Like any technology geek real world performance of a component is the most important aspect for me when I’m looking to purchase new hardware. Everyone knows manufacturer’s can’t be trusted with ratings, especially when they come up with their own systems that provide big numbers that mean absolutely nothing, so I primarily base my purchasing decisions based on aggregating reviews from various sources around the Internet in order to get a clear picture of which brand/revision I should get. After that point I usually go for the best performance per dollar as whilst it’s always nice to have the best components the price differential is usually not worth the leap, mostly because you won’t notice the incremental increase. There are of course notable exceptions to this hard and fast rule and realistically my decision in the end wasn’t driven by rational thought so much as it was pure geeky lust after the highest theoretical performance.
Solid State Drives present quite an interesting value proposition for us consumers. They are leaps and bounds faster than their magnetic predecessors thanks to their ability to access data instantaneously and their extremely high throughput rates. Indeed with the hard drive being the bottleneck of performance for nearly every computer in the world the most effective upgrade you can get is that of a SSD. Of course nothing can beat magnetic hard drives for their cost, durability and capacity so it’s very unlikely that we’ll be seeing the end of them anytime soon. Still the enormous gap that separates SSDs from any other storage medium brings about some interesting issues of its own: benchmarks, especially synthetic ones, are almost meaningless for end users.
I’ll admit I was struck by geek lust when I saw the performance specs for the OCZ Vertex 3, they were just simply amazing. Indeed the drive has matched up to my sky high expectations with me being able to boot, login and open up all my applications in the time it took my previous PC just to get to the login screen. Since then I’ve been recommending the Vertex 3 to anyone who was looking to get a new drive but just recently OCZ announced their new budget line of SSDs, the Agility 3. Being almost $100 cheaper and sporting very similar performance specs to that of the Vertex it’s a hard thing to argue against especially when you consider just how fast these SSDs are in the first place.
Looking at the raw figures it would seem like the Agility series are around 10% slower than their Vertex counterparts on average, which isn’t bad for a budget line. However when you consider that the 10% performance gap is the difference between your windows loading in 6.3 seconds rather than 7 and your applications launching in 0.9 seconds instead of 1 then the gap doesn’t seem all that big. Indeed I’d challenge anyone to be able to spot the differences between two identical systems configured with different SSDs as these kinds of performance differences will only matter to benchmarkers and people building high traffic systems.
Indeed one of my mates had been running a SSD for well over a year and a half before I got mine and from what he tells me the performance of units back then was enough for him to not notice any slow down after not formatting for that entire time. Likely then if you’re considering getting a SSD but are turned off by the high price of current models you’ll be quite happy with the previous generation as the perceived performance will be identical. Although with the Agility 3 120GB version going for a mere $250 the price difference between generations isn’t really that much anymore.
Realistically SSDs are just the most prominent example of why synthetic benchmarks aren’t a good indicator of real world performance. There’s almost always an option that will provide similar performance for a drastically reduced price and for the end user the difference will likely be unnoticeable. SSDs are just so far away from their predecessors that the differentials between the low and high end are usually not worth mentioning, especially if you’re upgrading from good old spinning rust. Of course there will always be geeks like me whose lust will overcome their sensibility and reach for the ultimate in performance, which is why those high end products still exist today.