The past 18 months have seen Solid State Disk (SSD) drives go from being a strange and expensive curiosity to a very effective way to get a performance boost from your laptop. While these tweaks can be applied to desktop PCs too, my focus will be on laptops. Here's the big benefits of SSDs:
- No moving parts- the hard drive is a sensitive part of your PC and quite susceptible to shock when you smack it on a table or jostle it in a bag when it's still on.
- Maintenance intensive. Most folks don't realize that a full day's use or heavy file operations fragment your hard drive by scattering files all over. As a result, you end up with a computer that gradually gets slower and slower. Plus Window's defrag tools really stink- I like Auslogic's tool for my disk drives.
- Performance! I know it's listed third, but there's a good reason in this alone to upgrade. Traditional hard disks usually range from 80-120 megabytes per second. A good Intel SSD can easily get 450 megabytes read & 200+ megabytes per second on writes. Watch out, there are cheap crappy SSDs out there that perform worse than hard disks.
The good news is that Windows 7 can take advantage of of SSDs, but not all disks trigger the automatic support in Windows 7. When that happens, it's important to make the few changes to the system. It may seem fine without them, but the changes will make the laptop even faster & keep the disk healthy over time.
One big issue is that Windows wants to defrag your hard drive- clean it up and put all the files together at the beginning of the disk. This is good for older drives but bad for SSDs. SSDs actually run faster when the files are spread all over, so you don't want them lined up together. There are other more technical reasons around the wear of the SSD, but that's for another day.
There are a couple easy things to do if you're not too technical. This this is for you:
- Turn off the task to defrag your hard drive.
- Go to Control Panel->Administrative Tools->Task Scheduler
- On the left hand side of the screen, expand Task Scheduler Library->Microsoft->Windows->Defrag
- In the top center window, right-click the task and select 'Disable'
- Close the windows you used to get there.
- Complicated, huh? You can also just go to this site and download the tool. I've used this for nearly a year with no troubles.
- Go to the manufacturer of your SSD and download & install ALL of their drivers/tools, even if you don't plan to use them. These help add some things in the background.
If you feel pretty technical, here are a couple more notes for you:
- You can disable your pagefile/swap file if you have 8GB or more. You can also just manually set it to 1024MB (both min & max) to keep the rarely-used swap file from eating up expensive SSD space.
- RAID of SSDs is mind-blowingly fast, but expensive. You can do disk striping to get breakneck speeds, but you end up losing support for TRIM and other key functions.
- Consider moving your MP3s, movies and other large files to a second disk. I replaced my optical drive in one laptop with a traditional hard disk. I park my media files, software installers and other large bits there.
- Don't partition the whole disk- with Windows 7 and Bitlocker, there's a performance drop when the whole disk is encrypted. So I manually partition the disk and leave about 500MB free on the main partition.