I have a trusty Acer 6935 that I purchased in February 2009. It has been well travelled back and forth from many a visit out to the North Sea, and has had a few knocks and bangs along the way, but is still going fine, well sort of, corners damaged,
DVD tray face fallen off, battery no longer holds a charge (it lives on the mains now) but the 1920x1080 screen is hard to let go. It is due for a replacement, but with the new breed of higher resolution ultrabooks 'just around the corner', I am holding off for the time being.
The one thing that has become more obvious lately is the amount of hard disk activity, it is forever churning away, and does appear to have slowed down noticeably over the last few months. I was maybe thinking the disk is on its way out, and had considered swapping out for a solid state disk (SSD). The problem was it just didn't make sense to fork out money on an SSD to just replace the laptop in a few months time (hopefully). I thought to myself, what about taking one of those Hybrids out for a spin? So here we are now. Shall we see how it went?
The patient is an Acer 6935, running 32 bit Windows 7 Ultimate, 4GB RAM (3GB available under 32
bit), Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz. The original hard disk is a Western Digital Scorpio 320GB 5400rpm. The new hard drive is a Seagate Momentus XT, 500GB, 7200rpm, with 4GB SLC NAND. Check out this page for a run down on the hybrid drive, and also a video comparison showing some basic tests, like boot time, and application startup compared to a standard HDD, an SSD, and a Hybrid. http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/laptops/laptop-hdd/
A hybrid you say?
Hybrid HDDs are a cross breed. They are conventional HDDs with all the usual spinny stuff inside, and have a smattering of SSD technology bolted on. The SSD element is used for some clever caching so that your most needed data is always quick to hand. Sounds good in theory, doesn't it?
Stage 0: Benchmarking
In order for us to be able to compare the difference the new drive is making, beyond a 'yes, it feels faster', we will need to do some benchmarks.
I am going to use three different sources of information to see the new drive's performance:
- Windows Experience Index
- RDII Disk Benchmark .NET 2.0 by Ives Heymans
- PCMark 7 Basic
Before benchmarking, I gave the machine a bit of a spring clean, took off anything I was no longer using, and then carried out numerous shutdown and reboots with Windows Defrag and Auslogics Disk Defrag and Optimise in between. This was done until it basically would
not defrag or optimise any more.
We will take a look at the benchmarks later, but suffice to say the benchmarks were run, and data recorded.
Stage 1: Cloning the original
Before we get into changing out the hard drives, first we must take an image of the existing drive. I have previously used Windows internal tools for doing this on my desktop computer, so see no reason to not use it here.
The only difference on this occasion is that with the desktop PC, I used a second HDD to store the image, with the laptop though, I will be storing the image on my QNap NAS box.
After popping into the 'Control Panel', 'Backup and Restore', and following the prompts to create a System Image and a System Repair Disc, it is time to get the screwdriver out.
There are plenty of articles and videos already on system images and restores if you do a search, here is one I found: http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/4241/how-to-create-a-system-image-in-windows-7/
I had originally started making the image using a WiFi connection, but this took forever. The image size was 107 GB and I gave up and cancelled after 5 GB. Switched the
WiFi link off, plugged in a 1 GBit network connection, and restarted.......ahh, much better!
Stage 2: Swapping the drives
This was the first time I had opened this laptop up, and wasn't sure what was inside. After powering down the laptop, I took the bottom cover off and exposed the HDD, CPU, RAM, etc. The HDD is in the bottom left of the image, and it is wrapped in a foil jacket. It was as simple as sliding the hard disk towards the back of the laptop, and lifting out.
The four screws that hold on the foil jacket were removed and the old hard disk slid out of the sleeve. The new hard disk was put in its place, four screws back in, and re-inserted into the laptop and cover put back on. That was painless. So far so good.
Stage 3: Recover the image
Boot up the computer using the System Restore disc created earlier, follow the prompts, and point it to the stored image at the network location used to hold it. The image will rebuild back onto the new hard disk and then the computer will reboot. Remove the System Restore disc.
Stage 4: Repeat the benchmarks for the new disk
Follow the exact same order as you did to carry out the original benchmarks. This will give you the most consistent fair comparison.
Windows Experience Index
WEI is a simple set of benchmarks designed to try and provide a method of comparing the overall 'experience' for a given PC, the higher the number the better. At the time of writing, the range is from 1.0 to 7.9, and the lowest score out of any of the categories determines the overall score. I took a snapshot of the before and after, merged them together, and as you can see, the disk score element went up from 5.4 to 5.9,
the laptops gaming graphics let it down.
RDII disk benchmark
This is a simple disk benchmark tool written by Ives Heymans, and released as
freeware. It is a .NET application. This application does have the facility to use unbuffered IO, which means that system caches etc., shouldn't interfere with the results, and the disk's own caching and buffering can do their thing, as if it was just a normal drive. You can see in the image below, the option to use unbuffered IO and also the set size selector. It is simply a case of then double clicking the drive letter you want to benchmark.
I ran the benchmark for both the old and new drives with data sets of 20MB, 100MB, and 500MB, and ran these
three times and took the average result. The full benchmark results are available in the Excel attachment, but I have simply shown the results of the 500 MB dataset comparison below. As you can see, there appears to be a slight drop in write performance, however these results are averages, and there is quite a large variation in individual runs. I think this is down to some other background services etc., on the laptop still running. The drive's caching algorithms may also be having an impact here as they adapt to what is going on. The read performance very clearly
has had a massive increase in reported performance.
This is the free basic set of benchmark tests that can be downloaded from http://www.pcmark.com/
The benchmark runs a number of tests three times to test the broad spectrum of components and capabilities within the computer. Being the free basic version, there is a restricted set of test runs. The results from these are shown below, and you can see clearly the overall PCMark score increased from 259 to 394, with some significant increases on the disk related benchmarks.
| ||Old Drive||New Drive|
|Video playback and transcoding / Video playback||22.78 fps||22.92 fps|
|Video playback and transcoding / Video transcoding - downscaling||1||1|
|System storage - gaming / System storage - gaming||3.17 MB/s||7.52 MB/s|
|Graphics - DirectX 9 / Graphics - DirectX 9||19.72 fps||20.56 fps|
|Image manipulation / Image manipulation||2.91 Mpx/s||2.93 Mpx/s|
|System storage - importing pictures / System storage - importing pictures||4.51 MB/s||10.46 MB/s|
|Web browsing and decrypting / Web browsing||4.01 pages/s||6.32 pages/s|
|Web browsing and decrypting / Data decrypting||21.31 MB/s||33.99 MB/s|
|System storage - Windows Defender / System storage - Windows Defender||1.06 MB/s||3.13 MB/s|
There is a definite difference, and even when just opening and closing applications. Has it been worth the upgrade? I would say so. It would have been nice to have gone all the way to full SSD, but the cost at this time with a new machine hopefully on the horizon wasn't justifiable.
One of the other issues when comparing the old and the new, is the drives are clearly not of the same base type.
There should clearly be performance benefits from moving from a 5400rpm drive to a 7200rpm drive, so difficult to say what performance relates to the spin
speed and what relates to the hybrid SSD element. It would have been better to compare a standard Momentus drive versus the Momentus XT drive, and I am sure
if you were to search the net, someone would have already done this direct comparison.
I could probably get even more out of this machine by reformatting and re-installing
the x64 edition, and releasing that extra 1GB of RAM,
and also helping clear out three years of clutter. Maybe a job for another day.
Point to Note
When you clone the hard disk and then re-image to the new disk, the original partition sizes are retained.
In this example I went from a 320GB disk to a 500GB disk, so there is approximately 160GB of unallocated space (taking into account disk formatting)
that can still be made available. Using other disk management tools, it would be possible to adjust the hard disk partitions and remap the space growing the existing partition.
This is out with the scope of the article, but important to remember.
- First release - 1 March 2012.