Installing your new SSD

Installing your new SSD

Installing an SSD hard drive into my machine has to be the most transformative computing experience I’ve had since the introduction of Intel’s Core line of processors.

But there are important things to know about SSD and upgrading.  Sure, it’ll install just like any other hard drive, but they are not created the same way and need different tweaks on them.  Our operating systems are still geared and tuned for platter systems.  There has been many, many people tweaking and experimenting with a great number of setups.  Now, however, they are all starting to converge and say similar things.  Here’s a great link with most of the common details and techniques outlined:
However, there are some important things I think are worth calling out:

  1. Your SSD has a finite lifespan based on how many times its *written* too – SSD’s only have the ability to write so many times to it’s memory cells before they degrade and fail.  Reading is free from this behavior.  This was much worse in the first generations of the drives – so buying used SSD’s means you’re buying a drive that has used more of it’s lifetime.  Buy used and older generation drives carefully (and at a big discount).   The most recent drives are not nearly as bad as first generation drives but your goal is still to *reduce* the amount of writing your drive.
    Don’t freak out though – Intel drives have 3 year warranties, use modern wear leveling algorithms, compression to avoid extra writes, have built-in block correction/replacement, and use modern processes so that you are now much more likely you’ll upgrade before a failure.  Still, using the drive as a constant write cache would be a bad idea. Most of the optimization strategies you read about are geared for the right balance of longevity and speed.
  2. Even ‘slower’ big SSD’s are faster than the fastest smaller ones.  While my Intel 180gb drive is in the top third of performance, it absolutely TROUNCES the perf of the fastest 64gb, and almost all the 120gb drives.  The bigger the drive, the faster it natively is.  Not sure why, but the specs show they are.
  3. Buy at minimum a 120gb drive – I recommend at least a 180gb.  You’ll find all kinds of folks that get Windows 7 installed in 30gb or under.  Yes, you can install Windows 7 on a 64gb drive.  But you won’t get much else on there and it requires lots of ‘fiddling’.  After years of doing this as a poor college student, I now hate fiddling.  I installed the OS with the swap file and most of the recommended settings along with all my core little helper apps (Winzip, Skype, PowerDVD, Office, Battlefield 3 (notoriously SLOW on level loading and big), and am just under 100gb before my final adjustments that should net me a bit more space.  I think that would completely fill a 120 as after formatting you only have a bit over 100gb.  I would have gone for a 256gb model, but they weren’t offering the nearly half-off super-discount on that one at the time. 🙂  If you buy anything under a 180gb you will probably have to ‘fiddle’ with it.  If you’re ok with that – knock yourself out.  It’s not worth $60 over 3+ years of ownership for me anymore.
  4. Plug the drive into one of the built-in Intel 6gb/Sata3 ports.  Some people report trouble/lowered perf with the ‘add on’ Marvell/AMD/etc SATA3 controller ports (if your MB has them).
  5. Upgrade to Win7.  Love or hate it, Windows 7 has lots of new tweaks and optimizations for SSD use.  If you use an older OS, you won’t get those optimizations, and at worse, maybe shortening the life of your drive.  What are those optimizations?  Things like using the page file linearly to minimize random writes, support for TRIM to combine writes/reads, etc.  Get the latest service packs + updates too.
  6. Install your OS from scratch on the new drive.  You can use a disk imaging tool to get things across, but it’s FAR better to re-install your OS from scratch.  Windows 7 has tweaks for SSD’s if the drive is detected during install that might not turn on if you just clone a drive.
    In addition, if you’re like me and have an original Win7 install CD, you can freely download a Win7+SP1 image instead which saves you at least 20-30 minutes of downloading and installing SP1 after the install.  You can find links to the unified packages below.  Simply pick the one that MATCHES the version you bought (or the serial number won’t work).  Yes, these are 100% legal because they are the 30-day trial versions that you unlock with your purchased serial number.   <-  Win7 Ultimate x64 (for me!)
  7. Use the SSD for OS and ‘core’ apps you use – put other programs and data on a platter drive.  Even the biggest SSD’s are not big enough to hold the hundreds of megabytes of stuff most of us have.  A good balance of minimizing writes and extracting speed a lot of people have worked out is to install the OS and apps you use daily on the SSD, then install everything else and data to the platter drive. This requires the annoyance of paying attention to what drive letter/path to install to when installing your apps – but you only have to do that once (thankfully).
    The bigger question is data.  People that do video editing/photoshop/etc generate tons of big files that results in lots of writes to the drive.  That can be huge slowdowns in their workflows, and prime candidates for using on the SSD.  But it also means lots of writing to big sections of the drive.  I would almost recommend a second SSD for that work so if it fails, you don’t end up with an unbootable machine.  Most people should be fine with keeping their data on the platters, but do as you need and keep good backups if you do use the primary drive for data too.
  8. Optimizations after OS install– after you install, here are some of the more common things you should do
    1. Install the SSD drive management software – these packages often have system tuners that automatically check that the OS is set up for optimal performance.  Run them.
    2. Update the firmware on your drive – check for firmware updates regularly.  The Intel management software actually does this checking for you.  Many bugs, perf problems, and issues can be solved by simply making sure your drive is updated to the latest firmware.  Be careful though, some updates require the re-formatting of the drive.
    3. Disable drive indexing – results in lots of background disk access/writes that are not really necessary on SSD’s
    4. Disable automatic defragging – drive defragmentation is ON by default and is 100% not needed by SSD’s which have no concern about physical location of data on the drive.  In fact, it does nothing but result in tons of extra writing that shortens the life of the drive.
    5. Page file – This is a swap space for active memory.  Some turn this completely off, or put it on another drive.  The current thought is that you should shrink this down to about 1-2gb if you have 8gb of ram (or more) and leave it on the SSD.
    6. Superfetch/prefetch/bootfetch – these result in extra writes to the drive, and really aren’t needed since SSD’s are so fast.  Consensus is turn them off and see if that’s ok for you.  If you see slowdowns, then turn them selectively back on.
    7. Log files – you can turn off some of the copious amounts of logging windows does (and turn it back on if you have troubles later)
    8. Enable Write caching – I bought a $50 UPS for cheap and then turned on write caching.  This lets the system use main memory to cache up reads/writes before committing to the drive.  Besides reducing writing – I saw a good 10-20% speed up from enabling this on my platter drives.
    9. Change the location of temp files for your OS – you can change the location of temporary file generation to a platter drive to help reduce writes, but it will likely slow down installs or anything else that generates temp files.  I’ve left mine on the SSD for now. We’ll see how that goes.
    10. Change the location of temp files for your browser – you can change the location of the copious temporary files generated by your browser too.  I have a unique technique I outline in my previous posting below.

So, those are some high-level tips.  Go to the link for detailed instructions and discussions for these steps.

I have an SSD in my laptop, and now one in my desktop.  The battery life improvements on my laptop were awesome.  The bootup, shudown, and app start time are nearly instantaneous on both – simply stunning.   It’s like using a brand new kind of machine.
I would recommend a SSD to anyone that wants to really improve their home PC/laptop experience.  It really is the wave of the future that is settling in the market now.  Once they get the capacities up to 1TB, keep up the great improvements in drive longevity, and get the prices down (all things that are happening with each new release) – there will be no reason to own platter drives beyond wanting huge, slow bit buckets.

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