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Boot duration
We're limited in how we can measure storage performance with actual applications, but we have come up with a handful of load-time tests that do just that. This is the only batch of performance tests that presses the competitors into service as system drives housing the operating system. It's only fitting, then, that we start by timing how long it takes to load the OS. Here, we're relying on Windows 7's own performance-monitoring capabilities to clock the boot duration, which is the time between BIOS initialization and when the system has loaded all processes and idled for 10 seconds. We're reporting the boot duration minus those superfluous seconds.

Ah yes, another example where the difference between SSDs is much smaller than the gap between the solid-state crowd and a very fast mechanical hard drive. The top five SSDs all load Windows within half a second of each other. Only one of the SandForce drives can be found in that lead group, while the rest stumble in 1-2 seconds off the mark set by the Crucial m4.

Level load times
Upgrading to a fancy solid-state drive will likely have little impact on in-game frame rates. But will you be able to load levels any faster?

Yes, at least when compared to a mechanical hard drive. The SSDs are much quicker than the Caviar Black in both Portal 2 and Duke Nukem Forever. Although you might only boot a system once a day, the average gaming session will consist of numerous level loads.

You're going to have to make the performance gaps between the SSDs cumulative to notice a difference between the drives. Only about a second separates the slowest examples from the fastest.

We've long thought that code compiling might be able to tease out meaningful performance differences between different storage solutions, so we've taken one more shot at the problem with a little help from FileBench creator Bruno "morphine" Ferreira. This test starts with version 2010.05 of the Qt application framework source, which is compiled with multiple threads using the MinGW port of GCC 4.4.0. Mad props to morphine for packaging this test so nicely.

I'd also blame him for the fact that this test doesn't show any real advantage for solid-state drives, but that's a notable result in itself. After two failed attempts, I think we're going to have to take a break from developing compiling benchmarks for SSD testing. This test does have potential uses in other reviews, however.