Road Worrier Gets Seduced By The Magic Of SSD

Road Worrier Gets Seduced By The Magic Of SSD

Road Worrier Gets Seduced By The Magic Of SSD Like notebook users everywhere, I’ve been contemplating switching to a solid state drive (SSD) machine to get better performance and battery life for a while. After a week on the road with an SSD laptop, I don’t think I can put off that upgrade any longer.

In my roundup of the key technology I use which I wrote back in February, I mentioned that my Toshiba Portégé R600 was nearing the end of its functional life, and that I hadn’t been particularly taken with its successor, the R700. The R600 continues to be my main machine at the moment, though I’ve taken to using an Asus 10-inch Eee PC model running Windows 7 Basic whenever I hit the road or have to go out to a press conference. The R600 is more powerful and I have more apps installed on it, but it now runs way too hot and noisy to use in away-from-desk situations.

Anyway, the two-machine combo is working OK, but a more permanent solution is needed before the R600 decides to give up the ghost altogether. (I’ve worked it very hard during its life, so I don’t blame it at all.) As part of my exploration, last week I took the newly-launched Portégé R830, which is part of Toshiba’s latest revamp of its business range, on the road for our reader meetups.

As well as being my main work machine, we used it to display the trivia quiz presentations. (Melbourne readers got an insight into the risks of using a test machine on the road when it decided to pop up a Norton registration screen and a power configuration screen during the quiz.)

With a 13.3-inch display, the R830 is definitely at the upper end of my size tolerance. However, it passed the most important test for me in this respect: I can sit it on a Qantas fold-out tray and use it while maintaining enough room for a coffee cup on the side.

What really impressed me about the notebook initially was the performance, especially in terms of boot-up time and application launching. I’ve grown used to the idea that choosing to reboot my notebook will often mean a wait of several minutes, so having a device that can do that in 30 seconds played very pleasant games with my mind.

But the biggest long-term benefit of having the SSD built-in was the battery performance. I managed to pull an eight-hour day out of the fully-charged battery on several occasions, which is an impressive performance, especially given that it was connected via Wi-Fi most of that time. (In my experience when travelling, nothing drains a battery like using a Wi-Fi connection.) On my previous machine, I lugged around a spare battery to ensure I could use my machine all day; not having to do that goes some way to making up for the slightly extra space the R830 takes up.

The one issue that might keep from the R830 is the price: a fully-fitted, SSD version will cost me north of $4,000. With loads of appealing notebooks on the market for a quarter of that price, I might have to succumb to a hard-drive version (the R830 itself has an entry-level model around $1,895). But if I do, I’m going to find it difficult.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman drains batteries the way that David Boon drains stubbies. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


  • I would highly recommend you get a new SSD for your old R600, while it wont give you the blistering speed of the new laptop, it will extend the lifetime of it a long way past where you’d it would be.

    Recently SSD’d by old tx9205 HP which was dieing a horrible death, and it is back up there in terms of day to day performance. Cold boot to logged in and running Win7 and MSSQL 2008 in 25 seconds. Not bad for a 5 year old laptop that used to struggle to load with in 10 minutes.


  • “nothing drains a battery like using a Wi-Fi connection”

    Curious. Do you know whether WiFi or a USB modem (ie wireless 3G) draws more power ? I’d assume the latter on the simple basis that it has further to transmit.

  • Surely it would be more cost effective to purchase the basic model and install a SSD yourself? The amount they are charging for SSD’s from the OEM seems to be exorbitant.

    • My thoughts precisely. Hard drive replacement isn’t hugely difficult, even for those not experienced in dis/re-assembly, as most laptops are designed to have relative ease if accessing the hard drive, and SSD’s have no difference in connection configuration to a standard hard drive. I would definitely consider all avenues before committing to either of these options however.

      I’m still surviving on a 3-4 year old laptop. Nothing breathtaking about it, but it’s still plodding along under Windows7 after having 2+ gig of RAM dumped into it. I’m hesitant to replace it when it’s still functioning, taking into consideration that it only has an 80GB hard drive installed from the factory (don’t have a need for anything bigger, with most files stored on my home media servers array), I don’t have much to lose by switching to an SSD, and plenty to gain. Another part of me says there’s probably not a huge amount of point in doing this, as my system would soon find bottlenecks in other places.

  • I recently opened up my Laptop and cleaned out the exhaust fan, as mine too was getting very hot and noisy.
    Guess what! Whisper quiet and less hot air 🙂

  • So, you need 13″ screen, very light weight (~1kg), maybe 1.86Hz Core 2 Duo, say GeForce 320M graphics and perhaps 128GB SSD…. forget netbooks and expensive legacy design laptops, its only AUD$1600 for a MacBook Air

    • MacBook Air is off the list for me for several reasons: it doesn’t have an Ethernet port, it doesn’t have an optical drive, I don’t like clickable trackpads, and I don’t get on at all with the Mac OS X interface, particularly its refusal to allow you to maximise all apps and its emphasis on mouse-centric operations. (It also doesn’t make sense for me to work on a Mac when writing for a site where the majority of users run Windows.)

      • How about a Macbook Pro then? Around $2600 for a 256MB SSD, with ethernet port.

        All your other excuses are pure Anti Apple Bias and are not based on reality. I’m a Windows programer but find it just as easy to use keyboard on the Mac as on Windows. The Mac is no more mouse centric than Windows. And Clickable trackpad … please! that’s a dumb excuse as everyone recognises the Mac trackpads as far superior to Windows pads. The upcoming OS X Lion allows full screen (maximise) and if you can’t wait there are plenty of plugins that allow this on older versions. The SIMBL megazoom comes to mind.

        And there are MANY MANY publications that use only Mac’s even when they only cover Windows.

        And Macs are Intel boxes that can run Windows. I’ve been to a few Microsoft roadshows where they showcased everything on Mac laptops. I even remember MS showing Vista on Macs because the regular laptops weren’t powerful enough at the time. And that’s fact they used Macs.

        • Bernard: You’re very fond of hyperbolic generalisations without specific examples.

          I’ve been over the keyboard argument in huge detail, so I’m not going to revisit those points here. My immediate argument against clickable trackpads is the absence of separate buttons, which are much more useful if, like me, you right-click a lot. I prefer working with them, especially under Windows. I’m not arguing that other people can’t like them. (This post is to a large extent discussing what I’m going to buy, not suggesting everyone else should do the same.)

          You claim there are “many, many” entirely Windows-centric publications that use only Macs. Care to back that up with examples? In any event, using Windows regularly exposes me to techniques which wouldn’t happen if I used a Mac as my main platform. (And yes, the reverse is obviously also true.)

          • Angus. Using Windows is NOT the same as using a Mac. Sure Mac’s come standard with OS X, but you can install Windows on it as a bootable option.

            A Macbook Pro is a piece of hardware that can run OS X, Windows or Linux. Ditto for other intel boxes such as Toshiba, HP, Dell etc… Though I admit its a bit harder to get OS X on them.

            I was suggesting you buy the Mac (as it was a good price option) but run Windows as I know you don’t want to use OS X.

            Yes, I use generalisations a lot. I’m a programmer and not a literary major and I’m terrible at writing meaningful, easy to understand documentation or any form of written communications. I feel much happier in front of a code editor. I’m not perfect.

            But the fact is I thought your dismissal of the Macbook Air as being rather flippant and somewhat generalised. Your good arguments were the lack of an ethernet port and the optical disk drive, they were fair critisms and you should have left it there instead of providing those other subjective and somewhat dubious reasons. And that’s what I had to respond to I guess.

            When I first started to use the Mac, I too hated the mapping of the keyboard shortcuts. Particularly I missed Ctrl-End and Ctrl-Home etc… I still miss them, but you can get used to it (a bit). I guess the problem with the Mac is that it is based on Unix and follows those conventions. I ended up getting Quicksilver and mapping my favourite hot keys, which is not a big deal, as I always customized Windows as well, so why not OS X.

            P.S. Not all shortcuts on Windows are great. Eg. New Folder is Alt-F,W,F. What’s with that? It’s Shift,Cmd-F in OS X which is a little more intuitive. Each OS has it’s good and bad points and I live with them both daily and put up with it. Look for the positives.

            I don’t knock Windows for its shortcomings. Why do you knock OS X for its shortcomings. I’ve asked you this once before.

            Finally, regardless of the different operation of the trackpad, the Macbook Pro is a decent bit of hardware no matter which OS you use and it’s a lot cheaper than $4400.

          • One frustration I have is that even when a review/writer/article/whatever says “I need to solve a certain problem, and I don’t want to use a Mac” (regardless of reason), immediately there are responses along the lines of “you need to use a Mac, there’s nothing better, and if you think otherwise it’s because you don’t know yet”.

            Unlike most writers, Angus is actually on record as having thoroughly considered “the switch” and has given myriad reasons he’s not going to for now. Most writers have end up “justifying themselves” to Mac fans after the fact, as though they’d never heard such wonderful fruit.

            With similar considerations I think to Angus’ I’ve just ordered a new Thinkpad x220 to replace my aging machine. This is available with an SSD, epic battery life and is in a similar price/weight category as the Macbook Air but with better keyboard, stronger build and a second generation i5 or i7 – significantly more processing power. (I really, really considered the Air as an alternative).

            Depending on the model Apple computers range from very good value (for a well-built machine) to overpriced dongle to run OS X.

      • Oh I forgot to ask. At north of $4000 for a Toshiba, how can anyone say Apples are too expensive? Do you get what you paid for? If so, it’ll be the first time a PC person has admitted to that reason.

        • Wow, you’re a massive Apple fanboy. Care to back up that $4000 Toshiba claim with any sort of evidence? For example, a link to somewhere selling said $4000 Toshiba?
          And what part of it’s his own opinions didn’t you understand? The part where he said “MacBook Air is off the list for me…” or maybe ” I don’t like…” or perhaps “I don’t get on at all with…” what about “doesn’t make sense for me…”

          So with all these comments about why buying a Mac doesn’t suit him, you decide to attack him and say that they are “Anti-Apple bias” then proceed to spew you’re own batch of Pro-Apple Bias, filled with your own personal opinions “I’m a Windows programer but…” which I’m not saying are wrong, but don’t apply to Angus.

          So, in summary: Back up any claims you make or else it just looks like you’re making stuff up (which you probably are, but I digress), learn what an opinion is and respect, even if you disagree with it, other people’s…that doesn’t sound so hard does it?

          • Oh I am definitely an Apple fan (currently, I didn’t like their pre-intel stuff) I’m also a fan of any good technology and am a genuine fool for buying the latest and greatest gadgets when they come out. One of my very favourite laptops was a Dell I bought in 1999 as it had a 5 x 4 screen instead of the usual 4 x 3. That made it a lot taller and much better for writing designs and editing code. It was only a 650MHz Pentium but I kept if for years without upgrading. I hated the widescreen concept as it was geared for media consumption rather than creating. I ended up replacing it with a Toshiba laptop (widescreen) and getting a second monitor (samsung) that could rotate and be used in protrait mode. But I digress.

            Yes I’m a fan of Apple products that work well for me. I’ve also always been a big fan of Windows (until Vista). I use the best product that suits my purposes. I spend half of my time in Windows coding, running within Parallels on a Mac Pro. I run up to 6 Windows VM’s concurrently to perform communications testing as it’s easier than having multiple PC’s. I use a Logitech diNovo keyboard as that’s my favourite keyboard. And I do all my documentation and image editing on the Mac because it simplifies that process better than Windows (for me).

            I had a go at Angus because he has a history (sorry Angus I haven’t got the time to search for specifics) of knocking Apple or giving back handers. Also, Angus is very easy to bait. He always responds. 🙂

            Regarding the $4000. Read the article, Angus gave the figure.

            I didn’t like

          • I saw the $4000 in the article right after I commented…that’s what I get for skimming through it I guess, so yeah, I take back what I said regarding the $4000 comments. Sorry about that.

            You might love technology, hell its pretty much a prerequisite for frequenting lifehacker, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has his opinions, (and in any article, such as this one, discussing what he wants he does make it pretty clear this is for him only) and you have your opinions, they’re different, deal with it.
            I am glad to see you don’t solely buy Apple products, you have to admit there are some people out there who blindly believe Apple make the best of everything, even keyboards and mice (clearly not the case)

            Oh, on another note, regarding your comment above with Windows keyboard shortcuts, at least in Windows 7 create new folder is Ctrl+Shift+N, thought you might be interested =P

          • Hi Pat, thanks for the reply. I didn’t know about the new shortcuts in Win 7… groan, I guess I’m going to have to upgrade, I’ve been putting it off, but my main client will require it and I do have to keep up. I’ve been using XP for development and 2000 for all my testing store register VM’s (nice and small).

  • Am typing this on my Macbook Air with SSD, which is my travel computer, and I can’t see me ever buying another portable without SSD. This machine is horribly underspecced on paper, still sporting an ancient Core2Duo and 2GB RAM… yet it FLIES !!! thanks to the SSD.

    Looking forward to new iMac’s with SSD System Drive coupled with 1TB spinning HDD for storage.

  • While I use Windows 7 laptop, I would also recommend MacBook Air as a better match for Angus’s needs.

    His main issues seem to be with keyboard which is fair enough but comparing to what was the Mac keyboard experience in 2009 seems strange for a technical user.

    Multitouch gestures are much better supported under OS X, two finger swipe down is a lot more intuitive and offers finer control than PageUp/Down, I wish it was implemented in Windows 7.

    Might be worth another trip to an Apple store to compare a current MacBook Air with multitouch gestures.

    Here’s some examples of multitouch gestures

    • Multitouch gestures aren’t relevant if your main aim — as mine is — is to use the trackpad as little as possible. I wouldn’t want to trade a PgUp/Dn pair of keys for swiping in order to scroll.

  • Angus,

    On a MacBook Air, you can use the arrow keys – by themselves in some apps, or in combination with the fn key in others – to move up or down pages and slides.

    The arrow keys, either by individually or in combination with either the shift or option or command key will move through text one letter, word, line or paragraph at a time, with or without selecting text.

  • The SSD is the single best upgrade you can make to any laptop IMO, I would seriously struggle to go back to a mechanical HDD now.

    If you are contemplating the kind of budget, then Lenovo X1 or X220 has got to be on your list.

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