Upgrade To SSD Hard Drive And See Speed!

After reading several articles about the impressive performance gains you can get from SSD drives as well as the fact that they are completely silent and use a fraction of the power of normal drives, I got the itch and had to look into them.

I started thinking I’d get an SSD to put into my Lenovo Thinkpad X200 laptop. That seemed to make the most sense based on lower power use and the silent running and zero vibration.

I started doing my research by looking into the cheaper drives because I’m all about finding the best bang for my buck. My first assumption was that most likely all SSD’s are pretty much alike and there really wouldn’t be much difference.

I was proven wrong. After trolling through dozens of lengthy reviews with specs, the general consensus was that the cheaper drives seemed to have a lot more compatibility problems and often didn’t perform as well in speed tests.

I settled on the Intel 80gb X25-M SATA SSD. I would have loved to have gone for the 160gb version but at around twice as much, I decided I should go conservative since, if it sucked I didn’t want to be out the extra money. The Intel drive seemed to get the most solid reviews and wasn’t dramatically more expensive than the cheaper competition. Everyone seemed to say the same thing, this drive is lightening fast and rock solid.

Once I ordered the drive and was waiting for it to arrive, I kept on reading reviews and more and more started thinking about putting it in my desktop as the system drive instead of my laptop. My desktop was already set up with one drive for Windows 7 and my programs and a second one terabyte drive for my data, so the system drive really didn’t need to be that large.

I am running a four year old Dell Dimension 9200. This machine was pretty bad ass when it was new but it is getting pretty long in the tooth compared to its modern equivalents.

Don’t get me wrong, it has a Core 2 Duo dual core processor and 3gb of ram, which aren’t bad specs but it is not as fast with Windows 7 and the latest apps on it as it was when it was running Vista and the last generation of apps.

It’s especially noticeable when waiting for the machine to fully boot up. If I have a lot to do, I dread having to reboot my machine as I know I’ll be staring at the screen waiting for everything to get loaded for a while.

The drive finally arrived, courtesy of UPS and I popped it out of the box. The cool thing is that the drive is the standard size for a laptop hard drive, but it comes with an adapter bracket so that you can easily install it in a desktop as well. It has standard SATA connectors on it for power and data so you don’t have to do anything special or buy any extra parts to get it to work with your machine – either laptop or desktop.

Now I needed to install it into my desktop. I decided to use Norton Ghost to copy my existing desktop system drive to the new SSD so that I wouldn’t have to reinstall and reconfigure everything.

In order to get ready, I decided to free up space on my system drive by moving the page file from C: to my second hard drive which is D:. I also ran disk cleanup in Windows 7 to get rid of about 5gb of temp files, etc. When all this was done, I was at a comfortable 50gb of used space on my system drive, which would give me plenty of breathing room on the new 80gb drive.

I installed Ghost on my desktop, then took out my USB to SATA / IDE hard drive connector and plugged the SSD into a free USB port. I then fired up Ghost, set it to do a drive – to – drive clone from my existing C: drive to the new SSD drive. The copy took several hours to finish. Once it was done, I opened up my machine and swapped the two drives without an issue.

Upon powering up my machine with the Intel 80gb X25-M SATA SSD drive as my new system drive, I got a fatal boot error saying that windows couldn’t find some startup files. I fixed this in about 5 minutes by putting my Windows 7 installation disc in and booting off of it. When the setup screen came up, there was an option to repair windows. I picked it. Setup did a quick scan and reported that it found problems with my boot configuration and asked if I wanted to let it repair the issues automatically. I clicked ok and in less than a minute my pc restarted and  booted off of the SSD.

Now, for the interesting part. Before I swapped the drives, I decided to write down the boot time with the old drive and compare it to the new drives times. With my old system drive it took my pc 1 minute 31 seconds to get to the login screen 2 minutes and 44 seconds total boot time after the login screen before I could launch Internet Explorer and load a web page. With the old drive the Windows Experience Index (which rates your computer’s performance and can be found by right clicking my computer and choosing properties) showed hard drive performance at 5.7 out of a maximum score of 7.9. Not too shabby.

After I installed the Intel 80gb X25-M SATA SSD, my boot times became 48 seconds to the login screen (half the time!) and 1 minute 5 seconds total boot time to launching IE and loading the same web page (about one third of the total boot time that the old drive used!). The Windows Experience Index suddenly rated my hard drive performance at 7.6 out of 7.9 total possible score! Basically, Windows thinks there’s little to nothing out there that’s faster than my new drive.

Keep in mind that this is with the exact windows installation I had before since I cloned the drive so this really is an apples to apples test.

The only other configuration task left after the swap is to install the Intel SSD utility that runs some optimizing routines on your drive from time to time.

I’ve now been running this configuration for over a month and can only report that it is still amazingly fast. I had been contemplating buying a new pc soon since this one was getting slow but with the new SSD drive, I have no reason to upgrade for the foreseeable future.

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7 Responses to “Upgrade To SSD Hard Drive And See Speed!”

  • Really interesting article. I have preciselly the same Dell Dimension 9200 and was thinking about installing a SSD ;). Something that worries me however is whether I will mnagae to find the right motherboard drivers for WIN7(Im running Vista) I didnt have a good experience with the Realtek Audio and Motherboard drivers when trying to install the Vista SP1. I assume you managed to find however the right drivers for Win7, right? I have upgraded the Dimension on my own(overclocked via software with SETFSB, new 600W PowerSupply and a GTX260) and adding a SSD would definetelly improve the performance as you point out. Any suggestions will be most welcomed.

  • Hi Daniel. I actually had no problem upgrading the machine. Most of the hardware was picked up with the native windows drivers and I was able to find everthing else on the Dell 9200 Drivers Download Page (just use the Vista drivers as they’re fully compatible with Windows 7).

  • Me again, just to update my upgrading process 😉 .
    Sadly cloning the Dell HDD (beause of its 3 partitions, specially that FAT formatted hidden partition) was a nightmare. I used Norton Ghost15 with no luck.
    I finally gave up and did a clean isntall of Windows7 on the new drive and attached via USB the old HDD to copy the data. I just regret I hadnt migrated to Windows7 before…it feels like a brand new PC, WAY faster than before. About the installation itself, went like a breeze, all the drivers were automatically applied by Windows7, cero drivers problems. My next upgrades will be to apply the BSEL MOD to increase the Q6600 CPU speed from 2.4 to 3.0 and increase the memory to 8GB. Im thinking about lapping the CPU and heatsink as well. THe fun thing is that we are applying these upgrades to a DELL desktop ;). I suppose we were lucky purchasing the Dell 9200 as it was really a rebranded XPS.Cheers!

  • Great article, I am thinking about doing the same thing you did. But I wanna ask you something. I have the same DELL 9200 PC, but mine came with 2 HDD (2x 250GB) running RAID 0. Can you maybe explain how I can set up my system, such that the SSD drive is my main drive and the 2 others are just extra space drives and still running in RAID 0? I assume that SSD will be connected to the SATA interface, right? Do you know what version it is in DELL 9200? SATA2? I am asking this, because if there is no SATA3, then there is no reason to buy those expensive SATA3 SSDs.

  • Hi Crix, to your first question, yes, you would just connect and set the sad as your boot drive and use the raided data drives as a second logical drive in the OS.

    To your second question, the 9200 is SATA2 but you will still see a massive improvement in speed. If you’re obsessed with SATA3, you can buy a SATA3 add-in controller pretty cheaply to power your drives. Best of luck!

  • Thx Dood,

    Can you maybe explain or point me to a step-by-step guide of how to configure SSD as boot drive, and the 2 HDDs to be as storage drives running in RAID 0? I am not a hardware guy :/

  • Crix,

    I have the same machine as you I think, unfortunately it only has 2 hard drive bays and cables for only 2 SATA drives, which are used up by the existing RAID 0 pair. So you can’t use them as storage drives and the SSD as the boot drive, but you could use one of them as a storage drive, and swap out the other for the SSD. (or you could try to sell the pair and buy one TB/2TB HDD as a new storage drive)

    Because of the RAID 0 you will lose the data on both original drives if you remove one. There also may be hassle at the BIOS level to tell the machine that you no longer have a RAID 0 pair, I have yet to look up information about de-striping a pair.

    But once you’ve gotten past that, it will be the same as any guide out there on how to clean reinstall your OS on a new boot HDD.

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