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July 15, 2010

How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive

Upgrading your regular old hard drive to a solid-state drive is one of the best upgrades you can make to your computer nowadays, as our hard drives tend to be among the biggest bottlenecks in performance. SSD read times are insanely fast, meaning using one will make your boot times and application launches super short. One of the most publicized downsides of SSDs is that they have limited number of writes before they wear out—however, with most newer SSDs, this isn't actually a problem. Most modern SSDs will become outdated before they die, and you'll probably have upgraded by then, so there's not really a huge need to worry about writing to the drive too many times. That said, there are still a number of tweaks you can make to your system to account for the idiosyncrasies of solid-state drives.

This guide assumes you're using Windows (apart from a few general tips that can apply to all OSes), and also assumes you're using one of the newer SSDs that isn't subject to a super low number of writes or horrible write times. If you are using an older SSD, do a bit of research to see if there are any other tweaks you should make to your system.
Store Media and Other Personal Files on Another Drive

How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive

One of the main strategies in SSD usage is to use the SSD only for system files and applications. This will give you all the perks of fast boot times and application launches, but you won't fill up your drive as fast. SSDs are expensive, and there's no reason to break the bank for a large one—instead, just buy a small one for your OS files and buy a regular, magnetic drive (any size you want; they're pretty cheap nowadays) for your music, movies, and documents.

I understand this isn't possible for everyone. Desktop users should absolutely do this, but while some laptop users may be able to mod their laptop to contain two drives, some may prefer not to (and netbook users just plain can't). Thus, I'll point out in this guide where the tip only applies to one of these camps, and if the other camp should do anything differently.

To change where your files are stored automatically, you just need to edit the location of your user folder. We've already discussed how to do this in Windows 7, Windows XP, and Mac OS X. Linux distributions may vary, but in Ubuntu, you just need to go to System > Administration > Users and Groups, hit Advanced Settings, and change your home directory under the Advanced tab to a folder on your magnetic drive.
Use Windows 7

How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive

Windows 7 has a lot of important features that will help your SSD, such as the TRIM command, disabling defragmentation, and disabling Superfetch. If you're still using XP or Vista, I recommend upgrading, as some of these are not supported in versions before 7. Furthermore, if you have an SSD, Windows 7 will make a lot of these adjustments automatically, so you don't need to worry about them. If you've been using XP up until now (or upgraded from XP to Vista without doing a clean install), you'll want to do a clean install of Windows, as it will fix your partition alignment, thus greatly increasing performance.

If you absolutely must continue using Windows XP, however, you'll need to fix your partition alignment manually (note that you'll still have to do a clean install). This is one of the most important performance tweaks if you're using an SSD, as an incorrect alignment (such as XP's default) can severely reduce the speed of your dirve. There is a good guide over at the OCZ Forum that details the necessary steps. Note that you can run diskpart from a Vista or Windows 7 installation disc, too, if you'd prefer to do that instead of running it from a separate computer.—just use the same settings described in that guide. Of course, you'll want to back up all your data before doing this, and then restore it after you've reinstalled Windows. The main fix is fixing the physical alignment of the partition; it has nothing to do with the actual data itself.
Use Hibernation Instead of Sleep

How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive

Using hibernation is especially useful on laptops when you're trying to conserve battery life. When you sleep a computer, it saves your state to the RAM, but when you hibernate, it saves your state to the hard drive, thus using less power while "asleep". Usually, this means it takes a bit longer to start back up, but with an SSD in your system, it should wake up fairly quickly, so the big downside of hibernation isn't as much of an issue.

On Windows, you may need to enable hibernation to customize when your computer uses it. To do so, open up Command Prompt as an administrator ((by right clicking on it) and type powercfg /hibernate on. Then, open up the start menu and type in "power options" and hit enter. Click the link on the left that says "Change when the computer sleeps" and then hit "Change advanced power settings". If you expand the Sleep setting, you can edit when your computer sleeps as opposed to hibernates. Also, turning off "Allow hybrid sleep" will let you choose Hibernate from the start menu if you'd like to be able to do it manually. On a Mac, you'll need an app like SmartSleep to customize sleep and hibernation preferences.

How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive

Note, however, that if you are running out of space on your SSD, you'll actually want to do the opposite and turn hibernation off, since it creates a file on your hard drive that takes up as much space as the amount of RAM in your system. To disable hibernation completely, just run the above command but with "off" in place of "on". For the most part, though, if you followed the first tip in this guide, you should have plenty of room to spare for the hibernation file.
Disable Disk Defragmentation (XP and Vista)

On a magnetic drive, defragmentation organizes your drive in a way that data sectors are close to one another to improve performance. However, on Solid State Drives, having the data close together makes no difference, since SSDs can access data at the same speed no matter where it is. Thus, you don't need to defragment your SSD, and you can probably increase performance by turning it off.

To do so, head into your Start menu, right click on the Computer icon, and hit Manage to enter Computer Management. Under Services and Applications > Services, right click on Disk Defragmenter and hit Properties. Change the Startup Type to Disabled and hit OK.

How to Take Full Advantage of Your Solid-State Drive

Note that you probably won't need to do this on Windows 7, since it is turned off automatically when you're using a solid-state drive.
Disable Indexing

Indexing your drive usually speeds up searching and makes your life a little easier. However, indexing is actually more trouble than it's worth on an SSD. Because it's constantly maintaining a database of the files on your system and their properties, it causes a lot of small writes, at which SSDs do not excel. Thankfully, SSDs do excel at reading, and thus your drive will be able to seek pretty quickly anyway, even without an index.

First, go to My Computer, right click on your SSD, and hit Properties. At the bottom of the window, uncheck "Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching". To disable the indexing of file attributes, go back to the Services section of Computer Management (as described above), but this time, right click on Windows Search and hit Properties. Change the Startup Type to Disabled.


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