A full boot takes now as much as 4'20":
30" from startup to the login screen of Windows XP
3'40" to quiesce all disk activities.
At that point, 40 more seconds are necessary from login to complete disk stop. Trying to launch any program before the disk settles out, just results in more thrashing and an even slower startup.
So I've bought a Crucial m4 SSD to see if this upgrade can make a difference.
This was the starting configuration:
I have 2 HDs in my PC, one for the OS and one for the data.
The OS is multiboot, so I have one partition for XP and one for Ubuntu.
The remaining disk space is for Windows program files partition.
On the second unit there are the swap partitions for Windows and Linux, the Documents and Settings partition, the /home filesystem and some spare space for Windows.
The purpose of this layout is to allow concurrent access to OS and swap, OS and user files, applications and user data.
The first step was copying the content of the first disk onto the new ssd.
I connected the new disk to an empty SATA connector and booted into Parted Magic.
Using GParted I initialized the new disk with Device -> Create Partition Table, then it was just a copy/paste work between the old partition on /dev/sda and the new disk seen as /dev/sdc
The Crucial M4 is just 119GiB while my old disk was 153, so I needed to shrink the sda3 partition to make it fit.
After copying the /dev/sda1 partition I needed to set the "boot" flag on it on the new disk to make it bootable.
GParted copied all partitions but left a standard Windows MBR, so grub was gone and linux didn't boot.
To restore the grub MBR I've followed this excellent guide, and linux was back in action.
Windows booted but wasn't in good shape either:
I logged in and the whole desktop froze with only the wallpaper displayed, but no start button, taskbar or icons.
It just hung there forever.
I rebooted in safe mode by pressing F8 and choosing "Safe mode with command prompt".
A popup went up, saying that windows had found new hardware and the drivers had been installed.
One more reboot and Windows was fine with the new disk.
Now a complete boot takes as low as 19 seconds, and no more disk thrashing after loggin on: the Start menu is immediately available and responsive.
The last step was setting noatime in /etc/fstab to reduce writing on the SSD.
So, here it is, by comparison with a traditional 3.5" HD, the little Crucial M4