Gear Check: Intel x25M 160GB Solid State Drive
Let's face it - for many casual gamers, most high-end PC upgrades aren't really necessary. I'm sure the majority of our readers are World of Warcraft players, and I'm sure we all know that Blizzard has gone out of their way to ensure that World of Warcraft will run on nearly
. It's good that they do this, as it allows more people to enjoy the game (albeit at lower settings) and ultimately they get more subscribers - win/win scenario. However, I wanted to talk to the rest you guys out there about a technology that is still relatively new to most consumer computer users -
solid state drives
- and give you guys an idea of what they could mean for you, and your gaming experiences!
I'm sure some of our more tech-savvy users have at least heard of solid state drives, or SSDs as they are most commonly called. Some of you might even be using them in your computer (you lucky dogs)! Intel gave us a few of our own to test-drive, so I'd like to introduce you guys to the future of hard drives with simple pros and cons, elaborated on in ways that any Azerothian can understand!
Solid State Drives (SSD) Are Fast (Like, Really Fast)
This might as well be the understatement of the century. When I say fast, I don't mean like epic mount fast - I'm talking like epic mount with
strapped on running for dear life away from Deathwing fast. One of the main selling points of SSDs is the drastic decrease in access times, which means pretty much
loads faster. Your files will open faster and save faster, your games will load faster and your general computer experience as a whole will improve. No joke. We did some in-house tests in two different PC configurations to get some of the stats and speeds that actually matter out to you guys.
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Quad CPU Q9550 @ 2.83GHz
Memory (RAM): 4.00 GB
Graphics: ATI Radeon HD 5800 Series
Gaming graphics: 2175 MB Total available graphics memory
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7 CPU 920 @ 2.67GHz
Memory (RAM): 12.0 GB
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 x2
Gaming graphics: 4095 MB Total available graphics memory
I've been using a fairly decent hard drive for some time, as my primary drive is a 300GB 10000 RPM Western Digital Velociraptor, so I wasn't expecting as huge of a performance increase as I would see starting with a domestic 7200 RPM drive. Haha, boy was I wrong. I decided to set up two of the Intel x25M 160GB drives in my machine, one with my OS / essential programs and another with just games on it. So far, it's all been better than expected.
I opted to do a fresh OS install on the first drives, and got to installing Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. Everything was ready to go and operating system was completely finished installing and set up in 15 minutes, tops. I quickly got to installing some small, essential programs, such as web browsers and other web apps. The programs were installing so fast, the 'Finish' button would show up immediately after hitting 'Next.' It was actually kind of unsettling to get used to, I'd look away or even just blink for a second and when I'd look back, the progress bar would be gone and I'm like "Wait, it already installed, right?" Unsettling but entirely
Once we got everything set up and installed (which didn't take long), TheOnyx and I ran a few "test runs" of common scenarios that I thought you guys could definitely relate to!
World of Warcraft
From clicking "Play" in the launcher to being in-game, minus password entry.
I wanted to elaborate a bit on how using solid state drives improved the quality of gameplay in World of Warcraft, since (after all) this will probably be one of the more relative perks. The increase in performance is noticeable immediately, with initial loading screen zooming by in a matter of seconds. Every other loading screen follows suit, making teleporting into dungeons, cities, etc. far quicker and much smoother. Once you've gotten there, models in even the most packed areas load immediately - no more invisible players riding on mounts, not yet loaded. One of the first things I noticed is that when I flew into Dalaran on my flying mount (pre-patch, mind you), there were immediately players loaded there, waiting for me. Typically, even with my slightly above average setup I'd still load in to a fully empty city and players would then load around me - not with the solid state drive! Performance in highly populated areas (such as raids, battlegrounds) was also perfectly smooth, no spell effect lag - nothing! So good...
We also tested the speeds of some other regular, everyday tasks:
Operating System Load
From power button to when I was on the desktop and the cursor stopped showing the thinking icon.
From clicking on the application to the login screen.
From DirectX prompt to the "Click to Continue" dialog before the menu
In both games, in-game menus and maps loaded quickly.
It's also worth mentioning that switching from normal HD to the SSD improved our
Windows Experience Index
Windows Experience Index
Not yet convinced? Lore from TankSpot has done a video review of his own SSD impressions - check it out!
Freakin' awesome, isn't it? So why not use a solid state drive? The main limitations stopping most users from adopting solid state drives into their lives are the size of the drives available, and the price of said drives. Solid state drives are, right now, extremely small in comparison to the standard 7200 RPM drives available, which cost mere pennies per GB (roughly $.10 per GB) of storage capacity. The average consumer can easily purchase high quality drives with 2TB of storage for well under $100. Solid state drives, however, are typically lower capacity, and the price per gigabyte of storage is
quite a bit
higher, averaging about $1.50 - 2.00 per GB (in comparison, a 1TB SSD would runs well over $4000)!
Thankfully, for most consumers, a drive of such capacity is totally unnecessary and you can easily (and affordably) get all of the great benefit of a solid state drive in a small, 64GB to 160GB package. If you're iffy about the price point, or the small size of the drive, remember that you don't have to use exclusively solid state drives in your rig. You can get all of the blazing fast awesomeness of using a solid state drive for your operating system, and any core essential programs that you will be using often, which will greatly maximize performance of these applications. Because solid state drives do not require defragmenting, read times are consistent and you can ensure that your programs, files and applications will always open as quickly as possible! You can easily use another, slower hard drive for storage of music, video and any non-essential files.
All in all, our team was entirely impressed with the increase in performance the solid state drives brought to games such as World of Warcraft, Starcraft II and just general functions (such as everyday work). Everything ran ridiculously smooth, load times were snappy, and game performance in general was pretty damn remarkable. I'd have to say that if you can afford it, you can justify it, cause solid state drives are definitely worth the upgrade!
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