Electronic Design
An Old Notebook Gets A Linux And SSD Speed Boost

An Old Notebook Gets A Linux And SSD Speed Boost

Intel came to the recent CEA Line Shows in New York City, and an Intel rep there asked me if I would review one of the company’s new solid-state disks. I accepted the offer and walked out of the booth with an 80-Gbyte Intel X25-M Mainstream SATA Solid-State Drive (SSD). About a week later, I received a reviewer’s pack in the mail.

The pack included a 21-page document explaining all the ins and outs of testing this SSD. There were lots of details about how to evaluate performance and energy consumption on mobile platforms so the tests were both accurate and repeatable. This kind of testing regimen was not quite what I had in mind when I accepted the offer.

The question now was what to do with this drive. I felt it really should be tested on a mobile platform. I clicked off the possibilities in my head and concluded that I should try it out on my company computer, a Dell Latitude D630.

Choosing An Operating System
If I used this notebook as a test platform, I would need a copy of Windows Vista, which the tests detailed in the document required. I haven’t had a store-bought copy of a Windows operating system (OS) in a long time, since all my recent computer purchases have come with OEM versions. And I certainly didn’t have a company copy of Vista. That’s not how IT works.

I had been thinking about installing Linux on one of my older computers for a long time, but never got around to it. I decided this would be a perfect time to do it. So my task was this: Download a copy of Ubuntu (recommended to me by Bill Wong a couple of years ago), place the OS on the SSD, and see how it worked.

I went to the Ubuntu Web site and looked around. It offered the latest version of Ubuntu for desktops, netbooks, and servers. I wasn’t sure why “notebooks” wasn’t on the list, so I Googled D630 and Ubuntu and realized that I should download the desktop version.

Some of the online comments made me feel like this install might be fraught with problems, but they didn’t relate to the current version of Ubuntu. I was hoping this newest version had overcome some of these problems.

At the download page, I found step-by-step instructions for downloading Ubuntu and installing it on a hard disk. There is a neat “Show Me How” next to all of the instructions. I found out that I needed to download a program called Infra Recorder as well to place an Ubuntu image on a CD. This CD would be used to boot up the computer and place the OS the SSD.

Installing The Drive
As mentioned, the Intel SSD has a SATA interface. I pulled out the hard drive on the D630, compared its connector with the SSD’s, and saw that they were the same. I removed the plastic “door” from the hard drive and attached it to the SSD. Then I inserted the SSD into the D630.

A few words about the SSD are in order here. The Intel X25-M Mainstream SSD is based on 34-nm, multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash technology and can be used in both mobile and desktop PCs. For notebook PCs, however, the lower power needs of Intel SSDs translate to longer battery life. Notebooks with an SSD are lighter and more rugged, but probably more expensive, too.

The drive’s SATA interface has an advanced architecture employing 10 parallel NAND flash channels equipped with MLC NAND flash memory. Native command queuing enables up to 32 concurrent operations. These drives also feature low write amplification and a unique wear-leveling design for higher reliability.

I had nary a problem installing the SSD in the notebook, placing Ubuntu on the drive and getting the OS to boot up. My plodding Latitude D630 had suddenly become a speed whiz. It booted up in about 20 seconds compared to about two-and-a-half minutes with my IT encumbered notebook and shut down in four seconds compared to 37 seconds. Applications opened instantaneously and were ready to roll. I certainly did not see any “not responding” messages as I often do with Vista.

I realize these tests are less than scientific, since they pertain to my own system and therefore are not repeatable, nor are the tests an apples-to-apples comparison. My notebook, with its IT-configured hard disk, naturally looks for network connections when booting up and performs backup procedures during normal use to make sure I don’t lose my work. But it’s really nice to see how fast a notebook computer, even an older one, can really run.

I don’t know how much credit to give Ubuntu and how much to give the Intel SSD for speeding up these computer operations, but they work very well together. Ubuntu is free, and the 80-Gbyte Intel drive is $199.99 at Amazon.com.

TAGS: Mobile Intel
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