SSD on OpenSolaris MacBook Pro

 Check what IDC is saying on SSD shipments in 2009.

The idea:

As some incredible benchs are regularly published by Sun, and Oracle has also largely beaten DB benchs by using flash technology, I decided to check what should be the experience on using flash technology (here SSD format) on a Laptop. So, I went to my PC shop to buy an SSD SATA-II disk for my laptop running OpenSolaris.

What is it really:

So, a Solide State Disk (see english, french, german explanations) is not a physical disk, but rather flash memory grouped behind a Flash Memory Controller (FMC), packaged like an 2"5 internal disk, and providing a standard interface (SATA-II or IDE) that make it looks like a disk. So, It looks like a hard disk, but it provides more performances, is faster, consumes less energy, generate less heat, generate less noise (silent) and vibrations, is more expensive for the same capacity, but is less expensive when comparing price per I/O Per Second.

Which SSD to choose:

If you decide to upgrade to SSD technology, there are two things to consider:

  1. what is you internal bus technology behind your actual internal hard drive: EIDE or SATA-II (SATA) ? it should normally be a 2"5 size
  2. what is your budget (200/400/800/more USD/CHF)

Checking point 1 will avoid you to buy an SSD that can't connect to your Laptop (MacBook). On a MacBook Pro, it's SATA. So, a SATA-II SSD will perfectly fit.

Point 2 will allow you to select appropriatly other parameters, like:

  • SLC or MLC technology (Single Level Cell is much more expensive but better). I took MLC.
  • Which read/write performances (I took a 200MB/s read & 180 MB/s write). SLC SSD can have much more.
  • Which capacity (capacity X2 = price X2), I took a small one: 64GB. It's for OpenSolaris boot and applications. Data will be elsewhere.

Be aware that you can still use you internal hard disk as an external disk by adding the correct enclosure providing SATA to USB or SATA to FireWire.

 I'm personnaly using a Corsair P64 (64GB for 229.- CHF) SSD, technical spec can be found here. I'm very happy with it. I would recommend to compare carefully the read/write specs before choosing your SSD. Having more that one year of warranty is also a good sign of quality from the manufacturer.

The goods:

Well, some nice benefits for a MacBook Pro (laptop experience). After a few tests,  (partially apply for a server too), here are my opinions:

  • Fast boot (an reboot) experience (12 seconds to boot OpenSolaris), rember when you need to quickly reboot your server ... Even your virtualized VMs when having Virtual Disks (.vdi files) on an SSD will benefit from the acceleration !
  • No more disk noise and vibrations
  • Shock resistant !
  • longer battery life: my SSD consume 2W/0.5W (active/idle)
  • less heat (see consumption above), so less power comsumed by the FANs
  • much less degradation of performances when swapping (yes, your swap file is on flash memory !!)
  • Applications seem to be accelerated when launched for the first time
  • Installation take half the time (12 minutes to install OpenSolaris 2009.06 VS 22 minutes)
  • Copying an ISO image of an OSOL repository (a 7GB ISO image holding build 125 full repository) locally is accelerated by a factor of 2x (7GB in 700K files copied in 22 minutes instead of 42 minutes), read and write on the same volume
  • Parsing local directory is extremely fast (local IPS repository server). => I greatly recommend using SSD disk on network servers (ips, web, ftp, mail, dns, proxy, ...)
  • Disk scrubing is fast (try pfexec zpool scrub rpool, and then do a regular zpool status). A 32GB partition was scrubbed in 2 minutes :)
  • Upgrading from Build 111b (OSOL 2009.06) to build 125 using a local IPS server was incredibly fast :), so imagine patching your server with a huge patch from you favorite application provider
  • Installing a zone took ... 37seconds (with the help of a local IPS server)

The bads:

Well, clearly, the hardest thing is to find a good balance between capacity, erformance (SLC/MLC) and your budget. On a MacBook, with dual boot (OpenSolaris/MacOS X), if you keep MacOS X, be aware that MacOS should have up to 5GB of free space for some upgrades. On OpenSolaris, be aware that if you plan to build your own local IPS repository, you should need an extra 7GB (ISO mage) + 7GB (copied files) of disk space (the you can delete the ISO image). I personally split the 32GB in two identical parts (first partition for OpenSolaris, second for MacOS X).


Bringing SSD technology to your MacBook Pro or laptop is the best Santa Claus gift that you could provide him, it's clearly an upgrade in term of performance. So, for those of you who are doing some compilations jobs, providing a huge amount of files to read/write during short periods of time, do not hesitate ! replace your SATA disk with an SSD disk, and even if you are short in memory and can't add more RAM to you machine, you'll see how your swap file accesses are accelerated !

I would recommend using SSD technology on boot disks for ZFS powered servers instead of standard hard disk. And if you need to accelerate some specific disk I/O, you can also move the ZFS logs from your Hard Disk to specific SSD volumes, or, if you have a Database, move your DB indexes to the SSD volume. You'll be greatly surprised by the boost :)


I have two SSD's (Intel x-18m & x-25m)being shipped here right now and am very excited to see that it can improve performance on OpenSolaris so dramatically!

Posted by Ché Kristo on November 09, 2009 at 09:45 PM CET #

Actually, the Intel SSDs seem to be beaten by some fancy new OCZ drives in terms of speed. Yet i don't think the difference might be to big to consider them over the fail-safe Intel SSDs as i NEVER EVER heared about OCZ before.

Posted by Thomas Minor on March 02, 2010 at 11:03 AM CET #

I took a different approach to ssd's on my 15" MacBook pro.

OSX is my only native OS. I use virtual box.

I hated the spinning beach ball. I found a 64gb ssd at amazon with USB and sata interfaces. I velcro'd it to the back of the display, and I use it for OS, applications, the database for one app, and my virtual box vm's.

There is a secret option is account preferences that allows you to have your home directory on a different disk. That's the secret.

The speed improvement is amazing. My 500gb internal spinning disk works great for data.

It is tempting to remove my optical drive and replace it with an ssd, but that would void my warranty. sells the brackets.

The external ssd is a good conversation starter!



Posted by Bert Shure on April 11, 2010 at 12:17 PM CEST #

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