Dear Lifehacker, I'm putting together a computer and really want to get an SSD like you guys keep telling me to, but they're just so expensive. I can probably afford a 60GB SSD or smaller, but that seems too small to fit anything on -- even without my user folder, my current C: drive takes up nearly 70GB. Is it even possible to make use of an SSD this small? Sincerely, Starved for Space
Dear Starved for Space,
You're right, SSDs are still pretty darn expensive and can seriously raise the cost of your computer -- especially if you're trying to build or buy a cheaper machine, an SSD can seem like it raises the price by a third. Luckily, you do have a few options -- though they will take a bit more diligence than maintaining a regular SSD. Here are some ideas.
Move Some Programs to Your Regular Hard Drive
If you aren't already, you should move your user folder and personal files to a regular hard drive and only store your OS and programs on the SSD. We've detailed how to do this on both Windows and a Mac, and it'll save you a lot of space while still reaping all the speed benefits. However, if that doesn't save you enough space, you might consider installing only your most pertinent programs on the SSD, like your browser, music player and email client, while your other programs go on the hard drive.
This is especially important for big programs, like games or Photoshop. You may be tempted to keep this slower programs on your SSD to speed them up, but they're also the largest, so if you're starved for space, you're going to have to compromise somewhere. When you install them, just make sure you choose "Advanced" installation and put them in a new "Program Files" folder on your hard drive instead of the one on your C: drive (which should be your SSD).
Clean Up Your Temp Files and Turn Off Space-Eating Settings
You'd actually be surprised how much you can fit on a small SSD. I'm using an 80GB SSD in my machine, and it's housing Windows plus all my programs (minus games) without a problem. That said, I do have to clean up the drive from time to time, since Windows can often put some pretty big files on the C: drive for no reason, so you may just need to keep a closer eye on what's going into your C: drive.
You can start by running Windows' Disk Cleanup regularly, which may or may not find some large temp files that you don't need (Heck, I just found 6GB worth of deletable temp files today). I'd also just poke around C: manually (carefully, of course) and see if there are any other temp files from other programs. Nvidia, for example, stores a ton of files in C:\NVIDIA whenever you install a new driver, and that can eat up space really quickly -- mine's currently taking up 1.25GB, and that's a folder you can definitely delete. I also ran into problems when customising my Windows installation with RT Se7en Lite, because it had C:\Temp listed as my temporary directory. After changing it to something on my traditional hard drive, I was able to delete those temp files and get all that space back.
Lastly, if you have hibernate enabled, you should disable it. When you hibernate your computer, Windows saves its state to your hard drive, which can take up a lot of space. By disabling hibernate as described here, you will automatically remove that big file and free up tons of space. You should also move the pagefile to your non-SSD drive, which will save you gigs of space instantaneously.
Use Your SSD as a Speed-Boosting Cache
If you're building a new computer, you might want to take a look at Intel's new Smart Response Technology (SRT), which uses your SSD as a cache rather than an actual installation drive. Instead of storing all your files on the SSD, it'll learn which files you access the most and cache them on the SSD so you get the best speed benefits possible from your tiny drive. This is especially good if you can only afford, say, a 20GB or 30GB SSD, since you won't be able to fit Windows on it but can still get a lot of the speed benefits.
It's not as great as having your entire Windows installation on a bigger SSD, but it's a lot simpler to set up, and it's definitely the best way to take advantage of a small SSD -- as long as you're using a new enough computer. Intel SRT is quite new, so you'll need to have a new computer that uses a Z68-based motherboard. That means, if you're building a computer, get a Z68 motherboard and try this out -- but if you're upgrading the drive in your laptop, this isn't a valid option. For more info on SRT and how it works, check out NCIX Tech Tips' video guide above.
Compromise On the Other Components of Your System
If none of the above work for you, there isn't a lot else you can do. Our best advice is to reassess the computer you're buying (or building) and see if there's somewhere else you can skimp on cost to make room for an SSD. Perhaps downgrade to a less powerful video card, or get a slower processor (or, better yet, a processor from a previous generation). Getting the latest and most powerful processor doesn't really make a huge difference, and an SSD will bring much more noticeable benefits in your everyday computing -- so buy a cheaper processor and upgrade to an 80GB or 100GB SSD. You'll be glad you did.
The Extreme Option: Install a Lightweight OS and Use Cloud Services
All this assumes that you have a second internal drive that houses your user folder, media and other big files. If that isn't the case -- if you only have a 60GB SSD -- you're going to have to take a more extreme approach. This won't work well for your main computer, necessarily, but for a laptop or netbook you could install a super lightweight operating system like ArchBang, which will take up far less space on your SSD and leave you more room for programs and files. You can also make use of cloud services like Google Apps and Dropbox to get everything you need without storing it all on your computer. Another great option would be to install Chromium OS, which is very cloud-focused and perfect for a computer with a tiny SSD (you could probably go even smaller than 60GB in that case). Again, you may not be able to use this as your primary machine, but it's another option depending on what kind of computer you're looking to get.
Hopefully these tips are all you need to make a 60GB SSD (or smaller) doable, but if not, you're definitely going to have to compromise on the cost of your system or skip the SSD altogether. Remember, you can always use a regular hard drive and then upgrade later when you have more cash too -- hard drives are one of the easiest things to upgrade in any computer, so there's no harm in holding out a bit longer.
PS Got any other tips for living on an absurdly tiny hard drive? Share them with us in the comments.
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