Comparing SSDs and hard drives
As in my 2009 article, I tested an SSD and a popular, well-performing consumer hard drive to see how they rate for performance, cost and general usability: the Intel Solid-State Drive 520 Series (240GB capacity; $275 to $415) and Western Digital's 500GB WD Black (previously called the Scorpio Black), a 7200rpm 2.5-in. hard disk drive with 16MB of DRAM ($112 to $262). I also checked out a hybrid drive: Seagate's Momentus XT Solid State Hybrid Drive (750GB; $195 to $324), which includes a 7200rpm 2.5-in. drive with a SATA 6Gb/s interface. A 500GB version of Momentus sells for as little as $89.99.
(When requesting test units, I asked the companies for their highest-capacity review models. While capacity affects SSD performance, it really doesn't affect hard drive performance -- at least, not until the drive is filled.)
How I tested
For the benchmark tests, I used an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion, with 8GB of RAM and a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7 processor.
To measure read/write performance, I used the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. To determine file transfer speeds, I used a 1.19GB folder that held 327 JPG images. The file was transferred from a desktop folder to the hard drive.
Additionally, I tested application load time by opening a 10MB PowerPoint presentation and a 372-page, 300KB Microsoft Word document.
The Intel 520 Series SSD
I started with the Intel 520 Series SSD. According to the specifications from the manufacturer, it had the best performance potential of all three drives I tested.
The SSD was actually tested on two separate platforms: First, I ran the tests described above using my MacBook Pro with an SATA 3.0 internal drive interface. However, because SSDs will perform better right out of the box than after they've been filled with data, I decided to also send the SSD to a professional drive testing service, Calypso Systems, which benchmarks drives for drive vendors and system manufacturers.
Testing the SSD with a MacBook
Microsoft Word opened in about two seconds, which would allow a user to begin writing to the top of a document, or reading it, regardless of its size. However, the Word document took 57 seconds to load all 372 pages, so you couldn't access the later pages until it had finished loading.
Opening a 10MB Power Point presentation took 2 seconds. Copying the 327 JPG images took 15 seconds.
The Blackmagic benchmarking software recorded a maximum read rate of 456MB/sec. and a write rate of 241MB/sec. using 4KB blocks.