How To Take Full Advantage Of Your Solid-State Drive

How To Take Full Advantage Of Your Solid-State Drive

Solid-state drives (SSDs) have grown popular in recent years for the impressive speed increases your system gains using them. To get the most from your SSD, however, you can (and should) do a few things differently.

Photo by Karl Baron.

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 boot times and application launches super short. One of the most publicised downsides of SSDs, however, 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 Most modern SSDs will become outdated before they die, and you’ll probably have upgraded by then, so there’s not really a huge need to worry about writing to the drive too many times.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 more general tips), 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

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 fast 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 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, and 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, this guide will still apply to those who only have an SSD, but if you can, adding another drive is one of the biggest recommendations I can make.

You can edit these things at the OS level, so your computer will automatically write such things to your magnetic drive. All you need to do is move your user folder — we’ve already discussed how to do this in Windows 7 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

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 highly 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. It’s also important 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 should still do a clean install and run a few commands beforehand to fix your alignment. 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 run it with the same settings as 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

This is especially useful on a laptop 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 biggest downside of hibernation isn’t really an issue.

On Windows, you may need to enable hibernation to customise 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 customise sleep and hibernation preferences.

Note, however, that if you are running out of space on your SSD, you’ll actually want to do the opposite and turn off hibernation, since it creates a file on your hard drive around 1GB large. To disable hibernate completely, just run the above command but with “off” in place of “on”. For the most part, though, if you followed the first tip, you should have plenty of room to spare on your drive.

Disable Disk Defragmentation (XP And Vista)

On a magnetic drive, defragmentation organises 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.

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.

Note that this is only really useful if you didn’t follow the first tip in this article and all your data is on the SSD. Since Windows, for the most part, only indexes your user folders, you do not gain the SSD’s benefits if your user folder is on a magnetic drive. Thus, if you only have the SSD, disable indexing — if you have multiple drives though, you might as well just leave it enabled.

Popular Tweaks That You Probably Don’t Need

Despite the fact that Windows 7 automatically turns off Superfetch when using SSDs, it isn’t all that important with newer SSDs since they have a much longer life. If you’re using Windows Vista, you can try disabling Superfetch, but I will not cover it in this guide as it will more often than not decrease performance on your system (our friends over at The How-To Geek have a guide for disabling it, however).

Similarly disabling write caching and the page file are often counted as good tips for SSD owners, but they’re likely to cause more problems than they solve. However if you are in the camp that is using just the SSD, customising the page file’s size will help you save a bit of space on your drive. You can do this by going to the Start menu, right clicking on Computer and hitting Properties. Hit the Advanced System Settings link on the left, hit the Setting button under Performance, and then hit the Advanced tab. Click the Change button and uncheck “Automatically manage paging file size for all drives” and set a custom size to something that more suits your space needs.

These are not the only tweaks you can make to your system, but they are some of the best ones that will help you get the most out of your drive. There are always other things you can do to speed up your computer (for example, you can move caches to a RAM disk to increase performance), but they aren’t all specific to SSDs and they aren’t great for everyone. So, if you have some of your favourite tweaks that we haven’t featured here, be sure to share them in the comments.


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