[updated July 31 2017] I’d heard about SSD drives, but I just didn’t think that a hard drive could make that much of a difference in performance, you know? It’s all RAM and processor speed, I thought!
Now I am convinced it is the cheapest and easiest way to improve your system. ANY system!
Why bother with hard drive upgrades?
When I built my latest system, I got this Crucial SSD for a song. 128 GB isn’t a lot, but it can hold Windows, Maya, Mudbox, Photoshop, etc., with 30 GB to spare. New SSD drives are even bigger and cheaper – 500 GB range is cheap, and 750 GB isn’t much more!
Having an SSD it improves performance for Mudbox, Maya, and Photoshop like crazy. I can’t even believe that a stupid hard drive makes that much difference.
How does it do it?
Paging to your hard drive
When your computer runs out of RAM, it starts swapping to a page file on your hard drive. This only happens when you’re pushing your machine to its limits – right when you need performance most!
I knew that the second my system started paging to the hard drive, I could just walk away for an hour, because it was SO SLOW. And doing 3D I would run into this all the time, when rendering or sculpting or modeling or even using that memory-hog Photoshop.
Needless to say, that sucks for productivity.
The SSD changes all that.
Take Mudbox, for example. On my previous machine, things like subdividing too much always called to the page file and slowed things to a crawl.
But now, since my page file is on the SSD, it usually happens so fast I don’t notice it. It is fantastic. And buying one SSD is basically the same price as 16 GB of RAM, so it’s a cheap upgrade.
Which one to get?
I suggest Crucial SSDs, because they seem like the best balance between price and performance. Most drives list their performance specs up front (sequential read/write speeds, random read/write speeds) so it’s a numbers game.
Other little benefits:
It only takes 14 seconds to cold boot to Windows.
There’s no annoying hard drive chatter.
Little applications load instantly.
Big applications (like Maya) load fast enough that I don’t get impatient anymore. Which is saying something.
Reliability is also important though. Older SSD have a tendency to die early. Read through the reviews to see if a lot of people are complaining of dying drives.
And space is the last big concern. There are TB SSD drives out there, and they’re getting cheaper every day. But because they’re cheaper per GB, I just use regular platter hard drives for storage space. Loading and saving files isn’t what’s slowing you down.
SSDs work for both laptops and desktops, but they are designed for the laptop form factor. This just means you need to get a mounting bracket if you’re planning on using it for a desktop machine. Laptop, you’re good to go.
I know that when I think upgrade, I used to look at the most expensive components – video card, processor, more RAM. I never thought about hard drive upgrades, because I assumed it wasn’t worth it.
Now I would definitely look at an SSD first, especially to breathe new life into an older machine. If you are constantly running into that paging bottleneck the way I was, it makes such a huge difference!