This is a stream-of-research-and-consciousness posting, so beware…
I’m a full-time laptop user, always looking for a bit more disk space. I’ve got a 200GB drive in my 15″ MBP which is never enough. 320GB drives are now under $200. Tempting, but two issues. One, larger drives are always around the corner, and two, if I buy a new laptop (possible this Spring) I’d end up tossing aside one drive or another.
With the niftyneatokeen new MacBook Air, solid state (SSD) drives are coming to reality. In five years or so, I think they’ll become the standard in laptops. Not yet – the prices are too high, and capacities too low. But flash memory prices drop like crazy. A few years ago a 1GB CompactFlash card was in the hundreds of dollars. In March 2006 I bought one (SanDisk Extreme III) for $75 from B&H Photo. I just checked – the same card today is $30. But $60 will buy me a 4GB CF card. $80 will buy me a 8GB SDHC card, with a $20 USB reader to as a freebie. All of those are of the same Extreme III variety, from the same vendor. So for argument’s sake, the same money will buy me four times as much storage about two years later.
If we follow the above silly math, we’re looking at name-brand premium 32GB cards for $75 in two years. But I think it’ll be a faster move than that. I think we’ll have 64GB in the $100 range in 18-24 months. Just a gut feeling. We’re then getting close to “real” storage.
So anyway, I got to thinking – how about putting an ExpressCard SDHC adapter into my MBP, and using it as a drive? Delkin has an adapter for $45. A quick look online finds a no-name (A-Data) 16GB SDHC card for $65. So for $110 I could have a 16GB SSD drive, removable and expandable to boot. Spacewise that’s not all that much, but getting there.
How would this be speedwise? Delkin claims 15MB/s for their adapter. I found a user who tested this card at 20MB/s. So let’s take Delkin’s claim of 15MB/s as real for a moment. That doesn’t sound super-fast, but not horrible if it were a real-life speed. Sandisk and Apiotek have similar adapters, but I couldn’t find speed claims.
I then ran Aja’s System Test, a decent and free hard drive speed test utility. On my laptop drive’s FileVault volume, I get 14.1MB/s write and 15.1MB/s read. On the drive root (non-FileVault), 36.5MB/s write and 20.3MB/s read. This also tells me something I was curious about, the speed hit of FileVault. Nasty, especially on write. But necessary for security in my case.
So in theory, the ExpressCard solution would get me the same speed as my FileVault user volume. Which I find acceptable for everything except video editing. Now I haven’t seen a test of the adapter yet, so no promises. To balance this, Flash storage has no seek speed issues, super-low power draw, and no moving parts.
Things will get better. Delkin (not to pick on them) has announced a set of Express Card solid state drives, shipping in March. They claim 46MB/s read and 35MB/s write – faster than my informal hard drive test. And I just ran across a similar Lexar card, 16GB for $179. Not as fast though. Hmmm, Transcend (not a premium brand, and very poor reviews) has a 16GB for $99, and a 32GB for $275. So we’re getting there. My complaint about these is they’re non-upgradable. The speed is likely a result of RAIDing together two internal cards, or the electronic version thereof, so I don’t expect single adapters to be quite as fast.
Arghh, I just read that SDHC tops out at 32MB. If true, my generic adapter idea becomes less interesting. There will be more I say, more! Actually what I think is possible is an adapter that holds two (possibly more) SDHC cards in the same form factor. Rather than sliding in long-edge, they could snap into the flat surface. Hmmm….
So will I buy my $110 16GB Delkin/Cheapie combo setup? Maybe. It would be nice to have 16GB swappable SDHC cards, and they’re certain to get cheaper. Perhaps when the pair drops under $100 I’ll give it a try.
What I really want is about 1TB in my MBP. But by the time there’s a 1TB drive, I’ll want 4TB. Sad, but true. This leads into my theory Apple could squeeze a second hard drive into the 17″ MBP, but that’s another story…
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