At a trade show, I won a 480GB solid state drive from Intel. I was hyped, because I was interested in getting one, but was shy of the $500 pricetag. SSDs promise much faster computer performance for those tasks that involve the hard drive. This includes things like booting the computer, starting programs for the first time, loading and saving files, and paging RAM.
Solid state drives are faster than hard drives, because they have no moving parts. They use the same memory technology as the memory cards I stick into my digital camera and smartphone. Having no moving parts means the drives are impervious to shock should I drop my computer.
Now that I had one, I faced this problem: into which computer to install the speedy drive? I have two desktop computers and two notebook computers. I finally decided that my newer notebook would benefit the most from it.
Installing the SSD (solid state drive) involves the following steps:
1. Clone the contents of the old hard drive onto the new SSD.
2. Remove the old drive.
3. Install the SSD.
4. Reboot the computer and hope it works!
Step 1: Clone the Old Drive
Cloning means to copy every bit of data from the old drive onto the new one. Every bit means everything, including hidden files, locked files, and the operating system. It turns out that Windows has a way of doing this, but the job is much easier with a third-party program.
I searched the Internet and it turns out there are free applications available. (In the early days of SSDs, vendors included the software and hardware tools to do the cloning, but as prices fell, these useful items were left out.)
I picked out Macrium Reflect software, after it was recommended by one site, and was listed as having a dialog box interface. (Some of the other cloning programs operate at the command prompt, and I had no interest in that.)
To clone the old drive, I followed these steps:
1. Download (such as from http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx), and install the cloning software.
2. Insert the SSD in an external drive enclosure. You can buy these at electronics stores for maybe $15. I happen to have one with a USB 3.0 interface, which makes the file copying process about 4x faster than with USB 2.0 interfaces.
3. Attach the external drive to the computer.
4. Run the cloning software. If given a choice between cloning or imaging, choose cloning. (Imaging also copies all of the bits, but then zip the whole lot into a single compressed file; imaging is better for make whole-disk backups.)
5. Wait a long time. In my case, cloning 358GB took 6 hours, 16 minutes.
6. When done, exit the software and shut down the computer.
Step 2: Remove the old drive
With the computer turned off, remove the old drive.
I won't provide details, because every notebook computer is different, but I find that a set of jewelers screwdrivers (consisting of several flat and Phillips sizes) are indispensable for taking apart computers and their components. Also, a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
Step 3: Install the new drive
Remove the SSD from the external drive enclosure, and then install it into the computer. (You reuse the old drive by putting it into the now-empty drive enclosure, and use it as a backup drive.)
Step 4: Reboot the computer
Reboot the computer and hope it worked! In my case, the surgery was a 100% success.
Windows noticed the new drive, installed a driver for it, and then asked me to reboot one more time. After this, I decided to benchmark the old and new drives.
How much faster is the new SSD? I ran a couple informal benchmarks. Using the Windows Experience Index, the hard drive rating jumped from 5.6 to 7.9. (In Windows 7, 7.9 is the highest possible score, unfortunately, and so the actual score may be higher.)
Next, I timed how long Windows took to boot the computer. The old hard drive took 85 seconds; the SSD accomplished it in 29 seconds -- so 3x faster. (These timings are from when I pressed the power button to the time Windows desktop first appears.)
Now the depressing part. Yes, the new drive is speedy. But soon its speed will seem to slow as my perception of it normalizes.
The other negative is that the notebook computer has lees disk space, falling from a rated 750GB to 480GB. Or to put it another way, the amount of available space falls from 308GB free to 99GB free. I guess I'll have to erase a few movies.
On the positive side:
- The drive cost me nothing, a $500 savings (thanks to Intel and to me for being the first to answer a skill-testing question correctly)
- The notebook computer runs quieter, because there is no longer any drive noise; I am hoping the battery now last longer
- The up-to-3x-faster faster speed is appreciated
- And I now have a free 750GB backup drive installed in a USB 3.0 enclosure
Here are the specs for the SSD drive: http://ark.intel.com/products/66251