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I am looking at building a new PC, it's mainly for office (graphics heavy) use and programming.

Looking for good performance with opening and closing programs and files as well as a fast boot.

I plan to have 3 primary hard drives

  1. Windows 7
  2. Programs (photoshop etc)
  3. Current Files

(There'll also be a large storage capacity back up drive, but this will be the Seagate drive I already have.)

So, my question is, looking at standard "old fashioned" hard drives and SSD drives, obviously there's a massive price difference.

I have been looking at drives like this:

and this:

Having no experience of using either I don't know what's the most efficient thing to go for. Clearly the SSD will have better performance, but:

If, for example, I had an SSD for Windows (say about 100gB), that would clearly give me the boot speed I want, then I guess my real questions are:

  1. If I were to buy one more SSD, would it give the greatest improvement on standard performance if used to store programs, or currently used files?
  2. Given that the OS is on an SSD, should I not bother with the 3 drives and instead, partition that Hybrid drive to store programs and currently used files on it?

Obviously, option two is cheaper and option one could cause me storage issues, but that's when I can dump files I am not currently using onto another drive.

Any, I am open to suggestions... so what do you suggest?!

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I bought the original 500GB Momentus XT when it was first released, and have used it as my primary hard drive in several laptops. I have heard that the newer XTs are significantly faster (they have double the flash, and more aggressively cache bootup files), so its probably improved a bit, I'd imagine. Not that the original was slow, its pretty awesome, and I'm glad I bought it.

It gets progressively faster over time - It needs some use to figure out what to put on the flash. At first, it will seem like any other drive. It'll take a couple cycles of your regular workload before you really start to notice the benefits. I've also noticed it helps stop Windows slowing down over time - Unlike any other PC I've used, I have never felt like I need to format and reinstall to get that "fresh Windows" feeling of responsiveness.

It mostly caches the small files that take a long time to access - Big files won't really get a speed boost (that said, sequential read speed is great). This means that the small amount of SSD goes a long way, since it doesn't waste space on sequential files that are going to be fast to read anyway.

It doesn't cache writes (although I heard Seagate are working on firmware to do that). This only really matters if you're writing lots of small files. This is the main scenario when the hybrid falls flat on its face.

My laptop sees a fair amount of use with Firefox and Visual Studio. Firefox is more responsive, especially with the suggestions when typing into the URL bar, and Visual Studio boots up very quickly. I also don't have to wait for it to finish loading startup programs (I have plenty of them, incidentally) - I can load up Visual Studio or whatever right after I've logged in.

Since my laptop has two 2.5" internal drive bays, I could've gone for an SSD + data drive combo, but I am glad I opted for the hybrid drive. I don't have to juggle data between a small SSD and a larger drive.

Also keep in mind that they are laptop drives - I don't know if the 2nd generation drives have fixed it, but the first gen had issues with spinning down too often when put into RAID arrays.

There was a big firmware fiasco with the first gen drives, people reported all sorts of nasty issues (especially with Mac and Linux OSes). These have apparently since been fixed. Personally, my drive still runs the original firmware, and I haven't noticed any issues. I haven't heard of issues with the second gen drives.

This is what you lose by opting for a hybrid over an SSD:

  1. Fast writing of lots of small files
  2. Instant speed (hybrids have to learn what to cache, takes a few usage cycles to reach max performance)

And this is what you gain over an SSD+HDD combination:

  1. Not having to worry about juggling data between a small SSD and a larger HDD
  2. Frees up a SATA port
  3. Can potentially speed up all your stuff, instead of just things on the SSD
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Excellent answer, thanks, so you're just running the Hybrid drive for everything? So If I went my original option 2, I'd see a notable performance increase (ie, OS on SSD, programs/files on partitioned Hybrid) – Jamie Hartnoll Apr 5 '12 at 9:23
@Jamie I am running my OS + most programs on it, and I also have a larger secondary HDD with music, Steam games, and applications that I don't use very often. You would certainly notice applications start faster than they would on a regular HDD, although of course, it won't be quite as instant as an SSD. – William Lawn Stewart Apr 5 '12 at 9:34

If you have the pocket, it would be well worth having programs running off SSD as well. Tit for tat SSD is better than HDD. However experience tells me that sometimes games perform marginally better when compared. Constant I/O programs like video editing may warrant SSD, but then again you're restricted by capacity.

As you want this machine to be primarily for web development, I think what is more important than the SSD here really is the CPU and RAM. You already have one SSD for the operating system that will run your localhost and interpreters, and perhaps your CAD.. so the money is best spent getting the best out of the real bottleneck in my opinion.

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Thanks, helpful comment, so given my usage (no games, but multitasking Photoshop, videos etc), and assuming I can afford only 2 SSDs, I'd gain the best performance increase by having the 2nd SSD for programs, then maybe buy the Hybrid for files? – Jamie Hartnoll Apr 5 '12 at 8:29
What do you mainly want to use it for? Web development? Perhaps you could go down the cheaper route, in that case. It's probably good to have as high-performing a CPU and RAM as possible in contrast to this. – Jonathan Apr 5 '12 at 8:45
Yes, web development and graphics. Agreed, the CPU and RAM will be vital as well. – Jamie Hartnoll Apr 5 '12 at 9:28
As well as accepting the answer you might want to give him rep if it was helpful, seem a little tight if I do say so myself. Updated my answer. Please also invest in getting my rep above 1. – Jonathan Apr 5 '12 at 10:28
Hey, thanks for the comment, I can only accept once answer though! I've given yours an up vote! – Jamie Hartnoll Apr 5 '12 at 10:49

I got away just fine with 30 GB for Windows 7 for a good two years. I've just now upgraded to a 120 GB SSD so I can game on it, but I would suggest you go with your original plan of three drives, the first for Windows and often used utilities like Office and Photoshop, the second for bulk installs like big games and of course the third for user files.

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Thanks, I don't have any games, so no problems there. It's purely an office machine really, but lots of multitasking and Photoshop. So, if I buy 3 drives, but only 2 were SSD (because of cost) would you suggest that the 2nd SSD should be for files or programs, for best performance gain. – Jamie Hartnoll Apr 5 '12 at 8:26
Yes of course. It's pretty simple really, any drive or drives that will experience the majority of reads and writes should be put on the fastest device - that will always be an SSD if you buy one now. – deed02392 Apr 5 '12 at 12:43

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