Revisiting the ASUS U30Jc with an SSD

Our standard laptop reviews always look at the systems as they come from the manufacturer. However, we know many people will perform some upgrades at home to improve certain performance aspects. One of the easiest to perform is an upgrade to the hard drive, specifically removing the old style conventional hard drive and replacing it with a state-of-the-art SSD. We already had a good laptop with the ASUS U30Jc, but what happens when we perform just such an upgrade? That's what we're looking at today.

We've had plenty of coverage of SSDs, so we won't dwell too much on why you might want one or which models are the fastest here. The short story is that hard drives are very slow compared to other modern components. That's why we have lots of main memory in modern systems, and even memory isn't all that fast which is why we have L1, L2, and L3 caches. Where modern processors can theoretically consume several hundred gigabytes of data each second, keeping the engines fed is quite a challenge. Unfortunately, hard drive performance hasn't been keeping pace with the rest of the computer ecosystem, and when you're stuck waiting for a hard drive to load your OS or applications your shiny new computer can end up feeling like a dog.

A good desktop hard drive might be able to deliver 100MB of data per second (several orders of magnitude less data than what a CPU can process). The SATA interface is now able to move up to 600MB/s, but actually saturating even a 300MB/s SATA bus is quite a challenge with conventional hard drives. Where things get particularly ugly is when a drive has to perform seek operations to find the data you're after; with each seek taking 12 to 20ms on average (depending on the drive and rotational speed), random access patterns are the bane of the hard drive. Instead of pushing 100MB/s, with random data hard drives will often drop to under 1MB/s. Ouch.

Of course, SSDs aren't without their drawbacks. The chief complaints are price and capacity. Where you can find a 500GB 7200RPM 2.5" laptop hard drive for as little as $85, and 1TB 5200RPM drives are now available for $170, even the smallest SSDs—at least the ones worth buying—start at $80 for 32GB. In terms of price per GB, SSDs generally cost around 15X—or more!—as much as conventional hard drives. The catch, of course, is that they can be an order of magnitude (or two) faster, depending on what you're doing. Another complaint involves reliability, both short-term and long-term. Some SSDs have been around long enough that we're fairly comfortable recommending them, but there are still far more instances of bricked (re: broken) SSDs, particularly with some of the latest models. Staying on top of firmware updates can be critical, and having a good backup strategy is highly recommended—but then we'd recommend backing up data for HDDs as well.

For this particular test, we didn't have a huge selection of SSDs available. Anand has plenty of SSD reviews in the works, but we turned to an older, well-regarded model: the OCZ Vertex 120GB. If you're wondering about pricing, this particular model will set you back around $325. Sporting an Indilinx Barefoot controller, the Vertex was the first SSD that was a reasonable alternative to the Intel SSDs—it was a bit slower in random read/write performance, but it provided faster sequential transfer rates and an at the time lower price per GB. There are faster SSDs, but the OCZ Vertex is still a reasonable choice. Here's a recap of our test laptop, this time with the 120GB Vertex.

ASUS U30Jc-A1 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i3-350M
(32nm, 2x2.26GHz + Hyper-Threading, 3MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066
Max 2x4GB DDR3-1066
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 310M Optimus
Intel HD Graphics
Display 13.3" LED Backlit Color-Shine WXGA (1366x768)
Hard Drive 320GB 5400RPM 8MB cache
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545032B9A300)

120GB Indilinx Barefoot w/TRIM
OCZ Vertex OCZSSD2-1VTX120G, 1.4 firmware
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW Super Multi
(Matshita DVD-RAM UJ890AS)
Battery 8-cell 5600mAh, 84Wh
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.12" x 9.52" x 0.80-1.20" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.80 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Pricing Online starting at ~$900

With the SSD, the total cost of our test laptop is now up to $1225, and there's the rub: we increased the price by around 33% and there are situations where the faster SSD won't make a noticeable difference. Gaming performance? Not to spoil the benchmarks, but the vast majority of games only load slightly faster and frame rates are essentially unchanged. CPU intensive tasks like 3D rendering and video encoding also show little to no benefit, as expected. However, in terms of overall responsiveness, a good SSD can make your laptop feel much faster—especially if you're going from a slow 5400RPM laptop drive. We'll look at some tests where the SSD definitely helps, along with battery life, gaming, and our other standard application benchmarks.

The Good News: General OS and Application Performance
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  • robert19 - Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - link

    Perhaps the best of your homework is your emphasis on what a user's habits are and how that should affect their decision. Good job in detailing out your work.

    I plunged in as a relatively early adopter on SSDs for my desktop. Like yourself I'm just waiting now for the tech to mature. From all the webthreads it appears that by the end of the year there will by a dynamic change in the industry; by the end of 2012 you'll get your $1/gig or less wish. Here's hopin'.......
  • beginner99 - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    As already mentioned the problem that most laptops only support 1 drive is stupid. Most of them have a useless internal optical drive which wastes a ton of space. That was IMHO a great thing about the HP Envy 15. I 2 HDD's and an optional external optical drive. Now for the envy 14 + 17 the have optical drives again. A step back. I wonder what people do with there drives all the time? An external one is more than enough for installations. I mean you can get a 32 gb usb stick for like 40$ or less.
  • Nomgle - Friday, June 4, 2010 - link

    As already mentioned, just buy a cheap caddy - - and replace your internal Optical drive with a Hard Drive.
  • citrus - Wednesday, June 9, 2010 - link

    Hi, can you tell me exactly which product on this website is the one to support a second drive in the u30jc please? Thank You
  • Setsunayaki - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    With vendors adding in APP-Stores and attempting to supress the existence of open-source, All I saw in this review was that the laptop battery life did improve, since SSDs use less power and that there is some faster performance in some areas.

    More and more vendors are starting to sell Laptops with access to idiotic App-stores, throwing another charge on top of someone who wants to simply setup a laptop to be used normally.

    If you want my best advice for computing for the 99% of people who aren't hardcore laptop gamers do the following:

    1) Buy a laptop with an average of 6 - 10 hours on battery life.
    2) Make sure that laptop has an Nvidia Graphics Processor (for reason 3)
    3) Install Ubuntu Linux 10.04

    Congratulations, you now have an OS that comes with most of what you need preinstalled and from a company that is about making an OS that works...

    The difference between Apple/Microsoft and Canonical is that when Apple/Microsoft speak of SECURITY, it is 99% about protecting their profits and interests by bloating their OSes in a way to limit the consumer and rehashing their software and treating us like every user is a pirate, while when Canonical speaks of security at each conference, its always about improving things on the user end.

    I'm not some blasted biased person as I have all of these OSes and many boxes, and I use freeBSD a lot as well, but Im tired of services existing that syphon money from you every month and idiots coming up with the "you dont have to use it if you don't want to" BS lines..

    $ I've spent on laptop = $300
    $ I've spent on new programs for the laptop in a five year period without resorting to piracy = $0

    Enough said.
  • zsero - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    Can someone tell me what is happening with Intel i5-450M processor at the moment? There are laptops already shipping with it, but there is no information about it on Intel's site. How can they still be in secret about a processor which is already in finished products?
  • Teemax - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    Excellent analysis!

    While I love the SSD on my laptop, I dislike the way Anand "advertised" SSD like a silver bullet for system performance.
    The fact is that SSD is a very expensive update and should be weighed carefully against the potential benefits. Thanks for the thourough work :)
  • mike8675309 - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    One item that has me looking at SSD's as a use in my laptop is cutting down on heat. My current laptop has a 7200rpm SATA drive in it and if I am doing things that keep the drive active, you can definitely tell things get warm. Even at idle there is heat. I figure that in a packed chassis like a laptop, if you can cut down on heat, you just might increase the life of the whole machine. In which case, if I can get 7200rpm laptop drive performance (newer SSD's than you tested) in a more temperature friendly package, I might be sold.

    Any feedback on the temp these SSD drives run at?
  • GullLars - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    Power draw = heat output.
    SSDs draw about 0,1-0,5W idle, and 1-3W active
    HDDs draw about 0,5-1W idle and 2-3W active
    Because SSDs have higher performance, they spend most of their time in idle or low activity streaming given the same number of tasks, consuming less power on average, but still a small amount compared to the entire system. The total system power delta between SSD and HDD can be low single digit percents. For ultra low power setups, the storage power draw (and heat) makes a bigger impact.
    Since the HDD bays are designed to be low thermal activity zones, they generally are cooled through the chassis and no active airflow, because of this, you can feel the heat output under the laptop.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - link

    Your best bet will be to look at our SSD reviews where Anand is specifically testing power draw. Here's the latest article with a few items in it:

    You'll note that the 5400 RPM laptop drive is only .3W more than the Intel G2 at idle, and actually slightly lower at load. Your best bet for a power friendly SSD is going to be the SandForce stuff it looks like. That said, the U30Jc didn't get particularly warm with or without the SSD... the CPU/GPU and even RAM (under load) are going to put out far more heat than the storage devices.

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