Upgrading to an SSD (Solid State Drive) from an ordinary HDD (Hard Disk Drive) can dramatically speed up your PC. From boot-up time to operation and loading programs or files, an SSD will brighten up your computing day considerably.
TCR just finished upgrading a Dell Latitude E5420 laptop for a client who was frustrated with the operational speed of their machine.
The PC is running Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit version, and had 4GB of RAM memory installed.
We upgraded from a hard drive to an SSD, and added an additional 4GB of RAM, for a total of 8GB.
*Note: The RAM memory is where a PC places anything currently running on the computer. This includes Windows, and open programs or applications, and any files open for editing. RAM memory is extremely fast at moving data to and from the processor chip on the PC.
When RAM is full, the computer uses empty space on the hard drive as “virtual RAM.” This keeps the computer from crashing due to unavailable working memory. However, the hard drive is around 100 times slower than RAM chips at moving data to and from the processing chips. The result is slow response to clicks, blue “waiting” circles, or in older versions of Windows, the infamous “spinning hourglass.”
RAM isn’t everything, however. To dramatically speed up a slow PC, an SSD is hard to beat!
The reason for this is because you first need to load a program from the long-term storage device through the processor chip and into RAM before it can run. This includes Windows when you first boot up a PC.
When your PC first boots up, it uses a special small chip similar to a RAM chip to tell it how to boot itself up. Then it does a POST, which stands for Power On Self Test. This is when you are seeing things like the black screens with a the PC manufacturer’s logo, etc.
After POST passes, the PC will look for an operating system, such as Windows. The special chip that tells it how to boot itself up has settings stored on it. The PC will look at the hard drive, the network, a CD/DVD drive, or a USB drive inserted into a USB port. (The order in which it checks these devices for an operating system is called the Boot Order.)
Once it finds the operating system – in our case Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit – on the hard drive, it must move a copy of the operating system from the hard drive, through the processor chip, and into the RAM memory before it can run Windows. At that point, Windows will take over the rest of the boot up, and request various Windows background servicing programs to be loaded to RAM through the processor chip from the hard drive. These “services” programs are a part of Windows, and handle things like running your internet connection, displaying information on your screen, monitoring the keyboard, mouse or trackpad, USB ports, CD/DVD drive, and other functions.
All of this, Windows included, has to be loaded into RAM from the hard drive through the processor for the PC to be fully “booted up” and ready to work for you. That means that booting up your PC is completely dependent on how fast your hard drive can deliver the copy of windows and all the services programs to your processor chip to be put into RAM.
The same is true of any programs you might open, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and many others. Before they can run, a copy of them must be moved from the hard drive, through the processor chip, and into RAM when you first open them.
This is also true of any saved files you open to work on or edit. To be saved when the power is off, the most recent copy of a document, picture, video, or music file must be stored on the PC’s hard drive. Everything in RAM is lost when the PC is shut down.
This means that, if you want to open your spreadsheet of expenses that you updated last week, the computer has to gather a copy of it from the hard drive through the processor chip and into the RAM chips in order for your office software such as Excel to edit or update it.
Also, to save anything you updated on a file – or Windows Updates for that matter, the most recent copy must be moved back onto the hard drive to replace the outdated version.
As you can see, booting the PC, opening a program, opening a file, saving a file, and working on files when the RAM chips are full are all highly dependent on how fast the processor chip can move data to and from the hard drive.
This is one of the beauties of the SSD, or solid-state drive.
An SSD is made up entirely of chips. It has no moving parts, unless you count the electrons flowing through it.
A hard drive has a stack of spinning plates rotating at either 5,400 RPM or 7,200 RPM. (In a modern hard drive)
The information on a hard drive is stored in magnetic bubbles, like old reel-to-reel, 8-track, and cassette tapes. There are a set of small “read arms” that hover a micro-fraction of an inch above the surface of the spinning plates, moving back-and-forth to read the state of the magnetic bubbles. Each bubble on each plate has a “memory address.” The PC must search through these memory addresses on the spinning hard drive until it finds the file or files it is looking for, and then read them as the plates are spinning, and move a copy of them to the processor chip to be put into ram.
The memory addresses on a flash memory chip are stored as transistor on-off states. The SSD is made up of a bunch of arrayed flash memory chips. It has no moving parts. An SSD is about 100 times faster at delivering or receiving data to and from the processor chip. This dramatically speeds up the time it takes the PC to boot, how fast it loads or saves a file, how fast it opens programs, and how fast “virtual RAM” operates in the empty space on it.
The overall benefits of an SSD are:
- Reduced power consumption (No motor to spin up and keep plates spinning)
- Reduced heat generation
- Much greater resistance to impacts. (If you drop a hard drive – or your laptop – while those plates are spinning, and the read arms hit the surface of the moving plates, that hard drive will be ruined.)
- Much greater data transfer rates than a traditional hard disk drive.
The reduced power consumption will slightly improve your run time on battery with a laptop.
As you can see, an SSD will not only speed up your PC, it will make your laptop travel more safely and run longer without a power outlet.
The downside to an SSD is cost. As of this writing, a 250GB SSD will cost about $75.00, a 500GB SSD will cost about $150.00, and a one terabyte SSD will set you back just a little over $300.00 on sale.
A traditional one terabyte hard disk drive can be found online for around $50.00.
These prices are only for the parts themselves. They do not include the cost of labor to duplicate your existing hard drive onto an SSD and then install it.
An example of an SSD upgrade that we just did for a client in the past two days is a Dell Latitude E5420 laptop.
The laptop came with an existing 300GB hard disk drive, which we replaced for the customer with a 250GB SSD.
Part of the process includes using special software to “clone” or copy the entire hard drive onto the new SSD. This needs to be done so that the computer will be able to boot up from the SSD and have everything the same as it was on the hard drive.
As you can guess, the cloning portion of the process is still dependent on the speed of the old hard drive, and can take an hour or more. The more information that is stored on the old hard drive, and the larger its capacity, the longer the cloning process will take. The SSD isn’t installed yet, so it can’t speed up the cloning process.
Once the cloning process is complete, the laptop must be shut down. Then you must remove the battery and all cables from it, and open up the bottom of the laptop to access the hard drive bay.
Then the old hard drive must be removed, and the new SSD installed.
Once the SSD is installed, the bottom cover(s) must be replaced, the battery reinstalled, and then you can boot up on the new SSD.
This process is slightly different on every make and model of laptop. Different manufacturers use different case and connector designs for different models. The locations of the screws, and internal layout of the parts will be different from model-to-model.
A special adapter cable is also required, and the brand-new SSD must be first “initialized” with a software tool in Windows before the cloning software will be able to access the SSD to clone to it.
In the case of the Dell laptop shown here, the PC’s boot time went from one-and-a-half to two minutes down to 28-40 seconds. That’s pretty dramatic!
Programs generally loaded withing two seconds after the SSD install, and files open in less than a second.
Additionally, the PC doesn’t slow down appreciably even with eight internet browser tabs and Open Office running at the same time.
*Note: We did also upgrade this laptop from 4GB of RAM to 8GB of RAM. The RAM chips are still faster than the SSD, which helps the computer run faster once it’s booted up.
THAT is a serious speed up indeed!
Are you thinking about speeding up your machine yet?