The laptop: making the switch
Most notebooks make storage upgrades particularly tricky by virtue of having only a single 2.5" drive bay. The 2.5" enclosure in Kingston's kit lets you hook up the X25-M externally via USB, so you can image your old hard drive before physically replacing it.
The enclosure doesn't actually come with the X25-M pre-mounted, so you'll need to take it apart and do that yourself. Just push the little recessed button on the bottom (red) panel, then slide the top (black) panel away in a horizontal motion. After that, simply push the X25-M label-down into the black half. You'll need to introduce the drive in at a slight angle, which may produce ominous creaking sounds as it meets the Serial ATA connectors. That's normal, apparently; I inserted the drive and removed it multiple times without causing any damage.
This enclosure doesn't need an AC adapter, so you're good to go as soon as you hook up the USB cable. Just connect the other end to your laptop and, if you're like me, pretend for a minute that you're using the world's most expensive USB thumb drive. Then get down to business.
We used one of Apple's late-2008 MacBooks for our mobile test. The MacBook is a great candidate, because it's designed to be both reasonably powerful and portable. In theory, it should benefit both from the X25-M's higher performance and from its low power consumption, which could potentially improve battery life. The fact that the 2.5" hard drive bay is easily accessible right under the battery cover doesn't hurt, either, although you'll need to transfer little studs from the default hard drive to the X25-M using a Torx screwdriver for a secure installation.
When the time came to copy the contents of our MacBook's hard drive, we ran into a little snag: Acronis' cloning tool doesn't seem to like Macs. It kept crashing immediately after bootup, perhaps in defiance to Steve Jobs' smug sense of style. Luckily for Jobs fans, Mac OS X offers much of the same functionality in the form of the built-in Disk Utility, which lets you image, format, and clone hard drives (among many other things) within the operating system via a simple drag-and-drop interface.
Apple even lets you keep using your Mac while you clone the system drive. In order to speed things up and sidestep any potential snags, though, we booted from the OS X installation disc and did the cloning through Disk Utility from there.
The contents of our system drive happily (albeit sluggishly) made their way across the USB interface to the X25-M. With that step complete, we removed the X25-M from the enclosure and mounted it in the place of the MacBook's built-in mechanical drive. The system subsequently booted up as if nothing had happened. Smooth.
Is it worth it?
At the risk of sounding a tad hyperbolic, I'll relate my first impression immediately after first booting up from the X25-M: "This feels like night and day." And it pretty much does. 5,400-RPM mobile hard drives may be great at keeping power consumption and noise levels in check, but they can present rather tight performance bottlenecks. Just look at how the Intel SSD improves boot-up time, from the moment we hit the power button until the arrival of the OS X log-in screen:
The X25-M speeds up not just boot times, but also application load times and day-to-day operations. The whole system just feels noticeably snappier. Here's what happened when we tried copying a 914MB directory filled with 107 items, most of them being 15-20MB RAW shots from a digital SLR camera:
Again, night and day. Best of all, Intel claims those performance gains come hand-in-hand with battery life improvements. Let's put that claim to the test now, shall we?
We set out to test battery life in the same way we often do: we opened two browser windows, one for TR and one for Shacknews, and set them to refresh automatically every 30 seconds until the battery ran out. The system was connected to the Internet over 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth was disabled. Display brightness was set to around 63%, or 10/16 squares on the OSD's brightness bar, and we disabled the screen saver, as well as automatic display sleep and dimming. To record battery life in a precise fashion, I wrote a little shell script that appended the system's uptime to a text file every 30 seconds.
With the X25-M filling in for the mechanical hard drive, battery life climbed from three hours and 24 minutes to three hours and 37 minutes—a 6% improvement. Nobody's going to turn down an extra 13 minutes of battery life, but clearly, you shouldn't expect a new SSD to give netbook-class mobility to a bulky desktop-replacement system. That ain't gonna happen. We should, however, note that our battery life test wasn't particularly storage-intensive. The SSD may well make a greater difference in cases involving, say, active multitasking and frequent file operations.
What have we learned so far? Subjectively speaking, if you need to use your notebook for actual work rather than simply browsing the web and checking e-mails, the X25-M—and, indeed, any similarly speedy SSD—will help it feel much more like a full-blown desktop PC. Objectively, the SSD will deliver higher performance hand-in-hand with slightly better battery life and silence. A mechanical hard drive couldn't do that.
By now, some of you might be wondering how 7,200-RPM mobile drives fit into the picture. We didn't have time to test one here, but we did benchmark the X25-M together with Seagate's Momentus 7200.4 and a handful of 5,400-RPM drives in our 2.5" hard drive comparo last month. We found that the 7,200-RPM Momentus didn't differ very much from its 5,400-RPM counterparts in terms of performance, noise levels, or power consumption.