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Kingston's SSDNow 80GB upgrade kit

Switching to and living with an SSD

Solid-state drives have come a long way over the past two years. In July 2006, $320 would get you an 8GB IDE flash drive with considerably more sluggish performance than just about anything mechanical. Today, you can pay roughly the same amount for an 80GB Intel X25-M SSD capable of producing some mouth-watering benchmark results.

Kingston's SSDNow 80GB upgrade kit is built around that Intel drive, but with a twist. The box also contains just about everything you need to switch to an SSD as painlessly as possible—adapters, cables, software... you name it.

We'll be looking at that kit today. While we've already run the X25-M through our full benchmark suite, this should also be a good opportunity to look at the drive from a more practical (and perhaps more subjective) point of view. How easy is it to make the switch in a notebook? What about a desktop PC? Will the SSD improve performance, battery life, and system responsiveness in noticeable ways? Keep reading for the answers.

What's in the box
Beneath a gray paper sleeve and a clear plastic box embossed with the Kingston logo, you'll find the contents of the 80GB SSDNow upgrade kit huddled together: a 2.5" Intel X25-M SSD adorned with a Kingston sticker, a 2.5" external drive enclosure with a matching USB cable, a pair of rails and matching screw sets (for fastening the X25-M inside a 3.5" drive bay), a Molex-to-Serial ATA power adapter, a SATA data cable, and a bootable CD loaded with Acronis' True Image HD software plus some instructional PDF files.

Kingston assumes you'll be wanting to copy your operating system and applications onto the X25-M—a safe bet, since this is possibly the worst choice ever for an affordable mass-storage solution. To make the switch, you're supposed to slap the drive into the USB enclosure or mount it inside your desktop PC using the provided rails, then boot from the software CD and clone contents of your system drive. Once that's over, just swap out your old drive for the X25-M and go back to doing whatever it is you were doing. Couldn't be simpler. And if you just replaced a laptop drive, you should even be able to keep it in the external enclosure for external backups.

Naturally, Kingston charges a premium for these little extras. The 80GB upgrade kit costs $345 at Newegg, $31 pricier than the bare, Intel-branded 80GB X25-M. Kingston also offers a similar SSDNow upgrade kit based on the 160GB version of the X25-M, which will set you back $41 more than the bare 160GB drive, or $660.

Depending on your needs, $31 may not be an unreasonable premium for the convenience, especially if you're trading three Franklins for a high-end SSD to begin with. The value of the accessories hinges greatly upon their effectiveness, of course. That effectiveness is, in part, what we're going to gauge over the next few pages.