Most people get put off by the high cost of SSDs without realising that they don’t actually need a large SSD to store all their data. A small SSD coupled with a large capacity HDD would suit most user’s needs. This guide covers choosing an SSD, preparing for the OS installation/cloning, choosing what data to put on the SSD and maintaining peak performance.
Desktop PC Compatibility
Pretty much all recent 2.5” SSDs have an SATA, although if you happen to spot a bargain such as on eBay or at a clearance sale, it may be an early IDE model. Like 2.5” SATA hard disks, the same SATA power and data cables for a 3.5” hard disk will fit the 2.5” drive, so there is no need to obtain an adapter, unless of course there are no spare SATA power cables.
2.5” IDE based SSDs do require an adapter to fit a desktop PC. Their IDE interface is the same as that used with 2.5” IDE hard disks and thus requires a 2.5” to 3.5” IDE & power adapter.
Choose the size carefully!
Bear in mind that you only need an SSD large enough to hold your OS, frequently used applications and some spare space for future application installations. Most bulky data such as music, video, photographs and documents get minimal benefit from an SSD and thus should be stored on a separate hard disk.
Unlike hard disks were 1TB drive is affordable, SSDs pricing is almost proportional to the capacity. For example a 128GB SSD is nearly twice the price of a 64GB for the same model.
To get an idea of the size you need, go into your OS drive and get the sizes of the Windows and Program Files folders (right-click a folder and click “properties” for the size.) Get the sum of these. Add double your RAM capacity to cover swap & hibernation, 5GB for the user profile and 10GB for spare. If you use Windows XP mode in Windows 7, add another 20GB.
For most desktop users with 4GB of RAM, they will get away with a 30GB-40GB for Windows XP and 7 32-bit and 60GB to 80GB for Windows Vista and Windows 7 64-bit. For a laptop, double these figures.
Deciding on the controller
Most SSDs use either a JMicron, Indilinix SandForce controller, each with their own features and advantages. Some manufacturers even have multiple generations. For an in-depth article comparing the different controllers and features, check out this article on MyCE.
Deciding on TRIM support
Most modern SSDs now feature trim natively, while some other models can get TRIM support with a firmware update. Windows 7 supports TRIM natively, while Windows XP and Vista need a 3rd party utility to send the TRIM commands.
However, as some shops are performing clearance sales on early SSDs such as Kingston’s first generation SSDNow drive; this is a good time to decide whether to buy an SSD at a bargain without TRIM or whether it’s worth paying the premium for TRIM.
With a significant difference between laptop and desktop HDDs, even an SSD without TRIM will provide a very noticeable improvement for laptops. For desktop PCs however, the lack of TRIM may start to become a problem after a few months, unless preparation is made to minimise the effect.
As SSDs need free space to effectively perform wear-levelling, one workaround for non-TRIM enabled drives is to leave a few gigabytes of non-partitioned space. For example, for a 128GB SSD, 8GB of non-partitioned space would leave plenty of room for wear-levelling. It may even prevent the drive from slowing down as much over time.
3.5” mounting bracket for desktop PCs
Unlike traditional hard disks that require mounting to prevent vibrations and potential damage to the drive as a result, an SSD can easily rest at the bottom of the case or on top of an existing hard disk, since they do not vibrate, are not affected by external vibrations and most don’t have exposed electronics.
Despite this, a 3.5” mount is strongly recommended for a permanent installation or where the PC may be moved or opened occasionally, since a loose SSD could easily move about and potentially affect cooling, block a vent or even cause a dangerous short if it ends in a bad place.
SSD desktop kit vs. laptop kit
Both kits for the same SSD feature the same SSD, however, the difference between them is the included accessories. With a laptop kit, it may come with a USB cable (if the SSD has a built-in USB connection) or HDD enclosure for the original 2.5” HDD. A desktop kit will typically come with a 3.5” mount to fit the SSD in a standard 3.5” bay.
Even if the wrong kit is purchased, an SSD from a desktop kit will fit a laptop and vice versa, although the laptop kit will obviously lack the 3.5” mounting. When I got an SSD for my laptop, I bought the desktop kit, as it let me properly mount my existing desktop SSD and I used the SSD from the kit in the laptop.