SATA drive, and ever since I got the laptop, I've been curious to repeat my experiment with modern equipment. How would a modern SSD hold up to a modern 7200rpm SATA drive in real-world Linux use? Recently, Intel was kind enough to provide me with a review unit of its new 320 SSD line, a follow-up to the X25 SSD line, so I decided to repeat my experiments.

My Testing Methodology

As in the previous review, I focus mostly on real-world performance tests, but I still throw in some raw benchmark numbers for those of you in the crowd who are curious. Where it made sense, I ran multiple tests to confirm I got consistent results, and here, I report the best performance for each drive. Also, when I was concerned about file-caching skewing results, I booted the machine from scratch before a test. The 7200rpm drive is a 160GB Fujitsu MHZ2160B, and after its tests, I transferred an identical filesystem to the 160GB Intel 320 SSD.

Test 1: GRUB to Log In

I'll be honest, I actually don't boot my laptop all that much. My battery life is good enough that I usually just close the laptop lid when I'm not using it; it suspends to RAM, and I resume my session later. That said, distributions, such as Ubuntu, have focused on boot times in the past couple releases, and my 7200rpm drive seemed to boot Ubuntu 10.04 pretty fast, so I was curious whether I even would see an improvement with the SSD. I used a stopwatch to measure the time between pressing Enter at the GRUB prompt to when I saw the login screen. The boot process is both processor- and disk-intensive, and although the 7200rpm was fast, it turns out there still was room for improvement:

  • 7200rpm: 27 seconds

  • SSD: 16 seconds

Test 2: Log In to Desktop

The next logical test was to time how long it takes from the login screen until reaching a full, functioning desktop. In my case, that meant I started the stopwatch after I typed my password and pressed Enter, and I stopped the stopwatch once my desktop loaded and my terminals and Firefox appeared on the screen. In this case, the SSD really stood out by loading my desktop in less than half the time:

  • 7200rpm: 22 seconds

  • SSD: 9 seconds

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Kyle Rankin is SVP of Security and Infrastructure at Zero, the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and a columnist for Linux Journal. Follow him @kylerankin