If you enjoy this review, please help keep Storm Gods on line.

Samsung SSD 850 EVO Solid State Drive

title stars
title stars
title stars
title stars

picture

The first hard drives were created by IBM in 1956. The 350 Ramac drive was about twice the size of a refrigerator, and could store thousands of times less data than a current SD memory card about the size of a postage stamp.

Later hard drives got much smaller, more reliable and highly adept at parking a lot of gigabytes in a small space. However, modern hard drives work in pretty much the same way as an original 350 Ramac, with electromechanical read and write heads moving over the surface of a spinning disc – or a stack of multiple discs in newer drives. There are upper limits to the speed at which a hard drive mechanism can operate, and as such, how quickly data can by written to and read from one.

Contemporary operating systems – such as Windows – use the hard drives they boot from for more than just storing software and data. They typically move temporary files on and off a drive pretty much constantly. As such, the speed of the hard drive in your computer will have a direct and ongoing effect on the apparent speed of the machine.

If you really want a faster computer, you’ll probably have to buy a new one with a faster processor. If you’d just like a computer that’s faster, however, replacing the hard drive with something quicker is way easier and cheaper.

A solid state drive, or SSD, can be thought of as a giant mutant SD memory card. It’s a big gulp of non-volatile flash memory with some hardware to make it appear to a computer like an insanely quick electromechanical hard drive. An SSD will connect to the same interface as a traditional hard drive… it will just run a lot faster.

Replace your old hard drive with an SSD and your computer will spin up its hitherto unnoticed faster-than-light engines. Things that used to take a while will happen instantly. Formerly boring stuff, such as watching Windows boot up, will become fun. Your mileage may vary.

The mechanical issues that have plagued traditional hard drives – and dispose them toward unanticipated failure without warning – are history with an SSD, as there are no moving parts in there larger than an electron.

Spinning Rust

In some circles, traditional hard drives are referred to as “spinning rust.” It’s not a pejorative description – the recording medium on the discs of a hard drive is essentially iron oxide, the same substance that appears when the bumpers of a pickup truck corrode.

The Samsung 850 EVO SSDs are a seriously cool replacement for spinning rust. Slightly larger than the credit card you’ll probably use to pay for one, they’re available in a palette of sizes up to four terabytes. They weigh as close to nothing as physical stuff is likely to get, consume almost no power, are completely silent and are manufactured in a flawlessly sinister shade of black.

That little faux pas with their smart phones last year not withstanding, Samsung has a long history of making technology like this that seriously rocks.

Historically, replacing a hard drive meant reinstalling everything on that which got replaced, an experience just this side of drooling, babbling madness. While extremely punctilious users of Windows might embrace the opportunity to perform a clean reinstallation upon upgrading to an SSD, it’s an undertaking that the rest of us – the sane ones – can cheerfully dispense with.

Samsung’s EVO SSDs come with a CD-ROM of what it calls its Magician software, which will image your entire spinning rust hard drive onto an SSD in a single – if somewhat time-consuming – operation. It will essentially copy all the low-level data from your old drive to your new drive, such that when your new SSD is installed in place of its spinning forbearer, your computer will boot up as if nothing had changed… ‘cept it will do so much quicker.

Applying Magician requires that you spring for an adapter to temporarily connect your new SSD to a USB port.

We applied somewhat different technology when we upgraded our in-house systems to Samsung’s SSDs. For reasons too eldritch and arcane to deal with here, we chose to clone the old drives using Clonezilla, and then restore them to SSDs. The process is essentially the same as that performed by the Samsung Magician software.

Potentially more involved than moving the data from an old hard drive to an SSD, bolting the new drives in place may entail some head-scratching. The 2.5-inch form factor of the 850 EVO drives is comparable to that of a laptop SSD, and if you’ll be installing one in something portable, you’ll probably find that it’s just this side of effortless.

All our SSDs were bound for desktop systems, which had been running with larger 3.5-inch hard drives. The SATA connections on an SSD are identical to those of a traditional desktop hard drive, but the mounting holes and most importantly the mounting screws are not.

The Samsung 850 EVO does not come with a packet of screws, arguably its only notable failing – and you can’t just reuse the screws that formerly restrained the old drive in a desktop system. We chased down some suitable screws at a local computer shop.

In that SSDs don’t really weigh anything, you might well find that you can keep them in place with Velcro, and pass on the whole issue of mounting hardware. Our SSDs were to be installed in some venerable Vantec drive caddies, which entailed one bolt per drive. Of the four original mounting holes for the old drives, one of them lined up with a mounting hole in the SSDs.

Lifeline

One of the concerns that accompanies SSD technology is its longevity. As with SD memory cards and flash drives – more elementary applications of non-volatile memory – you can read data from SSD drives as often as you like. The internal memory of these drives only allow for a finite number of data writes, however, until it becomes unreliable and the drives will require replacement.

It’s worth noting that while the number of writes to an SSD is finite, that finite number is profoundly large. In addition, the logic that manages the memory in an SSD performs sophisticated “wear leveling,” which moves frequently-written blocks of data around to even out the use of the memory.

The 500-gigabyte EVO drives we installed allow for a minimum of 150 terabyte writes. You can use this number to estimate the minimum life of the drive…at least in so far as it pertains to the use of its internal storage.

A terabyte is 1000 gigabytes. For the purpose of this estimate, let’s allow that you’ll be writing twenty gigabytes of data per day to an SSD. For most of us, this estimate is extremely high – it’s the equivalent of writing four or five complete DVD movies to your system every day.

Keep in mind that we’re only concerned about data writes – you can watch four or five DVD movies a day, or perform any other activity which consists of reading data from the drive, without impacting the life of an SSD.

One terabyte would allow for 50 days worth of writes at this level. The minimum 150 terabyte writes of the Samsung drives would be good for 7500 days, or just over twenty years.

It’s worth noting that traditional spinning rust hard drives also have finite working lives. While it’s less practical to quantify them in terms of actual data written, several recent anecdotal surveys suggest that hard drives in daily use can be assumed to be reasonably reliable for about four years.

We’ve usually replaced them in house after five, whether they’d grown funky or not, on the assumption that the data on the drives was worth vastly more than the drives themselves.

There are a number of aspects of Windows’ use of mass storage which are structured to optimize the performance of electromechanical hard drives, and which you might want to adjust to increase the working life of a newly-installed SSD. These include:

  • Disable Superfetch – run a command prompt as Administrator, type services.msc and hit Enter. Locate the Superfetch item, right click to access its Properties and set it to Disabled. Superfetch pre-fetches frequently-used data from a hard drive and saves it in memory – it does nothing useful for a system running with an SSD.
  • Turn off hibernation – when a Windows system hibernates, it saves several gigabytes worth of information to temporary files and then spins down the hard drive to save power. With an SSD installed, there’s nothing to spin down, and all those temporary files will generate a lot of writes. Run a command prompt as Administrator, type powercfg -h off and then hit Enter. We hasten to add that if you’re running a UPS monitoring application, such as APC’s PowerChute, it will complain the next time your system reboots, as these things like to be able to force your computer into hibernation when they sense that their batteries are almost exhausted. The warning can be disabled.
  • Disable automatic scheduled disk defragmentation, and don’t defragment your SSD manually. Disk defragmentation reorders the data on a conventional hard drive so that all the pieces of a file are stored consecutively, and can thereafter be read with less movement of the drive’s read heads. This is of no benefit to an SSD, but once again, the process of defragmenting a drive generates a substantial number of writes.

The Boot

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Samsung EVO drives is how easy they are to get up and running. There’s nothing to configure, no adjustments or options and pretty much no possibility of failure unless you really work at it.

Windows boots up almost as if it had never been switched off. Formerly lackadaisical software puts its virtual foot to the matt and screams. Huge megapixel digital photographs open before the echoes of the mouse that clicked on them have fully died away. It’s breathtaking.

The Samsung 850 EVO drives are supported by a five year warranty. They come with lucid, easy-to-operate instructions. While they’re probably inappropriate for users who are panicked by the sight of small hand tools, anyone else with reasonable eye-hand coordination should be able to deploy one without recourse to heavy breathing.

They really are like buying a much faster computer without all that messy credit card abuse.

You won’t miss spinning rust at all.

Comments (2)

SueJanuary 28th, 2017 at 10:27 am

Thanks! Very informative and now I am motivated to replace some of my own “spinning rust”.

Richard RantaFebruary 5th, 2017 at 10:30 am

“Finally” the inside experience of SSD’s. I thought they should be faster than a bear searching for honey, but nobody actually put that into words. You did. Thanks. you gave the information I’ve wanted, but nobody was coming forth to speak out. My next mass storage device has already been decided, thanks to you.

Leave a comment

Please note: Support issues can't be addressed here. If you have questions about the product in the above review, you'll need to contact its manufacturer.

If you have questions about this blog or if you need information about Alchemy Mindworks' software, please visit our contact page.

Comments which reference other web pages, or which constitute attempts at advertising, will be automaticaly flagged as spam and will never see daylight.

Entering a comment at this page will cause one or more cookies to be set in
your web browser.

 

Your comment