Personal computers pre-configured with SSD drives?

One of the things that I learned in Seattle is that an Intel SSD drive can speed up a personal computer by 3-10X, depending on the task. An SSD boot drive is apparently becoming standard for employee desktop computers at Microsoft. The question therefore is why isn’t it easy to order a desktop PC pre-configured with the operating system and applications on an SSD drive? Neither Dell nor HP, for example, tries to sell consumers machines that boot from an SSD drive (though Dell will sell “workstations” that boot from SSD and XPS laptops that boot from SSD). Given the huge performance boost that the Microsoft experts report from using the latest fancy Intel drive, why isn’t it something that almost everyone wants? (If the answer is that people need an extra terabyte or two for storing video, the PCs in question all contain enough room in the case for a $150 traditional hard drive in addition.)

15 Comments

  1. Chua Chong Han

    July 16, 2010 @ 11:59 pm

    1

    There’s probably a couple (and more) reasons:
    1) The maturity of SSD as a tech is not yet known as of yet. The reliability of SSD drives are kinda sketchy as we speak, and if the failure rate is higher than normal hdd, it would be a support nightmare when the boot drive goes down.
    2) The cost per gb for oem/retail drives still hover about 2.7USD/GB. Probably not profitable
    3) There’s probably still supply issue for mass scale deployment.
    4) Price for consumer machines are still racing to the bottom. Having an expensive drive would not have massive advantages in terms of marketing.

    Despite all that I mentioned, I’m a believer in SSD tech. I currently boot from an Intel SSD. The Sony Zs come with SSD only option on the higher end. MBPs can configure with SSDs also. And it’s true, SSD is the best upgrade you can give any computer, especially with Windows.

  2. gwern

    July 17, 2010 @ 1:40 am

    2

    I’d wager on consumer stupidity. SSDs are so expensive, and so much smaller than regular drives, and the OEMs see hard drives as a place to bank savings. Consumers are not savvy enough to care and will just notice the increased price per GB. And I think it’s questionable that SSDs would be that valuable to ordinary consumers anyway: Microsoft workloads are dramatically different from consumer workloads. Compilation comes to mind as something consumers never do but benefits greatly from SSDs. What hard-drive intensive operations do consumers do? Watch movies? (But spinning disks can beat SSDs for large linear reads…)

    (I am typing this on my new laptop, which took me a week of shopping to find an OEM – any OEM – which offered a laptop with 7200RPM hard drive rather than 5k RPM. Not as dramatic a performance boost as an SSD, it is true, but still substanial.)

  3. Samat Jain

    July 17, 2010 @ 2:56 am

    3

    Take a look at the price to the model you linked—they’re still too expensive, so much so that OEM manufacturers who survive on charging high-margins for inexpensive components don’t even bother.

  4. Tom

    July 17, 2010 @ 5:03 am

    4

    Cost to usefulness ratio?
    Having SSD standard isn’t likely yet – SSDs are still fairly pricey vs a 7500rpm hard drive per GB. As an option / BTO option it’s likely to become more standard. Its likely hybrid drives which are starting to come out now might be more likely to be used once they’re proven for reliability and speed.
    More likely to gain traction soon than the Optibay “rme I’ve optical disc drive and replace with HD/SSD option.

  5. informatimago

    July 17, 2010 @ 8:31 am

    5

    SSD are write once read multiple. Or rather write O(1) times, and read O(n) times.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solid-state_drive

    Flash-memory drives have limited lifetimes and will often wear out after 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 P/E cycles (1,000 to 10,000 per cell) for MLC, and up to 5,000,000 P/E cycles (100,000 per cell) for SLC. Special file systems or firmware designs can mitigate this problem by spreading writes over the entire device, called wear leveling.

    For example, last week I had to compile, install a debug a new kernel. I probably ate 10% of the lifetime of the boot sector of a SSD. I don’t want to lose my disk just because I’m writing on it!

  6. philg

    July 17, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    6

    Thanks, folks. I hadn’t considered the possibility that these things wear out faster than a mechanical hard drive! I guess this is why my professional photographer friends periodically experience CF card failure. The Intel data sheet is curiously silent on the subject of failure after X number of writes. They quote MTBF as 1.2M hours (136 years). They don’t mention that you could wear it out in a week simply by changing your mind about what you wanted to store!

    Perhaps these are popular for laptops because people expect laptops to fail after 2-3 years due to impact abuse.

  7. Brent

    July 17, 2010 @ 11:54 am

    7

    Phil, they’re primarily popular for laptops because, for one, they consume less power than a mechanical drive, and for another, they’re dead silent. Neither advantage is as important or noticeable in a desktop system.

  8. Keith B.

    July 17, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

    8

    Good question Phil, and good answers too. The hard drive is the slowest primary component of a computer system, and often overlooked as an area for performance gains.

    I would *love* to have one, but as Chua points out above, at $2 or $3 per GB it’s awfully expensive, considering I can get a 1 TB platter for about $0.75 per GB (highly rated Samsung SpinPoint SATA 1TB at NewEgg, $75: http://j.mp/dATkt7).

    In addition, I always “RAID” up my disk drives in a redundant mirror, currently running four HD’s in a “mirror of stripes” or RAID-10 (relatively expensive, but very fast). I have learned multiple times the hard way that hard drives can and will fail. (I believe you mentioned in an earlier post that you had never had a failure? Lucky you if so…) One of my favorite quotes on the subject: “The difference between a good hard drive and a bad one is that the good one hasn’t failed yet.”

    So that 2x’s the cost… You can get around this duplicate hardware requirement with a good backup policy — but this is beyond the technical ken of most folks.

    SSDs are definitely the way of the future, and as soon as the quirks (need to set TRIM), issues (short write life), and costs (3x normal drives) are worked out, we’ll see them replacing mechanical drives much as LCDs replaced CRT monitors.

    Keith

  9. philg

    July 17, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    9

    Brent: The Microsoft folks reported that boot times went from 40 seconds down to 4 seconds with the SSD drive. I think the video editing crowd uses SSD drives too (see the posting on building a PC for video editing for the suggestions from professionals). So I agree that the benefits would be more significant for laptops, but they still seem to be there for desktops (I reboot my Windows XP desktop machine every week or two, so I guess saving 36 seconds per week isn’t hugely significant, but waiting for a supposedly blazing fast computer is annoying beyond the actual seconds consumed).

  10. Apere006

    July 17, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

    10

    Any good ssd drive should last longer than a normal hard drive and when it does wear out it can still be read from. The stability issues are going to come from the aggressive tweaking of the driver firmware of the ssd drives for performance gains.

    As an aside there is no reason to pay extra for a ssd from Dell, hp, etc… The drives are much slower and get slower the more you use it

  11. Samat Jain

    July 18, 2010 @ 3:28 am

    11

    I don’t have the source on hand, but Intel supposedly rates the X25-M to do 20 GB ofwrites a day for 5 years.

  12. David Wihl

    July 18, 2010 @ 6:01 am

    12

    My Lenovo laptop, which I use as an EFB boots off a SSD. SSDs are crtitical in a plane as most hard disks are rated to only 10,000′ elevation (they need a cushion of air for the head to float off the platter). i also have a regular hard drive for the expansion slot to run things like large VMware images. Windows 7 is a lot smarter about SSD usage and will minimize re-writes to expand lifetime. Vista is horrible about this.

  13. ScottE

    July 19, 2010 @ 1:58 pm

    13

    I can’t answer your question, but my new Seagate Momentus XT hybrid SSD/spinning disk drive seems to give me much of the benefits of SSD along with 500GB storage for an OK price. Bootup and application launch are much faster.

  14. DaveB

    July 20, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

    14

    “The Innovator’s Dilemma” has a very detailed analysis of how each new generation of disk drive technology has been adopted. I assume a lot of this is relevant to the SSD.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Innovators-Dilemma-Technologies-Cause-Great/dp/0875845851/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279655666&sr=8-1

  15. Kalle

    July 31, 2010 @ 11:14 am

    15

    Note that all Apple computers (except the mini) can be ordered with SSD:s from factory.

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