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.