SSD Experience – A Tasty Recipe?


Let’s install a Solid State Drive (SSD) in 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), drive space available, usage causing reduction in drive space, and the acceptable price point for consumers.

Well, the risks haven’t disappeared, but the risks have dropped dramatically. Few people like being the guinea pig on a new technology .. and they’d just rather enjoy the benefits without issues. Good news, we’re there … jump in with both feet . You know the new technology is viable when you can go to Best Buy, say “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 around a year old – 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). You cannot get an SSD installed in a new machine directly from IBM … oops, Lenovo (I’m sure that’ll change soon), but do it yourself is quite easy.

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 an Intel X25M 80 GB Solid State Drive SSDSA2MH080G2K5 for about $180 from Amazon or Best Buy.
  3. Buy an Ultrabay Slim HDD adapter for T500 from Amazon for under $20.
  4. 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.
  5. Slide out the drive using the strap. (you probably should have turned off the machine before this).
  6. Remove the existing hard drive from the aluminum wrapper and rubber bumpers – you’ll put the new Intel drive into that shell.
  7. 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.
  8. Insert the existing hard drive into the new Ultrabay drive holder – ensure it seats well into the connector by pushing hard.
  9. Slide the Ultrabay holder into the Ultrabay. (when you turn the machine on, this drive will be seen as drive D:\).
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Hopefully, you have a windows 7 installation DVD … 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 for $139 Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit (Full) System Builder DVD 1 Pack.
  13. Remove the Ultrabay drive with the original hard disk — you’ll need that bay for the DVD drive and installation disk.
  14. Insert the DVD drive into the bay.
  15. 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.
  16. Install Windows 7 as prompted.
  17. After install, you are now running from your SSD.
  18. Remove the DVD drive and insert the new Ultrabay drive holding the original SATA drive into the Ultrabay.
  19. 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).
  20. 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 still under observation. But, 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. Look for some side-by-side comparisons in a following article. I know the numbers will be sweet!

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.

6 Replies to “SSD Experience – A Tasty Recipe?”

    1. No driver installs were needed! The Windows installer recognized the drive immediately. It was Windows 7 Enterprise Edition 64 bit. The install worked without issue. I’m not sure if that’s good Microsoft development or a miracle.

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