With both businesses and consumers looking to improve rather than replace their notebooks, the performance boost offered by solid state drives is very tempting. Imation's 128GB M-Class SSD ($424, $359 street price) and its optional upgrade kit ($25) simplifies the process of transferring your OS and data over to a new disk, but falls short of lower-priced drives when it comes to performance.
Though you can purchase the Imation drive by itself, you can also purchase it with a SATA-to-USB adapter kit that allows you to hook up the SSD as a temporary external drive while the bundled EZ Gig II software clones your operating system, programs, and data from your old drive. While this kit is a godsend for anyone who doesn't want to reinstall windows and all their programs (and who does?), it's not unique to Imation. A nearly identical kit, the Apricorn ADW-USB, is available by itself through online retailers for $29.99, only $5 more than what Imation charges.
The Imation kit took a little over an hour to clone a drive with 80GB of data to the 128GB M-Class. No matter how long it takes to complete, the good news is that it takes just a couple of minutes to boot off the EZ Gig II CD, select the Clone Drive option, and start the process. While the process is running, the software does not ask for user input so you can walk away and return at your leisure.
How We Tested
If easy installation were the only criteria, the Imation M-Class drive would win an Editor's Choice award, but performance and value are king when it comes to solid state drives. To test its performance, we put the M-Class through a series of real-world tests and synthetic benchmarks and compared its results with three other high-performance SSDs: theOCZ Vertex(120GB),Intel X25-M(80GB), andSamsung MMDOE56G5MXP-0VB(256GB). We also compared the test results with those delivered by the fastest mechanical drive we've ever tested, the 7,200-rpm Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ (320GB). All tests were performed on our standard test bed, aGateway P-7808u FXwith 4GB of RAM, an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9000 2.0-GHz CPU, Nvidia GeForce 9800M graphics, and 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium.
To test best-case scenario throughput, we ran Sisoftware Sandra Lite and HD Tach 18.104.22.168, two programs that measure read transfer rates and seek times under ideal conditions. While the M-Class clearly outperformed the 7,200-rpm drive, its transfer rates were well behind those of other SSDs. Its read rate of 140.8 MBps in Sandra was nearly 90 MBps slower than the OCZ Vertex. Similarly, in HD Tach, the M-Class' transfer rate of 121 MBps was about 60 MBps slower than the OCZ drive.
|Fujitsu MHZ2320BJ 7,200 rpm(320GB)|
|Imation M-Class (128GB)|
|Intel X-25M (80GB)|
|OCZ Vertex (120GB)|
|Samsung MMDOE56G5MXP-0VB (256GB)|
LAPTOP Transfer Test
On our file-transfer test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files from one folder on the hard drive to another, the M-Class, with its completion time of 3 minutes and 48 seconds (22.32 MBps), lagged significantly behind every drive we compared it with, including the 7,200-rpm Fujitsu drive. The OCZ Vertex, which offers a similar capacity (120GB) at a lower price ($339), moved nearly three times as fast.
In our zip and unzip tests, during which we archive the same 4.97GB of mixed media files and then extract them, the M-Class continued to trail the field, including the 7,200-rpm drive, by a wide margin. The OCZ Vertex bested the Imation by more than 2 minutes on both tests.
Application Open Times
The M-Class fell behind the other SSDs by small margins but beat out the 7,200-rpm drive on our application-opening tests, during which we time the opening of four popular programs: Adobe Photoshop CS4 opening to a 398MB TIFF file, Adobe Reader 9 opening to a 567-page PDF (the 9/11 Commission Report), Firefox 3 opening to a blank screen, and Microsoft Word 2007 opening to a new document.
Application Opens Under Stress
The M-Class continued to trail the other SSDs but lead the 7,200-rpm drive on the application stress test, which is designed to test each drive's multitasking performance by opening the same four applications while zipping a file in another window. The time to open Photoshop CS4, for example, was a full 10.9 seconds slower than the OCZ Vertex, but still more than 400 percent faster than the 7,200-rpm drive.
Many factors besides drive speed affect start-up time: post time, time to power up devices, start-up programs--so even a blazing SSD may not have much effect upon booting. Perhaps that explains why the M-Class's boot time of 56.3 seconds was a full 3.7 seconds behind than the 7,200-rpm drive. To be fair, the Samsung drive, which outperformed the M-Class so handily on every other test, was only a hair faster at 55.7 seconds.
At $359 (street price) for 128GB--$2.80 per gigabyte--the M-Class is slightly less expensive than the OCZ Vertex ($374 for 128GB, labeled as 120GB, or $2.92 per gigabyte). However, the OCZ outperforms the Imation drive by a long shot. Imation also offers a 64GB M-Class for $239, but that's a less economical $3.73 per gigabyte.
With its focus on simplifying your upgrade to a solid state drive, the M-Class SSD and All-in-One Upgrade Kit has the right idea but not the best performance. This 128GB drive was outclassed by a 7,200-rpm drive on file copy and zip tests, and was blown away by comparably priced SSDs on most of our tests. Nevertheless, assuming the street price of the M-Class drops even further, this kit is a good pick for those who want a little guidance or faster application open times than what a traditional hard drive provides.