Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why you should get a high end PC - storage

I've noticed a recent article that said that Apple has a 90% share in the computer is over a thousand dollars category. I think this is rather sad.

I don't think it's sad that Apple is doing well, this is actually quite nice. What I find sad is that people aren't buying PCs over a thousand dollars. There are some excellent reasons why you'd want a PCs over a thousand dollars.

Let's start with the hard drive. Most PCs come with a relatively small hard drive. This is silly because coming with a small hard drive means you're actually paying a lot per megabyte. It also means your PCs that run very slowly because smaller hard drives have a smaller information density which means the drive has to spin faster to achieve the same data transfer rates. Every generation there's an optimum price point for megabytes per dollar. It's not that expensive either. Last time I check this optimal point was for hard drives costing about 100$. Getting a hard drive outside this range is just throwing money away in my opinion because you always need more hard drive space.

Hard drives are otherwise my mortal enemy. Hard drives have gotten tremendously large but they haven't gotten that much faster. While the transfer rate of the drive tends to be proportional to the size of the drive the access time is proportional to the rotation rate, the speed the head can move and physical size platter size of the drive. These factors haven't really changed. The rotational speed has only gone from 4200RPM to 7200RPM but the drive size has gone from 20 MB to being 1 TB in size. That's 1 000 000 MBs! Every time the system has to retrieve a byte from the hard disk it has to wait an eternity. I hate the stupid things! I've even gone so far as to add much more RAM to my system than usual to have a huge disk cache so my machine doesn't need to access the hard disk. Have you considered a solid state drive recently?

I've recently bought an OCZ Vertex solid-state drive for use with Windows 7 on my machine and it is completely awesome. To put the speed difference in perspective consider this: good hard drives have access times of around 18 milliseconds. Good solid-state drives have an access time of about an 0.18 of a millisecond. That's a hundred times faster. Additionally, they can have transfer rates of over 200 MB a second. Hard drives have a transfer rate of 50 MB a second. In practice the performance is extremely noticeable. I'll say it again, they are super awesome.

They only downside to a solid state drive is that it doesn't hold a great deal of data for the price. My OCZ Vertex cost around 400$ and only holds 120 GB. This isn't as much of a problem as you might think though because you just have to put all your data – music, video other data, on a standard hard drive and use your SSD for windows, the swap file and most of the applications. Your system will still fly and you can store all the data you want. I recommend getting a drive slightly bigger then you think you'll need. Getting too much space is a bit embarrassing, getting too little space is a time consuming disaster.

If you've bought a netbook with a solid-state drive and haven't really been impressed by the performance we're not really talking about the same things here.

(The difference in speed amongst SSDs is huge. It's worth reading up on why that is and which drives are really worth buying.)

The technology has come along way since those early drives. The software has also been improved. Windows XP will fight with a solid-state drive but Windows 7 includes optimizations to maximize the performance you get out of the drive. This means you don't have problems like, for example, the performance of the solid-state drive degrade over time. Modern drives also don't freeze the entire computer whenever you write lots of pieces of data to them at the same time. Early and current netbooks sometimes use out of date drive controllers that still have this problem.

Another thing that useful on the higher end PC is more memory. But I'll talk about that next time.

Part 2

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