Windows 7 and SSDs: just how fast are they?

Does a solid-state drive make a difference in the performance of Windows 7? In a word: Yes. I've been measuring startup times and disk reads on three Windows 7 PCs to see just how fast they really are. The results are impressive.

Does a solid-state drive make a difference in the performance of Windows 7?

In a word: Yes.

Conventional hard disks are typically the biggest bottleneck in any computing environment. If you can speed up disk activity, especially reads, the effects on system startup and application launch times can be breathtaking.

This technology is still new and expensive, and many of the kinks are still being worked out. I've been using SSD-equipped PCs with Windows 7 since October 2009, and I now have two laptops and one desktop PC that are fitted with these superfast drives. Over the holidays, I set out to fine-tune the storage configuration in all three systems and was able to increase overall system performance dramatically. In a follow-up post, I'll explain exactly what you need to know to squeeze maximum performance out of an SSD.

Don't miss the rest of this series.

Part 2: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

Part 3: Windows 7 and SSDs: Cutting your system drive down to size

But first, how much of a difference does an SSD make? I have an ideal platform to test: a new Dell XPS desktop system with an i7-920 CPU, 16GB of RAM, and two disks, a conventional 7200RPM Seagate 1TB hard disk drive (one of the fastest desktop models in its class) and a 60GB OCZ Vertex2 SSD. I’ve installed Windows 7 on each drive and configured a dual-boot menu.

I’ve been switching between the two systems for roughly a month. Today I went through the performance logs for both Windows installations and averaged the results for the last 15 starts for each setup. (If you want to see these results for your system, follow the instructions I published in this 2007 post—the event log format for Windows 7 is the same as it was for Vista.)




Main-path boot time (sec)



Total boot time (sec)



That’s a 62% improvement in the time it takes for the system to get to the Windows desktop and a 54% improvement in the total boot time, which includes drivers and processes that are loaded with low-priority I/O. (The latter value includes third-party programs that are configured to run at startup.)

There’s also some interesting data in the Windows System Assessment Tool (WinSAT) logs, which contain the detailed benchmarks that make up the Windows Experience Index. On the Sequential Read test, the SSD wins going away, recording a throughput of 249.76 MB/sec, compared to 105.63 MB/sec for the conventional hard disk. The WinSAT benchmark also calculates a mysterious and undocumented Overall Responsiveness index, where the SSD in this system clocks a blistering score of 20.02, compared to 86.17 for the hard disk.

And my personal experience bears out those benchmarks. Startup times are startlingly fast, and I’m still practically giddy when I click an app and watch it spring to life in a second or less. The feeling of fast is practically visceral.

So, slap an SSD into a PC, fasten your seat bet, and prepare for the whoosh. Right?

Not so fast.

As I learned from more than a year’s hands-on experience, it takes cooperation from hardware manufacturers to get the most from an SSD. In the next part of this series, I explain where things can go wrong and how to set them right. See Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks, for the details.