Not that kind of hybrid

17.03.2011 19:50

A few days ago I finally managed to upgrade my work laptop, a Lenovo T61. To help with the really bad IO performance I replaced the original drive with a hybrid Seagate Momentus XT. I also reinstalled Debian Squeeze from scratch, replacing the old system that went through several Stable-to-Testing-to-Stable cycles. Not because that would be needed per-se, but because I wanted to have a true amd64 system and did not want to go through the adrenalin rush of doing that on a live system again.

Seagate Momentus XT and WD1600BEVS

Squeeze installation went smoothly. It went so smoothly in fact that I probably would not believe it if I wouldn't see it with my own eyes. Everything was setup correctly and the computer rebooted into a nicely themed GNOME desktop. Proper partitioning, Nouveau-powered X server, reliable suspend-to-RAM and working volume buttons on the keyboard out of the box. Beautiful. Congratulations to the Debian team!

One thing also worth mentioning is that Squeeze now ships with hybrid CD images for installation. This means that you can simply dd an official Debian installation ISO to a USB flash drive and it will boot up correctly. I will happily forget the old routine of installing SYSLINUX bootloader and the ISO image separately.

It is interesting how different this freshly-installed system is from the previous one that was constantly upgraded in small steps (most of the time I tracked the Testing release, updating weekly). The computer no longer freezes if I remove it from the docking station while it's running. I haven't had a single freeze waking up from suspend-to-RAM while previously that was a daily occurrence. Also there are various small cosmetic improvements, like the cool Ubuntu-like notification balloons - although some of this can probably be attributed to my new home directory, free from dot-file clutter.

I'm sure all of these problems could be fixed in the old system. But this install from scratch just turned out so much more time efficient than any specific tweaking that I will seriously consider freshly reinstalling other desktop machines when the next release comes.

Going back to the hard drive upgrade. It's hard to say whether improvements in performance can be attributed to the 4 GB cache of the Momentus XT hard drive or the fact that it's a 7200 RPM drive (compared to the old drive's 5400 RPM) and of course changes in the OS and the freshly created file system.

What ever the cause, the improvements are significant. The new system:

  • Boots up to GDM password prompt in 30 seconds (old one before reinstall took 53 seconds),
  • takes further 8 s to a fully loaded GNOME desktop (previously 53 s),
  • 3 s to start Iceweasel (previously 22 s),
  • 6 s to start Icedove (previously 15 s),
  • and 4 s to start OpenOffice.org (previously 16 s).

Again, these can be attributed to changes in software. For instance, the old times in the list above were measured just before reinstalling and they are somewhat different than the measurements I took half a year ago on practically the same system. So I guess only time will tell if this hybrid disk was really worth its price.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Code

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