Testing hard disks can be difficult, especially when using a hard disk intensive operating system like Windows Vista 64-bit - give it thirty seconds and it'll defragment or index them, which isn't what we really want when we're trying to ascertain peak performance.
We've previously published an article on how to optimise Vista for an SSD and have applied some of that advice to our testing rig to ensure more reliable results. ReadyBoost, Windows Search and drive indexing are all disabled, as is drive defragmentation, although we've left the page file set to be automatically managed in order to provide parity with the hard disk drive results.
To get a decent idea of drive performance in a variety of real world circumstances we test using a selection of different tools. HDTach 3.040 gives us a good idea of theoretical drive performance, FC-Test’s intensive file transfer abilities let us see real world drive performance, and our GIMP image editing benchmark should tell us if the disk controller is unable to keep up with read/write instructions - something cheap SSDs are prone to, for example.
We've also now chosen to now include random read and write performance figures following requests from our forum members. Older SSDs in particular suffer in the random write latency department, leading to the infamous "stuttering" effect as the disk lags. While we've been unable to retest every drive and SSD that we've covered in the last nine months, we've made an effort to include the major players and more popular drives.
Finally, we test hard disks in genuine real world circumstances, cloning an install of Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit onto the drive and then timing the resulting clean boot time before also timing Crysis level load times.
Each test is performed five times with the highest and lowest scores discarded and the remaining three results averaged, to help give an accurate finding. Below you can see the other hardware used in our testing rig.
Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 (operating at 3.00GHz – 9x333MHz)
Gigabyte GA-X38-DS5 motherboard (Intel X38 Express with ICH9R southbridge)
2x 1GB OCZ FlexXLC PC-6400 memory (operating in dual-channel at DDR2-800 with 5-5-5-15-2T timings)