When I first got my Samsung N120 Netbook, I really liked its compact size, very long battery life and how well it handles even heavy multimedia websites. With the lengthy time it took to open the web browser, launch applications and go into and out of hibernation, I knew it was time to replace its HDD with something quicker.
As the HDD LED was flashing regularly especially during boot, I decided to try Seagate’s Momentus XT hybrid HDD. While this helped cut down the boot time, it only cut a little off the hibernation, since its SSD cache only works for frequently read data and not the individual offloading of RAM to disk each time the laptop goes into hibernation. Another problem with this hybrid HDD is that whenever the Netbook was placed on a table or other hard surface, it hummed stronger than the original Hitachi HDD.
I was initially put off trying an SSD due to all the 120GB SSDs costing over half the price of the Netbook, but with the Vertex Plus 120GB priced at €115, I finally decided to give this a try.
Before I start, let’s have a quick look at the main OCZ Vertex Plus 120GB Specifications:
- Read speed: Up to 250 MB/s (sequential)
- Write speed: Up to 160 MB/s (sequential)
- Random 4K: 4,800 IOPS (Aligned)
- TRIM Support
- Seek Time: 0.1ms
- Weight: 88g
- Power consumption: 1.5W Active, 0.3W Standby
- Shock resistant up to 1500G
- RAID Support
- MTBF: 1.5 million hours
- 3-Year warranty
Full specifications are available at OCZ Technology.
For this quick review, I carried out real-world tests of this SSD in the following two Netbooks:
- Dell Inspiron mini 10v – (Atom 1.6GHz, 1GB RAM)
- Samsung N120 – (Atom 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM)
Dell Netbook: I installed Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit on a Hitachi 160GB, fully patched up to date (apart from 5 .Net Framework patches to test timing) and with any necessary drivers added. Apart from Avast home edition, no other software was installed. This was then mirrored to the SSD using dd_rescue.
Samsung N120: I mirrored the existing Windows XP installation to the SSD using dd_rescue, which includes all the software, updates and usage since it was originally purchased. Due to two years of usage, this installation has also slowed down significantly, so the boot test would give an idea how the SSD would perform on a Netbook with an aged Netbook OS.
Note: To reduce testing time, I ran different tests on both Netbooks, with the only test in common being the boot up timing.
Let’s start with a few quick synthetic benchmarks with the SSD in my desktop PC:
While the 4K read/write tests are far behind most modern SSDs, it’s worth noting that these are still much higher than even the fastest hard disks on the market. So even as a desktop HDD upgrade, these should give a dramatic boost in performance. It’s also worth noting that the difference between this SSD and the fastest SSDs would be barely noticeable to most consumers who don’t do any heavy multi tasking or carry out disk intensive tasks.
H2TestW Data corruption test
Before I proceed with the Netbook tests, one concern I had with this SSD is a data loss issue I saw reported in user reviews on Amazon. This issue is reported to be fixed in firmware v1.55, but as this SSD was supplied with firmware v1.5, I decided to run the H2TestW utility, which completely fills up the drive with random data and reads it back to check for any data corruption.
I then ran it a second time, but again without any issue. So this time I fully switched off the PC for a short while, booted it up and just ran the Verify process. Again this passed without any issue:
For curiosity, I ran the CrystalDiskMark test once more and despite two complete fillings in a row, the SSD is at least as quick as out of the box:
To be on the safe side I upgraded the firmware to v1.55, which was easily done using OCZ’s boot CD firmware update. Basically, to carry out this process, the SATA port must first be set to IDE mode in the BIOS with AHCI disabled, then boot the CD and follow the steps to apply the firmware update. Finally the SATA port must be set back to native mode with AHCI enabled in the BIOS.
The Dell Inspiron Mini 10v is one of Dell’s Netbooks from the time most manufacturers released their own equivalent models. Like most Netbooks from about two years ago, this features the Atom N270 1.6GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, a 10” screen and Windows XP Home. Unlike the Mini 10, the RAM in the 10v could be upgraded to 2GB, but for this review I left it with 1GB as this model must be fully dismantled including removal of the motherboard just to get to the RAM module!
After I cloned the HDD to the SSD, I placed the HDD back in the Netbook and ran the initial timings on the tests. After this, I installed the SSD and reran retimed the tests:
Boot up timings:
To my surprise, the SSD did very little improvement for start-up performance on the Dell Netbook. These timings were rerun a few times and they were quite consistent. On the other hand, when I brought up the task manager the moment the desktop appeared, it become quite clear that it was not the SSD at fault, but the limited CPU power, as the CPU was maxed out for roughly 30 seconds after the desktop appears.
Install .NET Framework Windows Updates
Just after I thought I had all the Windows updates applied, 5 more showed up, all .NET framework related. Anyone who has installed .NET framework patches is probably aware just how lengthy these updates take to apply, so let’s see whether having an SSD in the Netbook reduces the installation time. These timings were timed from the moment of clicking “Install updates” to when the “Restart Now” icon appeared:
The saving this time was 3.5 minutes. Again like Windows Start-up, it appears that most of this time installing these updates is down to CPU time. Unfortunately, like most Dell Inspiron laptops, this Netbook lacks a HDD LED, but even while installing the updates with the HDD inside, I heard very little HDD seeking activity, giving the indication that the most of the installation time is result of the sluggish Atom CPU.
Install Microsoft Office 2007 Professional
While most computers now come preloaded with Microsoft Office, requiring just the product key to activate, most Netbooks do not have this package preinstalled, especially not the full professional version. So I timed the installation between the time of clicking the “Install” button to when the “Installation complete” screen appeared.
While still a lengthy installation with the SSD, the few minutes saving is more noticeable this time than with the Windows updates. On the other hand, this installation is still much longer than the typical 5 minute installation on a more powerful desktop PC.
When it’s time to put away the Netbook, especially in a carry case, it’s nice for it to shutdown as quickly as possible.
This is one of the few cases where I noticed a dramatic difference between the SSD and HDD in this Netbook.
As aged Windows installations tend to access the hard drive a lot more frequently than a clean installation, let’s head on to the next page to see how the SSD performs against a HDD with an aged Windows XP installation.
Apart from the battery and 2GB of RAM, the Samsung N120 I’m testing has the equivalent performance hardware as the Dell Inspiron Mini 10v. The main difference in this review is that the Samsung N120 is running a 2-year old Windows XP installation, which has slowed down significantly since it was new, even despite having upgraded to a Seagate Momentus XT hybrid 250GB HDD about a year ago. At that time, I mirrored over the content using dd_rescue.
Like with the Dell mini, I mirrored the HDD to the SSD using dd_rescue before running the tests on each drive. Interestingly, unlike many OEM Windows XP installations from that time, the partition was found to be 4K aligned, so no alignment was necessary for the Windows partition.
The main reasons I upgraded this from HDD to SSD were to improve the time it takes to resume from and go into hibernation, speed up application launches and to eliminate the annoying hum this Netbook while placed on hard surfaces.
Boot up timings:
Due to the lengthy amount of time this Netbook spent finishing off its boot process after the desktop appears with no clear sign of it finishing just by looking at the HDD, I used Soluto, which points out the moment the boot process finishes. Despite using Soluto to show when the boot finished, the timings were conducted by stopwatch, as Soluto’s own timing was several sounds off.
Like with the Windows 7 Home Premium timings on the Dell Netbook, there is not the drastic boot up performance improvement like there is with an SSD in a full size laptop or desktop PC. Then again, the only time I fully boot the laptop is after I install Windows updates and it’s worth noting that this laptop had a hybrid HDD, which would already have cut some time off the original HDD.
Everyday application and hibernation timings:
The two most common things I use my Netbook include web browsing and editing documents. While I could potentially replace my Netbook with a tablet for web browsing, tablets are not ideal for editing documents, especially when it comes to Publisher work which I need to occasionally while on the move. I also regularly need USB access and occasionally do troubleshooting using the LAN part, both features which most tables lack.
As I mentioned above, I rarely shutdown the Netbook; instead I put it into hibernation before putting it away. So let’s see how it performs launching Firefox 8, Word 2007 as well as going into and out of hibernation. The final timing is the total time it takes between pushing the power button to having Firefox 8 launched with the homepage displayed. Note that Firefox was closed before going into hibernation and these hibernation tests were carried out after a fresh boot.
Interestingly, while the SSD does little for improving Windows start-up or software installations on a Netbook, it certainly helps with getting the Netbook into and out of standby, cutting a third off the time as well as launching Word in under half the time. The coming out of hibernation is a welcome improvement as this is about as quick as my desktop PC’s POST time before it starts booting the OS.
Other noticeable changes:
Although I haven’t timed how long it takes to resume from standby, I do notice a difference here also, as there is no longer the delay waiting for the HDD to spin up, i.e. it’s ready just a few seconds of pushing the power button. Even while working on a document or after reading an article on a webpage, there is also no lag each time the HDD spins down and has to spin up again. This spin up delay applied to both the hybrid HDD and the original HDD.
The annoying hum the Netbook made while placed on hard surfaces has completely gone. The only sound it makes now is the occasional whirr when its fan spins up, but even that is a lot quieter than the hum each HDD made.
Although I have not timed its battery runtime, going by the battery meter, it now reports about 8 hours, up from about 7 hours with the hybrid HDD. This is pretty impressive considering the battery is over two years old.
Besides Word and Firefox, other applications launch noticeably quicker. However, with the limited Atom CPU performance, it does not feel anywhere near as snappy as full size laptop or desktop with an SSD.
For anyone thinking that an SSD will improve a Netbook’s performance, there are some things to consider beforehand, especially if the person is debating on whether to get an SSD or a more powerful Netbook or even an ultra-portable laptop.
When it comes to a full boot up into Windows, installing software and Windows updates, an SSD does very little to improve the performance of these tasks on a Netbook, at least those with the single core Atom based on my testing. At best, I saw a few seconds saved off the lengthy boot up time and just 3.5 minutes taken off the tedious 27 minutes of .Net Framework Windows updates.
However, when it comes to getting the Netbook switched on to on the web, an SSD cuts roughly a third off the resume time from hibernation and even coming out of Standby is a lot quicker. I’m sure this would be half the time of the original 5400RPM HDD the Samsung Netbook came with. Even for launching applications, the SSD is noticeably quicker than even the hybrid HDD and there is also no longer the annoying lag each time the HDD had to spin up after idle spin-down, since there are no moving parts in an SSD.
Other improvements I noticed included an hour of extra battery time on the battery meter and the elimination of humming when the Netbook is placed on a hard surface.