After suffering with an incredibly slow laptop for a few years, I finally decided to upgrade the hard drive to a SSD. SSD’s are pretty cool because they are an application of Accelerating Technology that directly affects our computing lives.
My laptop is pretty old (maybe 3 years), made by Sony, and was never fast to begin with. I cleaned it out and defragmented it, but it was always slow. Starting up seemed to take forever. And working with Visual Studio was slow and frustrating. Even browsing the internet (on Chrome!) was slow for me. The hard drive above is the standard 5,400 RPM SATA drive that came with the laptop.
Was the investment worth it?
I had been thinking about getting an SSD for a while. When I found a 64GB Kingston for $85 on Dealnews, I finally decided to move into the year 2011 and upgrade.
Since you are reading my blog, you have probably heard all about the Law of Accelerating Returns. It simply states that technology accelerates at an exponential rate. The most famous incarnation of the this law is Moore’s conclusion that CPU price-performance doubles every 18 months.
It turns out that this price-performance relationship applies to virtually all technology, including SSD’s. Here’s a graph of the improving price performance ratio for SSD’s over the last few years. F-SSD means Flash SSD drive, which is the common type widely used today.
Although the chart stops at 2009, I purchased a 64 GB drive for $85 (including tax, shipping and rebate). That is 0.13 cents per MByte, a drop of 89% from the 2009 level.
Anyway, enough with the general theory and here is the specific results of the improvement. I used HD Tune, a free, simple utility that tests hard drive speed. Here’s the results from HD Tune after I installed the SSD drive.
Average read speed went from 29.6 to 111.9 MB/sec. That is an increase of about 4 times, or 300%. Access Time (which is actually more important) went from 19.8 to 0.3 ms. That is an decrease of 66 times!
That’s the quantitative results, which only tell half the story. The other half is the user experience. First, let me tell you how antiquated this system is. First, it is over 3 years old. Second, it is running Windows XP. (Both my computers are Windows XP because I am a late adopter and didn’t want Vista.)
The user experience has been wonderful. Everything happens at least twice as fast. Boot up time is much faster. Visual Studio seems about ten times faster. And browsing the internet is much faster as well.
The reason for these speedups is that Windows (at least Windows XP) is constantly reading and writing tiny bits of data to the hard drive. I think that this is largely because when windows was developed (decades ago), computers had tiny amounts of RAM, as little as 256 KB. (That is 10,000 times less than the 2 GB you might find in a laptop today.) So, it was necessary to constantly read and write to the hard drive.
Hard drives and their interfaces have become faster and faster, and this constant reading and writing has become less and less of a bottleneck. But it still is a bottleneck. Just using a SSD computer makes it obvious. As soon as you start using it you will notice that everything happens faster and the computer is much more responsive. It’s true: once you start using a computer with a SSD you won’t want to go back to the old hard drive!
One big benefit is that it makes the computer perform much better, with a very small financial investment. In addition, the hard drive is one of the components that is most likely to fail. If you replace it with a SSD, the SSD is unlikely to fail in the next few years. It extends the useful life of the computer.
In addition, SSD’s are not yet standard for laptops. In the future, if you buy a new laptop with a slow old 5,400 RPM drive, you can take it out and use the SSD. And the new hard drive will make a good external drive for data.
The SSD that I purchased is the Kingston SSDNow V100 Series SV100S2/64GZ 2.5″ 64GB SATA II. It is true that it is only 64 GB, compared to about 100 GB for my old drive. I don’t think this is really a big issue for the following reasons:
- You don’t need to keep very much on the SSD. Even Windows 7 installed with a bunch of applications is unlikely to use much more than 30 GB. Currently I am using 25 GB for the OS and all applications.
- You can use your existing hard drive as an external data drive. Get an external USB enclosure (see below) and back up the data daily.
- You can store all of your images, movies and other data on an external drive.
- It is best to store games on a separate drive anyway because they take up huge amounts of space and will run well from a separate drive. Also it keeps the file count on the C drive down which makes everything else run faster.
Now, for the problems that I have had with the SSD. First, I attempted to copy my original C drive to the new SSD. Even though the C drive was partitioned to be less than 64 GB, it was not easy to copy and create a bootable SSD drive. Finally I used XX Copy to “clone” it, but I watched for hours as it copied file by file. I was skeptical that this would produce a reliable copy.
It seemed to work at first, but after a few days I started getting weird windows errors. Apparently some of the system information got lost. It lost some of the icons and could not install or uninstall programs.
So, I reinstalled the OS from the backup DVD’s that come with the computer. (Actually, I couldn’t find any, but it turns out that on my Sony there is a hidden partition on the drive that allows you to make them.) It took all day to reinstall the OS and all the applications, as well as copy all my data and mail. However, it was worth it.
Actually, I think it is a good idea to reinstall the OS and applications every year or so. Over time the OS gets filled with temp files and leftovers from installed and removed software. Backing up all your data and reinstalling the OS cleans it out and makes it more responsive. So I think it is a good idea to do it when you replace your hard drive with a SSD.
The other important issue is using your existing hard drive as an external data drive. If you get a 2.5″ external USB enclosure (such as this one), you can continue to use your exiting hard drive as an external drive. Be sure to back up your data automatically and daily so that you never lose anything important.
Well, that’s my story of upgrading to an SSD drive. I hope you have found it entertaining and informative!