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Solid state hard drives win the race

Date

Terry Lane

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ROAD RUNNER

ROAD RUNNER

Do you ever feel that you are frittering away your life, a few minutes at a time, waiting for the computer to do something? Does boot-up take so long that there is time for a cup of tea between pushing the power button and getting a work screen? Does the Adobe Photoshop splash screen hang around long enough to read the entire cast list of programmers?

The good news is that the long wait for action is becoming a thing of the past, thanks to solid-state drives that shuffle information around in the system much faster than conventional spinning discs.

For the past month, we have been using the latest 27-inch iMac. This elegant behemoth is fitted with what Apple calls a Fusion drive - a combined 128GB solid-state drive and a 1TB conventional hard drive. This arrangement gives the economy of large storage capacity on the spinning drive, together with the retrieval speed of solid-state memory.

The system learns which applications are most frequently accessed and will benefit most from a boost to start-up times. The operating system itself will load faster from the SSD, so that lives there. But resource-hungry applications such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Photoshop Bridge are what have kept us waiting around in the past for something to happen.

We compared start times using a Windows 8.1 system against the iMac - it's not comparing like with like, but it does give an indication to owners of older PCs of what can be gained from adding an SSD or specifying an SSD on a new system.

Our quad core HP Windows PC takes two minutes and 20 seconds from pushing the power on to the password protected log-in screen. It is almost one minute more to get to a working state. This might be slower than most, but consider this: the iMac is ready for use in 18 seconds. The Windows PC takes one minute and 26 seconds to load Photoshop, while the iMac does it in five seconds. And Lightroom is up and running in less than three seconds.

The speed-up that we most appreciate is to Photoshop Bridge, the file browser that makes searching for files from within Photoshop much easier, except that in the past it has been so slow and sticky that it was best avoided. With the Fusion drive, it is slick and as useful as you hoped it would be.

Solid state is the future, and, in obedience to Moore's Law, we can expect capacity to double and price to halve in the coming year.

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