Revisiting the ASUS U30Jc with an SSD

Our standard laptop reviews always look at the systems as they come from the manufacturer. However, we know many people will perform some upgrades at home to improve certain performance aspects. One of the easiest to perform is an upgrade to the hard drive, specifically removing the old style conventional hard drive and replacing it with a state-of-the-art SSD. We already had a good laptop with the ASUS U30Jc, but what happens when we perform just such an upgrade? That's what we're looking at today.

We've had plenty of coverage of SSDs, so we won't dwell too much on why you might want one or which models are the fastest here. The short story is that hard drives are very slow compared to other modern components. That's why we have lots of main memory in modern systems, and even memory isn't all that fast which is why we have L1, L2, and L3 caches. Where modern processors can theoretically consume several hundred gigabytes of data each second, keeping the engines fed is quite a challenge. Unfortunately, hard drive performance hasn't been keeping pace with the rest of the computer ecosystem, and when you're stuck waiting for a hard drive to load your OS or applications your shiny new computer can end up feeling like a dog.

A good desktop hard drive might be able to deliver 100MB of data per second (several orders of magnitude less data than what a CPU can process). The SATA interface is now able to move up to 600MB/s, but actually saturating even a 300MB/s SATA bus is quite a challenge with conventional hard drives. Where things get particularly ugly is when a drive has to perform seek operations to find the data you're after; with each seek taking 12 to 20ms on average (depending on the drive and rotational speed), random access patterns are the bane of the hard drive. Instead of pushing 100MB/s, with random data hard drives will often drop to under 1MB/s. Ouch.

Of course, SSDs aren't without their drawbacks. The chief complaints are price and capacity. Where you can find a 500GB 7200RPM 2.5" laptop hard drive for as little as $85, and 1TB 5200RPM drives are now available for $170, even the smallest SSDs—at least the ones worth buying—start at $80 for 32GB. In terms of price per GB, SSDs generally cost around 15X—or more!—as much as conventional hard drives. The catch, of course, is that they can be an order of magnitude (or two) faster, depending on what you're doing. Another complaint involves reliability, both short-term and long-term. Some SSDs have been around long enough that we're fairly comfortable recommending them, but there are still far more instances of bricked (re: broken) SSDs, particularly with some of the latest models. Staying on top of firmware updates can be critical, and having a good backup strategy is highly recommended—but then we'd recommend backing up data for HDDs as well.

For this particular test, we didn't have a huge selection of SSDs available. Anand has plenty of SSD reviews in the works, but we turned to an older, well-regarded model: the OCZ Vertex 120GB. If you're wondering about pricing, this particular model will set you back around $325. Sporting an Indilinx Barefoot controller, the Vertex was the first SSD that was a reasonable alternative to the Intel SSDs—it was a bit slower in random read/write performance, but it provided faster sequential transfer rates and an at the time lower price per GB. There are faster SSDs, but the OCZ Vertex is still a reasonable choice. Here's a recap of our test laptop, this time with the 120GB Vertex.

ASUS U30Jc-A1 Specifications
Processor Intel Core i3-350M
(32nm, 2x2.26GHz + Hyper-Threading, 3MB L3, 35W)
Chipset Intel HM55
Memory 2x2GB DDR3-1066
Max 2x4GB DDR3-1066
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 310M Optimus
Intel HD Graphics
Display 13.3" LED Backlit Color-Shine WXGA (1366x768)
Hard Drive 320GB 5400RPM 8MB cache
(Hitachi Travelstar 5K500.B HTS545032B9A300)

120GB Indilinx Barefoot w/TRIM
OCZ Vertex OCZSSD2-1VTX120G, 1.4 firmware
Optical Drive 8x DVDRW Super Multi
(Matshita DVD-RAM UJ890AS)
Battery 8-cell 5600mAh, 84Wh
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 13.12" x 9.52" x 0.80-1.20" (WxDxH)
Weight 4.80 lbs (with 8-cell battery)
Pricing Online starting at ~$900

With the SSD, the total cost of our test laptop is now up to $1225, and there's the rub: we increased the price by around 33% and there are situations where the faster SSD won't make a noticeable difference. Gaming performance? Not to spoil the benchmarks, but the vast majority of games only load slightly faster and frame rates are essentially unchanged. CPU intensive tasks like 3D rendering and video encoding also show little to no benefit, as expected. However, in terms of overall responsiveness, a good SSD can make your laptop feel much faster—especially if you're going from a slow 5400RPM laptop drive. We'll look at some tests where the SSD definitely helps, along with battery life, gaming, and our other standard application benchmarks.

The Good News: General OS and Application Performance
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  • Hrel - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    If someone could do a review on the laptop that I currently suspect is the best "bang for your buck" out there. It's made by compal, and available on who's machines you've reviewed before. If you'd like it configured like I did, which I think is the best bang for buck, do this: Go to the website. mouse over 15.6" Laptops and click on the $999 Xplorer X6-8500. It has a 1080p screen. (I'm not sure why the people who run this site do this, but even though the other configurations use the same chassis when personalized they come out to cost more than this one; annoying since it makes me configure all 3 or 4 machines built on the same base chassis to figure out which one is cheapest/best for me.) Then I configured it with the Core i7-620M CPU. (to get it over 1K so I can take advantage of the 5% off.) 4GB 0DDR3-1333, hopefully 7-7-7-21, probably not, but hopefully. ATI MR HD5650 1GB GDDR3 320GB 7200rpm HDD (I did this cause I'm gonna take that HDD out and use the Seagate Momentus XT 500GB, thanks for that review!!) Everything else on that page I left untouched. The only thing I did on page 2 was switch to Intel wifi with bluetooth; Though I'm curious if the MSI option is equal/better; 17 bucks isn't nothing. It has HDMI out and a fingerprint reader. This page says 3 USB ports, the specs sheet says 4USB ports; not sure which is true. (I do wish they were USB 3.0 ports, but I was hoping you guys would test some stuff and tell me if that even matters for use with an external hard drive, mechanical disk 7200rpm. Transferring large files like movies and games mostly.) On page 3 I select "none, format only" for the OS. And select "LCD perfect assurance" cause even 1 dead pixel is unacceptable to me. This brings the total to $1008.90 after 5% off, or $992.75 if you get the MSI network card. So yeah, I really hope you guys can get a hold of one of these for review; as a loner or given as a review unit or maybe someone will just buy one and review it cause it's really tempting me right now... like a lot! If you're review is good I'm gonna start saving up and hopefully be able to buy it around Christmas. Thanks guys! A loyal reader. - Brian
  • JarredWalton - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    We can ask around... Anyway, I want to do a comment system test, so I'm doing it here. The following is a list of items that should be on separate lines: 1) Line one 2) Another line 3) And the third line. I'm pretty sure the system isn't giving anyone <br> tags now.
  • JohnNyceis - Monday, June 7, 2010 - link

    this is a test

    line breaks should be working now

  • brundlefly - Friday, June 25, 2010 - link

    I have used SSDs on my notebooks for 3 years and can't go back.

    Benchmarks just do not reflect how well these improve my everyday computing.

    Like getting a larger monitor, its cool for a while, then you get used to it and its not big deal, then when you use a computer with a smaller monitor (or mechanical hard drive) its excruciating - if its well tuned you might need to use it for 5 minutes before you start realizing its a hard drive, but it will happen, and the enabling of fans and even the slightest noise is grinding and foreign.

    It is *very* hard dealing with the storage issues on a notebook. I shove all of my media off onto a Synology NAS, and have moved all of my mail and office apps onto web services.

    This last bit was one of the best things I have ever done for my productivity. I used to have outlooks and entourages running all over the place, plus syncing and duplicates and all that nonsense - no more.

    Everything is on Google, and my iPhone has Google Sync (which is actually Exchange, so its push and there are never conversion issues like duplicates).
  • Amazing Sathu - Monday, January 21, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the good article Jarred. A revisit review of a product is awesome and something not done normally. But such reviews help in giving mid life boost to slightly older products and save some $$ in the process. I would like to add 3 things I did to my Asus UJ30C over the last 1 week and it now is like a completely different animal. Between the iPads, tablets, my office laptop etc, UJ30C was somewhat getting neglected. But recently taking advantage of some good pricies of components I decided to upgrade the UJ30C. Three upgrades were done
    1. Upgrade RAM from 4GB to 8 GB (PNY 2x4GB) - $31
    2. Upgrade the OEM WD Blue 5400RMP 500GB HDD to Seagate Momentus Hybrid 7200 RPM 750GB Drive - $125 (Used Acronis cloning SW - Trial version)
    3. Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro ($39)
    Total cost - $195 plus 4 hours of weekend time.(cloning takes the maximum time here)
    Result: System is screaming fast - take 15 secs to boot up from cold to get to Windows 8 Metro screen. (prior to that it took full 3 minutes for the laptop to boot on Win 7, Upgrading the RAM and SSD cut it down to 30 Seconds, Win 8 reduced it further)

    Issues so far:
    1. WiDi is broke after the upgrade. Major dampener. Reasons I got here was googling for a fix and came across this review. Sharing this for others who may benefit and be aware of the WiDi issue on Win8.

    Thanks all for reading. Comments are welcome.

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