Monday, September 27, 2010

Make World of Warcraft Load Faster Using Solid State Drives

Solid State Drives are in their infancy in terms of mainstream adoption in the PC market. Barring the cheap SSDs found in notebooks, finding an SSD that offers good performance can be very expensive. The price to storage ratio is of an SSD very poor when compared with traditional hard drives. For example, a 128gb SSD will cost around £213.99 whilst a 7200rpm 250gb HDD will cost around £28.71.

With huge cost and tiny storage spaces, SSDs are not really meant to be used for replacing your 500gb of storage of movies or even for your games collection. However, in a game like World of Warcraft, SSDs make a huge difference in terms of speed increase in loading times. Any loading speed boost has a multiplicative effect on the entire game experience. This is because logging into a character, taking a ship between continents, dying in a dungeon and entering an instance or a battleground will take a long time if you are running from a slow hard drive, whilst a SSD will make your loading speed up to 60% faster.

I personally use the 80gb Intel X25-M which is considered a good value SSD (even though it is priced much higher than a comparable HDD. A better value SSD may be the Intel X25-V which can be bought at this moment for under £100.

In this (very unscientific) benchmark I am comparing a Seagate SATA 7200rpm 750gb drive against the Intel X25-M. What I did was for each benchmark was to cold boot and then measure the amount of time it took to go from character selection screen to the end of the loading bar.

Elywnn Forest
33.8 seconds - Seagate
19.7 seconds - X25-M

42% speed increase

64.0 seconds - Seagate
28.4 seconds - X25-M

66% speed increase

As we can see, there are considerable speed increases with the use of the SSD. We can see there is a much greater benefit to using an SSD in the more graphically intensive zone Dalaran. This is because Elwynn Forest and other 'old world' zones have considerably less texture and geometry to load from the hard drive, as not all the art assets have been designed to be viewed from all angles. This will change once the Cataclysm expansion arrives and makes the 'old world' accessible to flying mount, as well as increasing the amount of textures that are required to load.

For best results, you will want to keep your operating system installation on the SSD to improve your booting and application speed. However if you choose to go the 40gb route, you might be advised not to install your operating system there as well. This is because World of Warcraft is a constantly growing game. There was a time when World of Warcraft could be run from an 8gb flash drive and now, pre-Cataclysm, the game weighs in at just under 20gb. This size will keep growing with subsequent expansions and patches.

For most World of Warcraft players with a chunk of change spare, I would definitely recommend using a SSD to hold the World of Warcraft installation. The amount of time saved is not just with the initial loading of the game, but with switching between characters, loading AddOns, etc. and this can have a dramatic effect on the total amount of time spent staring at a loading screen in any one session.