The Macbook Air SSD Performance Boost: Pretty Much Non-Existent

Illustration for article titled The Macbook Air SSD Performance Boost: Pretty Much Non-Existent

The gang over at Ars Technica got their hands on both an SSD-packed Macbook Air as well as a regular, HDD-equipped model and then put both through their paces to see if the $1,300 difference in price was worth it. So they had two computers, both exactly the same save a 200Mhz bump in processor speed and a swapping out of a 4200rpm PATA drive for a hot, hot SSD drive. So did the performance shoot through the roof, confirming all of our wildest wet dreams about SSDs? Uh, no, not really.


In a series of benchmarks, both Macbook Air variants had their asses handed to them by their beefier cousins, the Macbook and the Macbook Pro. But even when just comparing the two Macbook Air models there was such a tiny difference in performance as to make it unnoticeable. Booting up was quicker (about 12 seconds quicker, to be exact), yes, but still slower than a Santa Rosa Macbook Pro. And while random disk tests and reading from the disk was a bit faster on the SSD model, due to slower read times than the HDD, it actually performed worse when it came to sequential disk tests and general writing to the disk.

But what about battery life, that had to be way better, right? Nope. Battery life wasn't affected at all, strangely enough, with the SSD model providing a paltry 2.5 hours of use before needing to be recharged. In fact, it seems like there was really only one place where the performance was better on the SSD model.

However, one major difference I saw while using the SSD model is that it didn't suffer entire machine slowdowns when there was a lot of disk activity—or at least less so than the HDD model. When reviewing the HDD model, using a high I/O browser like Firefox or transferring files over the network to my hard drive threw me more beachballs than a Girls Gone Wild party and rendered the machine relatively useless. The SSD model exhibited little of this behavior—if I were to take my totally unscientific experience and translate it into a number, I would say that such slowdowns were reduced by 90 percent.

So that's a plus, right? But is it a $1,300 plus? No, clearly it isn't. Especially when taking into account that the boost in processor speed and HDD speed on the larger Macbooks and Macbook Pros solves the same problem for less money, you've gotta wonder why anyone would make such a costly upgrade.

It's a bit of a reality check for those of us (myself included) who assumed that slapping an SSD into a laptop would automatically make it noticeably faster and increase the battery life by a sizable margin. Sure, they're great and are clearly an improvement over platter-based drives, but are they worth dropping a lot of money on before the prices drop to something reasonable? It sure doesn't look that way. [Ars Technica]


Click to view

[Ed. Note:P.S. Please Digg the Ars story if you thought this research was useful.]


I swapped out a standard hard drive in a Dell laptop with an SSD, and (shock of shocks) found the same results that the MacBook Air comparisons did.

1. It was slightly faster at booting up.

2. There was virtually no difference in energy use. (This surprised me.)

3. The laptop ran cooler and quieter since the fan did not need to come on, and there was no hard drive noise.

4. Some things were faster and some slower in using the laptop.

It was an interesting experiment, but ultimately I was convinced that SSD technology is not worth pursuing unless the price difference is only a few bucks. In other words, it is still a couple years off.