Improve Your Laptop With A Solid State Drive

Improve your laptop performance with a Solid State Drive (SSD)! The best way to boost your laptop performance is to add a 2nd drive – a new all digital drive that has no moving parts. So, I’ll walk you through the steps to add a new SSD while keeping all your existing files.

There are 3 components that determine your laptop’s performance – CPU speed (e.g. 2.0 GHz), the amount of working memory (e.g. 4GB memory) and the disk drive speed (not size) (e.g. read/write speed). The most important of these is disk drive speed – not memory nor CPU although of course they also become important. Most people believe that the CPU is the most important component – certainly, that’s what Intel wants you to believe so that’s what is marketed to us. Lately, you can get a new Solid State Drive that has no moving parts and the read/write speed increases 4 fold which dramatically increases your laptop speed.


I’ll add an SSD to my business laptop to see what kind of performance gain I can achieve. We’ll spend under $200 and get great improvements!

Ingredients


SSDs have reached a point where they’re considered a good value. The increase in performance over a regular hard drive is now expected to be worthy of the investment. If you head down this path, you’ll probably be very satisfied with the results. Up until recently, it was questionable if the value was there, which technology was correct, and which SSD provider had the best approach. Along the way, there have been questions about things like drive reliability (nobody wants to lose their data), only small drive space available, usage causing loss of available drive space, and the acceptable price point for consumers.

Well, the risks reduced dramatically around 2009 and now prices have dropped and sizes have jumped up.  Few people like being the guinea pig on a new technology .. and they’d just rather enjoy the benefits without issues. Well, the good news just keeps coming. This is a viable and mainstream technology. I was delighted when I walked into Best Buy, and asked “do you have any SSDs” and the answer comes back simply “yes, follow me”.

For business users, the appeal is simple — can my machine be faster? For developers, faster means everything. Its amazing how much a programmer WAITS for his/her machine to do something. As a consultant, the speed at which I can write and test code is invaluable. If you’re a Java developer in a large enterprise running the high-end tools like IBM Rational Application Developer (RAD) then you’re waiting A LOT. Nobody has enough money to buy every programmer a high-end Dell Alienware (or similar) development machine, so you have to pick your battles when you’re fighting for performance. I have a feeling this is the place to pick your battle.

So, I jumped in.

The particular machine that I’m working with is a 2009 model – a Lenovo Thinkpad T500 dual core 2.65GHz. It is running Windows 7 enterprise edition 64 bit and using 4GB memory. It is a consultant-grade development laptop available for about $1200 (a T510 would be the latest model). Today, it is possible to get a NEW laptop with a SSD from manufacturers like Lenovo or Dell. But, if you want to save quite a bit of money, add your own SSD to your current late-model laptop. Do it yourself is quite easy. If your specs are anywhere near dual-core 2GHz CPU and 4GB memory – then a SSD addition is in order.

Generally, here’s the method I used to add an SSD to my Thinkpad T500. The ingredients are listed above, so I guess this would be the Recipe:

  1. Start with your Thinkpad T500.
  2. Buy a Crucial m4 256GB 2.5-Inch (9.5mm) SATA 6Gb/s Solid State Drive CT256M4SSD2 for about $190 from Amazon or Best Buy.
  3. Buy an Ultrabay Slim HDD adapter for T500 from Amazon for under $12.
  4. Get Windows 7 Professional from your Network team or if this is for a personal laptop, buy Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium from Amazon for under $200.
  5. Remove your current hard drive from the laptop – the screw on the right-front bottom next to the embossed hard drive image. If you’re facing your open laptop, shut your laptop monitor. Then pick up your laptop with both hands like you were going to heave it out a window with an overhead motion. The hard drive would be at your right pinky.
  6. Slide out the drive using the strap. (you probably should have turned off the machine before this).
  7. Remove the existing hard drive from the aluminum wrapper and rubber bumpers – you’ll put the new Intel drive into that shell.
  8. There are 2 rubber bumpers and a very thin aluminum holder to remove. What you’re left with – the SATA drive – looks like the one you bought at Amazon or Best Buy. A silver rectangular thingy.
  9. Insert the existing hard drive into the new Ultrabay drive holder – ensure it seats well into the connector by pushing hard.
  10. Slide the Ultrabay holder into the Ultrabay. (when you turn the machine on, this drive will be seen as drive D:\).
  11. Assemble the new SSD with the aluminum wrapper and bumpers. There are several holes to screw the holder onto the SSD – use the ones on the sides so they will be covered by the rubber bumpers. Add the bumpers to the sides.
  12. Slide the SSD assembly into the hard drive slot where the original drive came from. If it doesn’t slide in rather easily, make sure you tightened the screws well.  It should be snug, not too tight. If you have to use too much force, you’ll never get it out later (if needed) … so take it apart and put it back together. The screws might not be set deep enough.
  13. You need to install an operating system on the new SSD. Get an upgrade .. get it from the network team .. or buy it on Amazon
  14. Remove the Ultrabay drive with the original hard disk — you’ll need that bay for the DVD drive and installation disk.
  15. Insert the DVD drive into the bay.
  16. Turn on the machine – the bios will complain about lack of an OS. Open the DVD and put in your Windows 7 install disk. Turn the machine off and back on – so the DVD is now recognized. It should boot automatically from the DVD.
  17. Install Windows 7 as prompted.
  18. After install, you are now running from your SSD.
  19. Remove the DVD drive and insert the new Ultrabay drive holding the original SATA drive into the Ultrabay.
  20. Windows 7 should now give you a D: drive. If not, the SATA drive may not be seated well. Remove it, disassemble, and re-seat it with more force. All your previous files are still on this D: drive — you’re just not running the previous OS (XP, Vista or whatever was there).
  21. Voila… A new drive with a new OS — very speedy.

Recipe variations

These variations are also useful:

  • Instead of swapping out your current drive, just put the new SSD into the new Ultrabay holder and insert the holder into the Ultrabay drive. This is a simple way to have an SSD to play with. However, your best performance gains will be found by running the machine with the OS on the SSD .. not with the SSD as a file server like another USB drive or memory stick.
  • optionally, at startup time, click the ThinkVantage button followed by F12 — and choose the original drive (example: Hitachi HL…..) and you’ll have your familiar previous OS and organization to work from. This is a nice backup plan in case you didn’t yet reinstall any occasionally used programs. Certainly, while you’re rebuilding your machine, you always have your ‘old’ machine still available — that’s awesome.

Results

Performance gains are phenomenal. The first things I noticed was a 19 second startup and a 7 second shutdown time. That’s really encouraging. Then, I installed the Google Chrome browser — considered the fastest currently — and it opens in a split second! Even the heavy IE8 opens in under a second showing whatever your home page might be.

More Variations

The recipe shown above shows what to do on a Lenovo laptop. The same process is viable on most other laptops from other manufacturers including:

  • I used a Lenovo T500. If you have a different model like Lenovo Thinkpad T510, You will simply need to search for the correct laptop Ultrabay holder to match your Lenovo laptop model.
  • Dell laptops also have an Ultrabay option. The DVD drive slides out and you can slide in a HDD (hard disk drive) or SSD (Solid State Drive) after you put your SSD into the 2.5″ /9.5mm 2ND HDD HARD DRIVE caddy for 2.5″ /9.5mm 2ND HDD HARD DRIVE caddy for DELL Precision M2400 M4400 RH6 available on Amazon for $12. You must search Amazon for the Ultrabay holder that matches your Dell laptop model.
  • The SSD you choose can be any of your preference. New versions become available all the time. The best manufacturers are Crucial, OCZ, Plextor, Samsung, and Corsair. Search for the manufacturer on Amazon. Several analysts like the newest Plextor drive announced this year and available here: Plextor 256 GB SATA III Solid State Drive PX-256M5P for around $250. $1 per gigabyte is a good price/value metric.

Conclusion

What’s your cost of ‘waiting’? Do you open and close applications like a wild animal during your work day? If you open Word or email and author/read then you might not get the value in a performance gain. But if you’re a power user, a developer, who’s jumping into, around, and out of programs all day, then I’ll bet you’ll pay for that $200 in about a week’s worth of work. Try it, you’ll LOVE it! And, it is very easy to do by yourself.

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