Which operating system is best for SSDs?

Most modern-day operating systems play well with the new storage technology

Solid-state disk (SSD) drive architecture can play a big role in how fast a computer boots up and performs. But how big a role the SSDs play -- and how much faster an operating system is -- depends as much on the operating system as on the drive. Although none of the mainstream operating systems now in use have been optimized to work better with SSDs, some do natively work more efficiently than others, according to storage experts.

Of the recent operating systems that have been tested, would you believe the winner so far is ... Windows 2000?

That aging operating system, said Saeed Arash Far, engineering manager at SSD manufacturer Patriot Memory, is markedly faster than Windows XP, Vista, Mac OS X or Linux when using NAND flash memory. Far said his company's tests showed that Windows 2000 is 5 percent to 8 percent faster over its newer rivals because "Windows 2000 doesn't run any applications in the background.

"We're getting ridiculous numbers with Windows 2000," he said. "When it comes to Vista, it is faster than XP, but with XP, you have the luxury of turning off background applications. ... With Vista, you can't."

According to Far, Mac OS X runs "a little faster than Vista" with an SSD drive, but Linux is "always faster" than Vista or Mac OS X -- to the tune of 1 percent to 2 percent -- because like Windows 2000, "it never runs anything in the background."

"If you really want to go inside [the OS numbers], Windows 98 was the fastest of all," Far said. But there's a downside: Windows 98 does not support wear-leveling technology, which evenly distributes data writes to NAND flash memory to ensure no single area of an SSD wears out faster than another. Far said his company's SSDs would wear out in only about a year when running Windows 98.

That brings users who may be wondering about the advantages of SSDs back to the Big Three operating systems: Windows Vista and XP and Mac OS X. The claims and counterclaims about SSD technology and operating systems highlight the intricacies of marrying operating systems designed for hard disk drives with the newer technology of SSDs.

Vista slowing SSD adoption?

In July, SanDisk CEO Eli Harari said during an earnings call that Microsoft's Windows Vista worked so poorly with SSDs and, as a result, was actually slowing the adoption of NAND technology. Harari blamed some "very demanding applications" that, in turn, require more sophisticated SSD controller technology to manage how data is transferred to the drive.

But Harari's claim is one that other disk vendors, including rival Micron Technology, have rebutted.

Using an SSD with a SATA interface, Micron has performed tests on Vista; its predecessor, Windows XP; and Mac OS X, capturing data about the newer drives while booting up the operating systems, installing files, running Office productivity applications and shutting down the computer. Micron found that Vista and Mac OS X performed better with its SSDs than XP, according to a post on Micron's blog site. XP does not align the data in the most efficient way for an SSD -- in 4KB blocks -- while Vista and Mac OS X do, according to Justin Sykes, director of marketing for SSD products at Micron. (Linux, which wasn't tested, also aligns data in 4K blocks.)

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Lucas Mearian

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