For most people, computer hard drives are not very exciting. So you may be surprised that I have decided to review one for this installment of Gadget Corner. However, this hard drive is unlike any other I have ever used.
The first hard disk drive was introduced by IBM in 1956. These drives feature rotating platters on a motor-driven spindle—similar to a record on a record player. Data is magnetically read from and written to the platter by heads that float above the platters.
Over the last several years, a new format has been making its way into the marketplace, especially for portable systems: solid state drives (). Just like traditional hard disk drives ( ), SSDs allow you to save data, images and music. Where they differ is in the execution. Whereas hard disk drives write data to, and read from, spinning platters, solid state drives store data on memory chips. Simply put, a solid state drive is a much larger version of the flash drive you may have in your digital camera.
Three advantages SSDs have over HDDs are speed, power, and longevity. Traditional hard disk drives, no matter how fast they are, still have to move their read heads over the platters (envision a needle on a record). Solid state drives, in contrast, have no moving parts. This allows them to read and write data at much higher speeds.
Also, since there are no moving parts, SSDs use less power and produce less heat than a traditional hard disk drive. This means they don’t draw down a laptop battery as quickly as HDDs, which is why you tend to find solid state drives in portable systems. Lastly, the lack of moving parts in a solid state drive significantly lowers the likelihood of mechanical failure.
These benefits carry with them a pretty steep price premium. However, for those of you looking for maximum drive speeds, a solid state drive may be worth the price.
For the last couple of months I have been using an SSD drive on one of AAII’s development systems; specifically, a 240 gigabyte (G) Mercury Extreme Pro SSD from OWC (Other World Computing). My experience has demonstrated the benefits of using SSDs with applications and processes that require a lot of data writing and reading.
There are numerous third-party benchmark tests comparing the performance of the Mercury Extreme to other SSDs. However, what I find most important is real-world performance. I used the Mercury Extreme Pro on a system we use to process data for AAII’s Stock Investor Pro fundamental stock screening and research database program. This involves the extraction and processing of hundreds of gigabytes of data. In relation to comparable systems we also use, I found that the Mercury Extreme Pro lowered our processing times by anywhere from 25% to 33%, not an insignificant performance boost considering that some of these processes take days to complete.
According to the OWC website, the Mercury Extreme Pro SSD has read speeds that are over 45 times faster than a standard HDD and write speeds that are over 35 times faster. Some of the fastest HDDs have peak data read rates of 80 megabits per second, while OWC claims maximum data read rates for the Mercury Extreme Pro of 280 megabits per second, almost four times faster.
The performance of the Mercury Extreme Pro (and all SSDs) carries with them a pretty stiff price premium. As I have written in the past, I feel that, for this reason, these ultra high-performance drives are intended for those needing maximum speed—namely, enterprise users and those performing heavy disk read/write functions. I don't feel that these drives are intended for the typical PC user.
The 240G drive we tested retails from OWC for $500, or approximately $2.08 per gigabyte. By comparison, you can find standard 250G hard disk drives for around $40, or $0.16 per gigabyte (a 1,200% difference).
OWC claims that the Mercury Extreme Pro SSD is one of the fastest internal SSDs available today. Based on our tests, there is no doubt that this drive is fast. For the end-user, the decision will probably come down to the cost of such a drive. For the type of work we do at AAII, cutting a half a day off our data processing is well worth the price of the drive. For the typical computer user, the price premium may be much too steep.
OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD
From $99 (40G) to $919 (480G); available only from OWC
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.