SSD’s – some tips

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If you want to take the plunge to Solid State Drives, here are some comments from our experience.

Mostly for portable computers

SSD’s are usually installed on portable computers to take advantage of the lower power usage. That means your laptop can run longer on the same battery charge.

In our experience the power savings are not as spectacular as the early promises. Maybe 10% or 20% more at best in our trials. If you’re hoping for many hours of extra use, you may be disappointed.

Very high performance servers also use SSD’s for application where every tiny fraction of a second counts. You can use SSD’s in desktop computers but the price and low capacity makes it a poor choice at this stage. On desktop computers, a high speed traditional drive is a better bet.


Smaller capacity

Solid State Drives come in smaller sizes and with higher prices than standard drives. 120GB drives are commonly available for around $250 while a 250GB model at about US$526. Larger drives are available for a price, for example a 1TB SSD drive for a whopping $3,765.

What that means is you’ll be trading size for speed. If you’re accustomed to a 320GB or 500GB drive it can be hard to squeeze your digital life into a ‘mere’ 128GB.

Thankfully Microsoft Office doesn’t take up a lot of space (relatively speaking). It’s best to go with a full installation as recommended in Office 2010: the real startup guide.


Finding more space

You might want to look through your documents, images and videos to see if there’s any large folders or files that are taking up too much space. Those extra files can be left in the home / office or stored in the ‘cloud’ if you’re sure of your Internet access options.

One choice is a fast USB memory stick. A 64GB or 128GB ‘stick’ can be plugged in to supply additional space when needed. Another option is the new and faster USB 3.0 connections. We have a USB 3.0 Expresscard with two USB 3.0 slots to take any USB device. That gives fast access to an external Seagate 1TB USB 3.0 drive or USB 3.0 portable ‘sticks’. USB 3.0 devices are becoming more easily available now from specialist retailers and reliable Ebay merchants.

On the external storage we put less used files and applications. For example music files (which are all copied to an iPod) don’t need to be on the main hard drive, images, videos and less used virtual machines.


Migration

Make sure the SSD is compatible with your computer. You don’t have to buy the SSD from the original computer maker, in fact you’ll pay more buying from them. But you can check the brand and specifications of the SSD’s available from the computer maker then find the same thing for a better price elsewhere.

There are SSD packages that include migration tools to help you transfer data from your old drive to the new one, but they might not be worth the extra money. We prefer to install Windows again on the new drive, install only the programs and data you need. This will give you a more efficient setup without the ‘baggage’ from the old drive and using less disk space.

In theory, Windows XP, Vista or Win7 should all be OK with Solid State Drives. In practice you’re much better off using Windows 7 on any SSD installation.


Update firmware

Before installing the new drive, check for any BIOS/firmware updates to the computer. SSD’s are relatively new and there are often updates relevant to full compatibility with SSD’s.

Ed Bott has a useful article on setting up a Solid State Drive, including a mention of CrystalDiskInfo – a good free tool to check the setup of your new drive. In short, make sure the supported features include ‘NCQ’ and ‘TRIM’.


Turn Defrag Off

It’s widely reported that Windows 7 will adjust its settings to deal with a Solid State Drive. For the most part that seems true. For example, ReadyBoost is disabled because the SSD is much faster than any external drive.

Windows is supposed to disable Disk Defragmentation for SSD’s. But in all our trials Defrag was still scheduled. Defrag isn’t necessary with an SSD, in fact it can reduce the life of the drive.

You should ensure that Disk Defragmentation is disabled from Control Panel | Administrative Tools | Task Scheduler | Task Scheduler Library | Microsoft | Windows | Defrag.


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