I have a MacBook with 8GB of RAM and a 500GB 7200rpm hard drive. I write software for a living. I am contemplating getting an SSD Drive, but I am unsure about the performance.
Do SSD drives really make a nice speed difference?
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If you are like me and you are constantly opening and closing apps, specially apps like IDEs with large projects you will quickly benefit from the performance of an SSD. I just bought a Sandforce-based SSD (285mB/s read and 275mB/s write) and I'm really enjoying it. MacOSX boots in under 20sec and native apps open instantly, including Mail.app and other crappy software like Photoshop or Word. Git is faster checking out branches and well... everything feels faster.
If you are getting one just make sure you get one with a Sandforce controller. They specially work better on OSX (due OSX does not support TRIM and have garbage collector).
Short answer - it's worth it.
Long answer - I'm a software developer who has a SSD in every machine, and yes, it's worth it because it makes your machine much more responsive.
Your compile times probably won't decrease, however, as that's almost always a CPU-bound process and not a disk-bound process.
You may be thinking, "But doesn't my build process involve a zillion small files? Isn't that where SSDs shine?"
A modern OS like OSX is pretty smart about caching small, frequently-used files in memory. If you're accessing the same small files over and over (a typical pattern when you're dealing with eg. a large software project) these will be pretty efficiently cached into memory by the OS. This, combined with the CPU-intensive nature of compilation, is why compile times are typically not limited by disk speed.
It's difficult to say exactly how an SSD may be of benefit specifically for software development, without more details of the typical tasks you do (e.g., databases, writing web applications, compiling a large codebase, etc.). If your particular bottleneck is the CPU, then an SSD may yield little improvement.
But I would strongly recommend SSDs based on the overall improvement to performance that comes from the incredibly fast random read/write speeds (as well as the fast sequential speeds), which may itself make your life easier as a developer. Booting, launching applications, using a web browser, etc., are all noticably faster.
There is also a similar question here.
They allow for faster read/write to disc than the average home hard disk, however, you should be writing software to run on your expected audiences hardware, not your own. Don't write an application that runs perfect on your machine, but may not run so well on other machines.
That said, there's not much difference programming-wise for developers. The only situation where it will get you a good difference is when doing a lot of read/write operations on disk.
One more benefit to a SSD, for you, since you have a MacBook, is it should extend your battery life, as it draws less power than a traditional disk/platter HDD.
Here are benchmarks for one in particular: http://www.slashgear.com/samsung-64gb-ssd-performance-benchmarks-278717/ The rest are similar
Unlike normal harddrives, higher capacity SSDs typically have lower R/W speeds. Higher capacity also is more expensive.
As a software developer, you need lots of space, too. Up to you what you think is worth it. The WD velociraptors might be a nice alternative. Or if money is no object, go SCSI