I thought I’d take a break from writing posts about Business Intelligence and SQL Server, and instead share with you my elation at finding a laptop hard disk that quite simply makes the world a better place, the Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive.

When I purchased my curent laptop (Dell XPS M1530 if you’re interested, with 4Gb RAM) I was presented with a choice between a fast 7200rpm 200Gb drive or a slower 5400rpm 320Gb drive. Due to the size of the databases I tend to work with I had to opt for the larger of the two, a Western Digital Caviar, taking the hit on performance.

I’ve been tempted for a while to upgrade the disk to a 7200rpm but have been secretly holding out (in vain) for solid state disks to increase in size and performance whilst decrease in price. £600 for a 256Gb SSD still renders them too expensive and too small to be an effective option for my needs. 512Gb drives are expected soon, but with a price tag of over £1000. No thanks.

Enter Seagate, with their Momentus XT hybrid drive which is now available in the UK. The 500Gb version (also available in 250Gb and 320Gb) is a standard laptop sized 2.5″ drive which combines 4Gb of super fast SLC NAND solid state storage alongside a 500Gb traditional 7200rpm drive. It also has 32Mb of drive-level cache. The drive monitors disk usage and automatically uses the SSD for the most commonly used files, without any help or drivers on the operating system. Thus you get the size/cost benefit of a standard drive but the performance boost of an SSD for your most accessed files. And all this for less than £100… How could I resist?!

After a weekend of reinstalling Windows 7 Ultimate (x64), Office 2010, SQL 2008 R2 and the usual plethora of other software, the results are quite simply staggering. My previous setup would let me login to Windows after 60 seconds, but I had to wait a total of 7.5 minutes until Outlook was open and usable. In the new setup I can login to Windows after 35 seconds, and Outlook is open and usable in under 1.5 minutes. 6 minutes saved per day just on bootup. That’s a whole 24 hours per year.

I have to place a caveat here, that there are a number of software differences between the two systems so it’s not by any means a scientific test. My old system was XP Pro x86 and the new one is Windows 7 Ultimate x64, I’ve changed SQL Server 2008 to 2008R2, and all the drivers/software are 64 bit instead of 32 bit. This will certainly make a difference on its own so the performance is not entirely down to the drive, however I have to assume that it takes the majority of the credit. Every detailed review that I’ve seen reports average performance as pretty much mid-way between a 7200rpm and a SSD disk.

The only downside is that I’ve now got to spend a few more weekends upgrading the other company laptops!

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