Before installing the OS
Ensure that both AHCI and SATA Native mode are enabled in the BIOS, especially for a Windows XP installation. Like modern hard disks, an SSD makes use of the native command queuing (NCQ) to improve IO performance.
Windows XP partition alignment
While Windows Vista and 7 both align the clusters up with the physical flash block boundaries, this is not the case with Windows 7. Dee’s guide on MyCE goes goes into detail on how to do this.
Check for firmware updates
Unlike hard disks where manufacturers don’t provide firmware updates, most SSD manufacturers regularly release firmware updates to provide performance and reliability updates.
Like with any other device, there is always a small risk of a firmware update going wrong, which could result in the drive’s content being lost or the drive failing altogether. So by applying a firmware update when new (if available), this eliminates the data loss risk, since the drive obviously has nothing to lose. Also, in the unlikely event that the drive fails, it could be returned as DOA.
Move your Windows profile paths to a separate hard disk
Photographs, music and video can quickly fill up an SSD, yet they get little benefit with an SSD since unlike system files where Windows can access several hundred random parts per second, generally one only accesses a single photograph, song or video at a time apart from when first copied to the drive. These are read sequentially, which an HDD can easily handle without affecting performance.
These paths should be carried out immediately after the OS installing and before installing software such as iTunes, Picasa and so on. Otherwise, if this process is carried out later on or with an existing OS installation, it will likely break existing paths.
To do this, create the folders on your hard disk, giving them names like “Desktop”, “Documents”, “Photos”, etc. for where the new paths will point to, such as the examples shown below for a hard disk with a drive letter ‘D’. Move any existing content to the new paths before carrying out the following steps. These steps apply to Windows XP, Vista and 7, both 32-bit and 64-bit editions.
- Click Start, type in “Regedit”, press enter and click ‘Yes’.
- Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER -> Software -> Microsoft -> Windows -> CurrentVersion -> Explorer -> User Shell Folders.
- Modify the following:
- Desktop – Desktop path, e.g. “D:\Desktop”
- My Music – Music path, e.g. “D:\Music”
- My Pictures – Pictures path, e.g. “D:\Photos”
- My Video -> Video files path, e.g. “D:\Video”
- Personal -> Documents path, e.g. “D:\Documents”
- Exit out of the registry editor and reboot the PC.
Consider disabling hibernation
Most PCs, especially laptops, boot in 1/3 the time with an SSD compared with an HDD and many applications load near-instantly with an SSD. So unless you really need to hibernate the PC, consider powering it off completely or use the sleep mode for the times you need to head away for a short period. Most laptops will sleep for several days on battery.
The catch with using hibernation on an SSD is that it uses the same amount of space as the RAM in the system. For example, if computer has 4GB of RAM, 4GB of SSD would be permanently reserved for hibernation, which is a lot, especially with a low capacity SSD.
To disable hibernation on Windows 7, click start, run type in “powercfg -h off” (without the quotes) and press Shift + Ctrl + Enter. Click ‘Yes’ for the User Account Control prompt. To enable hibernation, just repeat these steps, but type in “powercfg -h on” instead.
Cloning the existing OS
Once the SSD is attached, do not boot the existing OS! If the existing OS sees the SSD, it will give it a new drive letter, which may prevent the OS booting once cloned to the SSD. Instead, only attach the SSD when you are ready to clone the hard disk.
If the existing OS partition is small enough, it can be copied over to the new SSD with almost any partition cloning tool or with dd_rescue in Linux (for experienced users). Alternatively for Windows 7, make a backup of the OS partition to a hard disk or external drive, create a recovery CD with the Windows 7 backup utility, install the new SSD and then boot the recovery CD to perform a restore.
If the OS partition is over-sized, it’s worth seeing how much content is in the documents and pictures folders to move out as much as possible and creating shortcuts to the new paths. For example, if there’s a huge folder called “2009 photos” in the Pictures folder, move this folder to the hard disk and create a shortcut in the Pictures folder to it called “2009 photos”. This way it can still be accessed easily without taking up space on the OS partition. Both Windows 7 and Vista allow the OS partition to be shrunk in Disk management, which can be accessed by clicking start, right-clicking “Computer” and clicking “Manage”.
Use the Microsoft SATA drivers with Windows 7
When Windows Vista or 7 is installed, by default it will use its own SATA drivers, which support TRIM natively. Unfortunately, some third party drivers don’t pass the TRIM, which may end up with the SSD performing much like a non-TRIM enabled SSD over time.
The simplest way to do this is to uninstall the SATA driver and reboot the PC. Windows will automatically install its own driver once the OS boots back up. If an SATA driver was required to install Windows, do not uninstall it, as to do so may prevent Windows from being able to boot.
Note that if two or more SSDs are set up in RAID, most RAID cards do not support passing the TRIM command.
- Choosing the right SSD
- SSD Preparation - Installing/closing the OS
- SSD Maintenance - How to maintain peak performance