Next to a laptop's screen, the hard drive is one of the most sensitive parts you need to be concerned with. Samsung's new SSD (solid state disk) replaces a hard disk drive with flash memory (NAND flash, to be precise). The result: a more reliable, quieter, cooler, and faster way to operate your laptop. (Editor's note: We're honoring a request from Samsung Electronics Co., not to reveal the make or model of the laptop the company supplied for our testing purposes.)
Our test laptop was equipped with a 64GB capacity Samsung SSD drive (ironically, the parts list shows the drive as "60GB hard drive 5400RPM motor" despite the fact that there are no spinning platters or motor inside the ordinary-looking 2.5" drive case. The no-moving-parts characteristic is, in part, what protects your data longer, since accidentally bumping your laptop won't scramble your stored files. Samsung says the drive can withstand an operating shock of 1,500Gs at .5 miliseconds (versus 300Gs at 2 miliseconds for a traditional hard drive). The drive is heartier in one other important way: Mean time between failure is rated at over 2 million hours, versus under 500,000 hours for the company's other drives.
Other specifications are equally impressive: the drive weighs just 73g, though the weight advantage was somewhat lost on the system, which weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces (add another full pound with the power brick and cord).
Other specifications are equally "small": power consumption is just 1 watt when the system is active, 0.1 watt when idle, and .06 watt in standby mode. (Equivalent power consumption figures with hard drives are 2.1, 1.5, and .2 watts, respectively.) That could explain why we got 5 hours, 22 minutes of power in Max Battery mode when surfing the Web, creating documents with OpenOffice, or uploading and downloading files to an FTP server. Samsung claims its drive extends typical battery life by 30 minutes per full charge.
The laptop seemed sprightlier than the Sony laptop with a flash drive we recently tested (see: "Review: Sony's flash-based notebook - a road warrior's dream". That may be due, in part, to the fact that our test system used Windows XP; the Sony came preinstalled with Vista, which is notable for its slower performance. Saving a large file in OpenOffice -- from large spreadsheets to multi-page documents with graphics -- was over in a flash, if you'll pardon the pun. Web downloads, application installs, and program launches all completed quickly.
Samsung rates the drive with a read speed of 100MB/sec and write speed of 80 MB/sec, compared to 59MB/sec and 60MB/sec (respectively) for a traditional 2.5" hard drive. We ran several benchmarks. In our HD Tune performance tests, the drive turned in an average transfer speed of 28.6 MB/sec with .3ms average access time. Burst speed was 25.5MB/sec with 4.5% CPU utilization. HD Tach tests using both 8MB and 32MB blocks for testing measured the burst speed at 30.8MB/sec, the average sequential read speed at 28.0MB/sec. HD Tach won't measure write speeds on primary drives, so we turned to Fresh Diagnose, which reported an average write speed of 11.65 MB/sec.
The Samsung SSD is much like a Toyota Prius hybrid: it makes virtually no noise when it operates. Something else you'll give up: there is no vibration when you read or write files, another reason for the drive's longevity. Another advantage of a flash-based drive will be of interest to users operating a laptop in less than ideal conditions. Samsung says its drive can operate in a temperature range of -25 to 85 degrees Celsius; platter-based drives typically operate in 5 and 55 degrees Celsius.
As with any drive, capacity is always an issue. The 64GB-capacity drive came with 55.8GB free, partly because the laptop wasn't cluttered with trialware. That's double the capacity of the Sony drive, and a more reasonable capacity for a laptop used for business.
While the benchmark results may not wow you, the drive is plenty fast enough to not bog down when opening applications or saving multi-page, graphic-rich content. It's quiet and cool operation make it a good choice for your next laptop.
Rich Ericson is a northwest-based technology writer and is the Reviews Editor of The Office Letter, a site devoted to tips for Microsoft Office.