My best computer upgrade, evah

The solid state hard drive comes of age

I spend a lot of time at my PC, and I use quite a number of programs in my tasks at keeping WUWT updated. I use browsers, word editors, PDF viewers, paint programs, graphing programs, Google Earth, and an MP3 recorder/editor for my daily radio forecasts. My PC gets a real workout daily.

With so much to do, I’ve noted that I get impatient just waiting on things to load these days. And so after some trepidation and research, I took the plunge and bought myself a solid state hard disk replacement for my Windows 7 HP slimline desktop in hopes it would speed my tasks. I’m happy to report the results significantly exceeded my expectations and I thought WUWT readers could benefit from my experience. Every one of my readers has a computer, so what better post could I make than something that shows them how to be happier using it?

My experience with flash memory has been so-so so far. Some USB flash drives I’ve tried stop working after a while. An SSD I tried a year ago didn’t give very good performance on small file sizes, and the MTBF wasn’t that great, so I sent it back. I’m glad I waited until now.

My research led me to choose the Kingston SSD Now V 100 128GB SSD drive. I only had about 60GB in use out of my 500GB drive, so I could choose a smaller SSD that didn’t cost a fortune. Prices have been plummeting. I looked at drives from Intel, OCZ, Supertalent, and Crucial, and decided the Kingston drive offered the best bang for the buck – plus it comes with a nearly idiot proof program I’m familiar with -Acronis, which re-images your mechanical hard drive to the SSD.

Kingston advertises this as “the ultimate upgrade” on the box, a pretty bold statement.

Here’s the desktop upgrade kit I bought from Amazon (image from the manufacturer):

Installation was pretty simple and went like this:

  1. Powered down, opened up the case, gave it a good cleaning for dust bunnies.
  2. Plugged in the SSD drive SATA cable to a spare SATA port on the motherboard.
  3. Plugged in the power cable for the SSD to a spare Molex power connector from the power supply.
  4. Left the system open on the table with the SSD sitting to the side on the tabletop, powered it all up.
  5. I put in the CD ROM provided by Kingston, which the system booted the Acronis OS loader from automatically.
  6. Followed the dirt simple on-screen instructions. Decided to be brave and choose the “automatic” setting for the Acronis software. Crossed my fingers.
  7. Waited about 15 minutes, it was done. It offered to make a backup recovery CD for me, which I accepted, that was done in about 5 minutes.
  8. I powered down, and pulled out my old hard drive. Dang it was warm. No wonder I had to add the second fan to my case.
  9. I attached the 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter rails to the new Kingston SSD, put it in the drive bay in place of the old hard disk.
  10. Closed up the case, powered up, kept my fingers crossed.
  11. To my complete surprise and satisfaction, the Windows 7 desktop booted in 15 seconds! And even better, there was no driver angst, no reboots asked for, nothing. It just worked.
  12. What was really wild was that the Windows startup sound didn’t have time to finish before the “logged in and ready” sound played. It got truncated. That was a first.
  13. I opened up Firefox, no wait, zero, none, nada; it was just there.

All of my apps now load nearly instantly. I could not be more pleased. My Dual core Athlon X2 processor is now the weakest link in my Windows experience index:

You know you really have something when your “hard disk” is faster than your 800 MHz DDR2 RAM in the performance index.

I ran HD Tune benchmarks on it…as father Frank used to say on “Everybody Loves Raymond” TV show, HOLY CRAP!

Not quite to the 250 MB/s rating on the box, but I’m betting some of that had to do with my CPU loading, which is now the weakest link.

The drive I replaced, a Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 had this HD Tune result for performance:

Which is why it now sits on my desktop, forlorn, pretty much useless:

I gotta tell you, the results of this upgrade are spectacular.

  • Power up boot time ~18 seconds
  • Restart soft boot time ~15 seconds
  • Time from Desktop to Sleep Mode ~ 5 seconds
  • Time from Sleep mode to running Desktop ~5 seconds

I no longer need the extra case fan, which I’ve unplugged (my wife says it was loud but I can’t hear it, but then again I’m nearly deaf ) since the case runs way cooler now. My CPU core temp also reduced since it no longer has ambient heat from the mechanical drive to deal with in the case.

Minus the mechanical HD and the case fan, total PC power consumption according to my 120VAC “Kill-a-Watt” power meter dropped about 29 watts from where it used to be, because the SSD uses about 6 watts power in operation, and 1 watt standby. That’s 29 watts less heat to dissipate. In a small PC case like I have, it’s significantly cooler.

If you are looking to upgrade your computer, whether it be Windows, Mac, or Linux based, I’m convinced this Kingston SSD is the best investment you can make. Here’s the specs (PDF).

Available in 64GB, 96GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB sizes, these high-performance SSDs are equipped with MLC NAND flash memory chips, a SATA 3.0 Gbps interface, a MTBF of 1 million hours and an improved controller offering up to 25 percent better performance that the original SSDNow V series. Not to mention, they’ve also adopted the ‘Always On’ Garbage Collection technology, which Kingston says will cleanse redundant data from the drive to prevent performance degradation and maintains the drive over its life cycle.

If you have a laptop, that Kingston upgrade kit is even more useful, because they give you an external USB case to continue to use your old hard drive in, just costing slightly more than the desktop kit:

I got mine from Amazon.com which has the best deals going that I found. I had it 2 days after ordering. If you have the cash, this upgrade is (IMHO) well worth the time and investment. With a 3 year warranty and a million hour (11.4 years!) Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF), lightning speed, and ultra low power, how could you go wrong? The Acronis disk cloning software will clone your disk no matter if it is Windows, Mac OSX, Or Linux, it just works.

Here’s a video review on the product:

I predict that in about 2 years or less, SSD’s will begin to dominate the market. For now, it’s a great way to double or triple the operational performance of your existing PC. I realize many WUWT readers might not be early technology adoption fans like I am, but this product is really ready for prime-time.

If you are interested in getting one, here’s links to the two upgrade kits at discounted prices:

Desktop Upgrade Kit

Laptop Upgrade Kit

Some people might need more storage, and in that case you could get one of these to boot the OS from to get the performance, and use the older hard disk for media or offline storage.

Either way, I can’t ever see myself going back to a mechanical hard drive now, I’m spoiled.

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If you think they’re great for desktops, they’re ten times better for laptops – because with laptops you have a dozen or two utilities that load along with Windows making all of the funky laptop hardware usable. Boot times (from “pushing the power button” to “logged in and ready for use”) are typically between 1/5 and 1/10 as long after you’re done. I don’t even bother with hibernation mode anymore – shutting down and restarting is actually faster.

I recently upgraded my Asus N10Jc with an SSD and never looked back – the only noise coming from it now is the CPU/GPU cooling fan and that’s almost silent anyway.
Regards.

web link to purchases..
REPLY: That’s only for the bare drive, and if you have no cloning software, and/or drive rail adapters, you can find yourself SOL. See the two links I provide in the story for the kits. – Anthony

The_other_stevejobs

Mac Users:
I don’t work for them, but have had a similar experience with the Mac-optimized setups from Macsales.com.
They also have the 3.5″ adaptor and I have a 120 gig unit powering my PowerMac 6cpu 3.33ghz machine. Boot times are sub-15 seconds. Launching Final Cut Pro is two bounces. Motion is a single bounce. Most other apps are sub-1 bounce.
I get over 200fps h.264 encoding with Handbrake from my 1080p ProRes files.
Do yourself a favor and go SSD.

Dena

Having been in the industry for many years, I have seen several replacements for hard drives come and go the most memorable being bubble memory. I did read the specs but I am unsure these drives will handle a large number of writes without failure. They may say the drives are more reliable because they will survive impacts better than an old style hard drive. As long as you use that old hard drive for regular backups I see no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of the new technology.

David T. Bronzich

I’ve been considering this as an interim solution for my current computer problems (boots up fairly fast, but lags on certain applications), so thanks for posting this. My long term solution will eventually be Racetrack memory and a replacement for my motherboard to Sandy Bridge or something similar.

jorgekafkazar

I expected to find it cost a bundle, but the price is only a bit over $225. Not bad. Now I just have to figure out how to get someone to buy one for me.

geo

Nothing like the enthusiam of a recent convert. 😉
I went SSD on my laptop a few months back. . .but now the laptop died last week and has been replaced (HP Envy 17) with one with a much larger mechanical HDD. But it will take a second HDD, so perhaps after a bit (enough panic-stricken rushing around over the old laptop dying for the moment, thankyouverymuch) I’ll put the SSD (it’s fine) in the new laptop too.

PaulH

I’ve been considering going the SSD route, but I’m waiting for better prices (or until that check from Big Oil arrives). I have plenty of data files that would probably still fill the current state of the art SSD capacity, but I suppose one option is to install the OS on a SSD and keep a hard drive for data files. I seem to recall hearing about “hybrid” SSD/hard drives, that combine the two technologies in one package. Not sure if that gives you a significant advantage, though.

Frank Brus

Thanks for the informative review. It’s great to get an opinion on tech gear from someone who is a user rather than someone who does reviews regularly. I Will look at this to upgrade my notebook. I am curious as to how much more battery life I will get using the SSD.
REPLY: Well, I plan to upgrade my laptop next, and find that out too! Stay tuned. – Anthony


You might like the fun these guys had with a RAID build out of SSD’s.
Yep, they’re the up-and-coming thing.

James Lumetta

Got a 64GB version a year ago for a mini itx system I assembled w/Ubuntu OS. I nearly cried when I saw the boot time. These things are worth the extra cash.

CRS, Dr.P.H.

*sigh* Anthony, haven’t you heard? The PC, even the laptop, are DEAD! As dead as the crabs piled up on the shores of the Thanet coast!!
http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_17011895?nclick_check=1
Now, how the hell I am supposed to compose a 200 pp. report, with tabs & appendices, on a hand-held mobile device escapes me for the moment, but the kids all tell me not to sweat it!

Randomoneh

Nice to see a device that makes something about real PC bottleneck – HDD.
“You know you really have something when your “hard disk” is faster than your 800 MHz DDR2 RAM in the performance index.”
You can’t compare speeds of these two. Sure Microsoft doesn’t.
CPU – MHz, SSD – MBps

mct

Clearly in the thrall of “Big Memory”

Curiousgeorge

Well that’s pretty cool, Anthony. But I still have a soft spot in my heart for my old TI-99. I lost my cherry to it in 1981. 🙂

Carl Chapman

I think it would be a good idea to put your old drive in as a backup, but set the Windows power settings to spin it down after a few minutes without use. You could then backup any changed files once per day or per hour.
Do SSDs still have the problem that they fail after about 10,000 writes to the same address?

When I updated my gaming rig from a WD VelociRaptor mechanical drive to an SSD, the change was incredible! Zoning in Oblivion was so fast that there was no time to read the text in the cut scenes. Zoning in EQ2 was so fast that I was always the first in my group to zone by seconds.
My next SSD will be the PCIe cards that are coming out as the PCIe slots are directly connected to the system bus, no more SATA latency!
Check em out, PCIe SSDs are twice as fast in read and write as SATA SSDs and priced now about where SATA SSDs were a couple years ago.
Don’t forget to use your old mechanical drive for your page file, no sense contending with application data on the SSD SATA controller.

janama

Thanks for the heads up Anthony.
I managed to track it down in Australia and it’s available via a couple of online stores DStore and Getprice but they want $312 – $351 for it. Kingston Australia want $361.
With the Aussie dollar at pretty well parody price (i.e US$1 = AUD99c) Amazon’s $231 plus postage looks like a pretty good deal.

JDN

I went with the OCZ Vertex 2 for the desktop because of reliability and am planning on using the Intel X25-M for the tablet because it only draws about 75 mA idle current, which is, I believe, the lowest idle current available.

gallopingcamel

My teenage son has a notebook with no mechanical drives whatsoever. It has no CD, no DVD and no hard drive. It runs on a version of Linux that only occupies 3.2 GB of memory including all the application programs.
However, the performance of his flash drive is much less than yours (I am not going to mention the manufacturer but it is not Kingston).
Thanks for a great piece of advice. I plan to upgrade my other computers with Kingston drives.

Jason Joice

FYI, for Mac users, Carbon Copy Cloner is a great utility for upgrading your drive.

Patrick Davis

I’ve looked at these drives and although they perform well the capacities just aren’t high enough for my needs. I need a minimum 750Gb, with 1Tb being the better option for me (I build, run and store VMWare virtual machines and need lots of space). However, having recently had 1 each of Seagate’s 7200.10 and .11 drives fail due to head crashes, I’m tempted.
Good info, thanks Anthoney.

JamesD

I have an SSD and regular HD on my Linux laptop. I put /tmp, swap, and /home on the regular HD to minimize writes to the SSD. SSD supposedly are good for 10,000 writes. Which is a long time if you use it for the OS and apps. In linux it is easy to put apps on one drive (SSD) and your work/data on the hardrive. Also, make sure the kernel has TRIM for the SSD. Latest Ubuntu does. Also, disable the write cache, that will actually improve performance.
REPLY: That supposed 10K write limit is old news/old tech. Kingston couldn’t offer a 3 year warranty with that limit, they would go broke. – Anthony

Methow Ken

I went with an 80 GB SSD for my new i7 quad-core workstation 18 months ago; for just the ”C” drive. That earlier model SSD can’t match the price/performace of the latest Kingston product Anthony installed, but overall pretty much same perceived performance improvement as he reported, and no problems so far. Can’t imagine I’d ever have the patience to go back to the ”old” hard drive technology for the ”C” drive; SSD spoiled me.
But I stayed with RAID1 mirrored 1 TB Western Digital hard drives for my ”D” drive; for cost-capacity reasons. If you have huge amounts of data that’s still pretty attractive. A couple weeks ago Amazon was selling top-quality 1.5 TB WD hard drives for $70 each; that’s hard to beat. . .

Kath

Installed an Intel 80GB SSD into my old ASUS netbook over Christmas. Took me about a day to reinstall Win7, drivers and applications, but I am very happy with the improvement in performance. A highly recommended upgrade.

MarkG

I have to say I’m kind of disappointed with my SSDs. I have one in my MythTV frontend and one in my netbook and they just about halved the boot time, but most of the time the computers aren’t booting or starting new applications from disk, so for that time the SSD is really not providing any benefit other than slightly lower power consumption. And the downside is that they have a limited number of write cycles, so I’ve had to configure both machines to put all their temporary files in RAM.
And with some new games taking 30+GB, 128GB does not last long anymore.

bobbyj0708

I put together a new desktop machine this summer and went with an SSD for my boot drive as well as most programs (OCZ Agility 2 – 64 GB) and a standard 1 TB HDD for my data (I process a ton of video). Best of both worlds; I get super fast booting and program startup and can save tons of data.
I considered a RAID 1 setup of (2) SSD’s for booting but it simply wasn’t necessary…

Waffle

For the price of one 128GB SSD I can buy two 2TB HDD. On the Hiatchi HDD my computer cold boots in under 10 seconds. I’d recommend you run disk clean and defragmentation on a regular basis to keep your speeds up. Not to mention using some solid anti virus. You can stack these three programs(free) together:
AVG
Avast
MalwareBytes
Last week I cleaned up a friends machine which took ten minutes on a cold boot. Now it boots up in 12 seconds, and it’s a 5 year old refurbished laptop.
I’m not dissing the SDD technology. Just saying that their are other ways to get the most performance out of your machine without spending a dime.

I’ve been quite excited about SSDs for a while and nearly purchased a new computer a few months ago with that in mind. I imagine their widespread use will greatly reduce the need for computer repair (less heat, less moving parts, less power supply problems, etc).
With the stagnation of processor improvements this is certainly one of the best steps a person can take to get more performance out of their PC.

Tripod

Anthony,
I went to the link you posted and there was only one customer review for this product (1 star). Need to post your review to Amazon.

MarkG

“That supposed 10K write limit is old news/old tech. Kingston couldn’t offer a 3 year warranty with that limit, they would go broke.”
It’s still true on the cheaper MLC SSDs. But the disks will remap writes so that if you write to the same logical block 10,000 times it will write to different physical blocks… ultimately though you can only write about 10,000 times the capacity of the disk before it dies, and writing a single byte to a file can potentially result in a few kilobytes of writes to the SSD as it moves things around.
I believe the SLC SSDs handle 100,000+ writes, but are several times as expensive.

joe

i think one of those $30 HDD docking stations would be useful in a situation like this…then you can pick from a number of free imaging programs as well as Acronis and make several backups before imaging and installing to the SSD….also allows you to do a much better job scanning for malware on a removed drive rather than one that is currently running an OS and trying to scan itself…

“…early technology adoption fans like I am…”
The technology is older than an iphone. I doubt that counts as being an early adopter :).

bobbyj0708

And oh yeah, if you are looking to keep the heat down in your computer in a silent fashion, the cooler I’m using for my processor is the bomb. It’s a water cooled unit from COOL It called the ECO ALC and it works like you wouldn’t believe. Quiet as heck and it keeps my idle temp at 7 degrees C above ambient and at full load only 30 degrees C above ambient. Great product and it’s quiet as heck.

John F. Hultquist

This is one of those “here now, better tomorrow” sorts of things. Size and speed will increase and cost per unit will drop. If you think you need it now, that feeling will only grow.
One news item:
http://blog.laptopmag.com/micron-unveils-faster-ssds-for-flash-based-notebooks#axzz1AbMRA900

You can put the standard hard drive back in the computer for secondary storage. As long as your operating system, cache, applications, and temporary directories are on the solid state drive, you won’t see any degradation in performance. Use the old drive to store video, music, and any other large files that aren’t critical. Keep your important business and family documents, pictures and movies on the SSD because it’s more stable, but don’t forget to back them up to cd/dvd frequently. Better safe than sorry.

Mike Ford

Like Kath above…I got an 80GB SSD on my Asus (although a pc) when my 1TB drive had a catastrophic failure after only 6 months. The spinning drive was replaced under warranty and the SSD is now the main drive. My stats are about the same as Anthony’s. Best computer upgrade I’ve done in years. Highly recommended.

MeToo

Keep the operating system and program files on the SSD.
Use the old hard drive, or a new, cheap, fast, capacious hard drive, for your files: documents, pics, articles, etc. If the SSD ever failed, all of your documents are on a hard drive, ready to be read by another machine, or as mentioned, a hard drive dock.
Page file: your page file gets accessed a lot; the computer can only be hitting a drive at one time for something – so the page file on either the operating system SSD drive, or the media hard drive will make things a bit slow. A way to get more boost for a few more dollars is to have the page file located to a CF drive plugged into an adapter that plugs into one of the computer’s IDE connections. You can google the instructions for how to do all of this. note that moving the page file to another drive will likely require selecting the option to move it to another drive, plus the option to NOT have it on the c drive. Good instructions will include both of these easy but necessary steps. Cf cards are not very expensive. Your page file might be 2 gb to 8gb. you just need CF for this size. The adapter might be abt $15.
finally: unless you work at East Anglia U or U Va, back things up regularly.

Thanks for the review Anthony. I’m tempted to replace my laptop HDD with a SSD primarily to get more run time off batteries when I’m traveling. The main concern I have is the limited number of write cycles and will have to look at the size of the SSD RAM cache as well as seeing if I can get WinXP to minimize disk writes. I’ve got an 80 Gb HDD in my laptop now and expand storage by using USB flash drives and SD cards.
The only concern I have with SSD’s is data retention and risk of losing data when they go through airport xray machines. I’d still use the hibernate feature on my laptop as setting up all the programs I want available to me takes a lot longer than just booting up the machine. Will definitely look into this option.
On another tip you made in a previous post, DPlot is one of the best graphing programs that I’ve seen in a long time and is well worth the $195 price tag. Have been very happy with it and being able to script it from VB makes it even more useful.

crosspatch

I have a Lenovo Think Pad T510 with a solid state drive and I agree, best system I have ever owned and it is the SSD that makes the difference. Turn off file “indexing”, you aren’t going to need it with a solid state drive and it reduces the number of writes (no need to keep file index up to date).
There are a few other tweaks worth making, you can find lots via google, but turning off filesystem indexing is the most important one.

About 10 months ago I went with the Intel 160 GB SSD and moved from XP to Windows 7 at the same time.
Huge improvement.
Yes, most people tend to say that SSD’s are the best improvement you can make.
And it is!

Retired Engineer

One key thing: backups. Have some external device and make backups regularly. USB, eSata, network, etc. Everything will break, eventually. I use a network RAID system that all my computers can access. Not as fast as USB 2 (or three) but easy to use. Takes a couple minutes per day. And an 8mm tape to back that up. (OK, I’m paranoid) I keep my entire business on my desktop and it would be ‘painful’ to lose any of it.
“There are those who make backups. And those who wish they had.”

MarkG

“The technology is older than an iphone. I doubt that counts as being an early adopter :).”
Thinking about it, we were running Windows 3.1 off an SSD around 1990, and then it really did make the OS fly compared to a hard drive.
However, that only held 128MB, cost about $50,000, and lost all the data when you turned it off because it was RAM rather than flash. It was mostly intended to be used as a swap drive in minicomputers where it was a lot cheaper than buying 128MB of RAM from the manufacturer.

Sou

Hope this SSD design wasn’t based on any scientific research. I expect not, it will almost certainly be designed based on common sense principles. Don’t know why they weren’t produced centuries ago if it comes to that.

Andy Beasley

We have been using these at work for about two years. Different reason, though. We have a distributed control system that is running on 486 desktops. Hard drives are no longer available for these at a reasonable cost. The drives we have been using are 500Mb and are literally mounted on an IDE connector. Fortunately, the last of that system is being replaced next month. I know where a bunch of operable 486 computers will be available as government excess if anyone is interested.

Mike McMillan

Fer shure, backups. Keep the old spinner and get a freebie backup program from Snapfiles.com. The SyncBack program works for me.
If you run the case fan off the red 5 volt line (yellow is 12 volt), it will run a lot more quietly.
Hard drives do run hot, but is not to worry. Google, which buys hard drives in lots of 100,000, did a study on hard drive failures and concluded it was age, not heat or activity that does them in.
http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/labs.google.com/en/us/papers/disk_failures.pdf
Built myself a new AMD dual-core mainframe for Christmas, and the o.c. motherboard unlocked the other two cores. Much better than a lump of coal in the stocking. USB 3.0, too.
I plan to use it to convert the GISS Model E into an iPhone app.

Thomas

i hear they’re good at storing raw climate data

Brian Johnson uk

My 27″ iMac has a 240GB SSD [Mercury Extreme Pro] thanks to the kit produced by OWC.
http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/internal_storage/Mercury_Extreme_SSD_Sandforce
The kit replaces the Optical Drive with the SSD and my barely used Optical Drive is now an external one.
A Mac must have IMHO and much faster than the Apple version which must be ordered at build time and is more expensive.