Adding a solid state drive to your PC can accelerate its performance. Discover how to install one correctly
We compared the performance of a 250GB Hitachi hard disk, a 240GB Verbatim SSD and a 60GB Corsair Accelerator cache drive. As well as using the Bootracer program (download it) to measure Windows start-up time, we used the Passmark Performance Test tool, to measure disk speed. We also measured the time taken to copy a 4GB test file between two folders on the C: drive.
We installed Windows 7 on a normal hard disk, ran the tests, then added the cache drive and ran them again. Finally, we transferred Windows to the SSD with the HD Clone application and repeated the tests.
The SSD gave the best results but the cache drive was very impressive with an almost identical start-up (or boot) time: 13 seconds compared with 12, down from 66 seconds with a traditional hard disk. The file-copy time with the SSD was six times faster than the hard disk.
Unless Windows is being re-installed, either a USB-to-Sata transfer cable or an external drive enclosure is essential for upgrading a notebook (or desktop PCs with no spare drive bay). USB Now sells a transfer cable and a 2.5in USB drive enclosure.
The PC should first be fully backed up. If re-installing Windows means programs are going to be re-installed, gather all the CDs, serial numbers and software registration details before proceeding.
Installing a cache drive
A cache drive needs a spare drive bay, plus Sata power and data cables. Open the PC’s case and locate an empty drive bay. Attach the adapter bracket (if applicable), then mount it in the drive bay – use the existing hard disk as a guide. Connect the Sata power and data cables to the cache drive, then re-assemble the PC. Start Windows and follow the instructions provided with the cache drive to install the necessary caching software. No Bios settings need changing, and the cache drive will not appear in Windows Explorer.
If removing the cache drive for any reason, it is vital to uninstall the caching software before physically removing the drive, otherwise Windows might not start. Also be cautious when using disk-imaging software, such as Windows 7’s ‘Create a system image’ option (from Backup and Restore within Control Panel) or Vista’s Complete PC Backup. Disk images created while the cache drive was active will fail, so the safest solution is to disable the caching software before creating disk images.
Replacing a hard disk with an SSD
To replace an existing hard disk with an SSD, the contents must first be transferred to the SSD (unless Windows is to be re-installed). If software is supplied with the SSD, use this, but if not use the free version of HD Clone.
On a notebook, connect the SSD using a Sata-to-USB cable or USB drive enclosure (see above). For desktop PCs, a transfer cable or enclosure can be used if there is no spare drive bay; otherwise the SSD can be simply installed alongside the hard disk. A spare Sata power connector and a Sata data cable will also be needed. If keeping the old hard disk, the boot order will need to be changed in the Bios so the PC starts from the SSD - we explained how to do this in issue 379. For help using HD Clone, see our video. When complete, remove the original hard disk (unless the SSD has been installed alongside it) and replace it with the SSD. See our workshop for instructions on how to do this. For desktop PCs, see our video.
If re-installing Windows, temporarily remove or disconnect the old hard disk (if present). The Windows product key will be needed, but Windows should not need to be re-activated (although if so, follow the prompts, call the displayed the Microsoft number and explain your action). After installation, download and install any Windows updates before re-installing programs or restoring personal documents and files.
SSDs are a great way to improve a PC’s performance, and anyone should be able to install one.
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