on April 20, 2011
This is my first SSD, and I absolutely love it. Very fast boot up and shut-down;
incredibly fast program launch - even monsters like Photoshop: blam - they're on.
Since my system worked reasonably well before, I worried about every aspect
of this project. (If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Why spend the $250, what if I have boot problems,
what if the performance increase is marginal or worse?). Incredibly the installation
was totally quick and flawless. Bravo, Intel! Now for some details.
I bought the retail kit ($10 to $25 more than the OEM version). The two cables
are handy (sata power and data), I used the bracket, and even the
tiny 3 inch CD with installation instructions was useful. Amazingly,
those instructions are not on Intel's website.) They worked flawlessly.
I installed it in my 2008 Intel desktop tower that runs Windows XP Pro
32-bit and that has an Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 processor. This system was top
of the line when I bought it, so I really wanted to wait another year before
upgrading to a 64-bit OS (to get > 4gb of DRAM) and a faster processor
(like Ivy Bridge). I love WinXP, and I have a lot of old drivers, so I was hesitant
to upgrade to Win7 now or to make any expensive hardware upgrades now.)
I think I made the perfect choice, but this decision was not without anxiety.
After reading all the reviews for Intel's SSD X25-M (it's Gen 2,
34 nano SSDs), it was apparent that most buyers raved about them:
their speed and their reliability, but, cruising the internet you
find all kinds of potential worries. I list them here, only to dismiss them.
(BTW, the Series 320 SSDs are from Intel's 25 nano fab in Utah: they are
even faster and more reliable than the X25-M series. Although they only
support 3gb/sec data transfer, that's all my old mobo can dish out, so that's fine.)
1) SSDs, WinXP, and TRIM. This was a worry, since WinXP was written a decade ago,
long before SSDs. My worry was that WinXP does not support TRIM, which is
a command to tell the SSD to overwrite deleted data. Without TRIM, the efficiency
of the SSD might deteriorate due to unavailable pages. The solution for WinXP is
to use a small, free program, the Intel Solid-State Drive Toolbox, to perform this
drive optimization. (Win7 does it automatically.) So, a non-worry -
not a reason to upgrade to Win7. BTW, SSDs and TRIM are explained in a
well-written 2009 article on AnandTech "The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs."
2) SSDs and BIOS or other drive recognition problems. This was a huge worry,
since this has been a recurring catastrophe about every five years: having a
hard drive that simply does not show up either in Windows, or even worse, not in
the BIOS. I spoke to some professionals; they had never experienced this when
installing Intel SSDs on customers desktops. In fact, I did not have to touch the
BIOS at all. I just connected the sata power and data cables, and the drive
magically appeared on the BIOS list and in Windows (on the Device Manager drive list).
(The 'raptor HD is disconnected for now.)
3) Installing Windows (or anything) on the SSD. I need to mention that although,
I could SEE the SSD in the Device Manager, it does NOT show up on "My Computer"
along with the C drive. The reason is that it ships, of course, unformatted.
(I had hoped to just copy my entire mechanical hard drive (a WD 600 gb Velociraptor)
to the SSD using Norton Ghost.) Instead, I resorted to reading the directions that came with
the drive on that tiny little CD. Again, Intel to the rescue with their Drive Migration software
provided by Acronis. Don't be scared off by the minutiae of that program. In fact, you only
use one single command: Clone Now - the rest is automatic.
The bottom line is that this was a hugely worthwhile and easy project with a
thrilling result: incredibly fast performance. I think mechanical drives will go the way
of magnetic tape: for archival storage only and to museums. (I also write about
the future of biotech, neuroscience, and AI: see BobBlum.com )
PS: Don't stress about mounting the SSD. (See the YouTube "Samsung SSD Awesomeness"
with the guy trampolining with 24 SSDs.)
on May 26, 2011
First off let me give some info on my computer for those who are interested:
Computer: 2007 eMachines that originally came with Vista (which I upgraded to XP)
Operating System: Windows XP Home Edition, SP3
Processor: Intel Pentium dual core CPU @2.00GHz
Old HDD: Stock Western Digital 320GB that came with my computer, SATA 2.0 (3GB/s)
Partitions: 3 partitions in total, two are used for dual-booting XP and one was for random storage.
Getting a SSD for me has been an interesting experience, I cannot begin to tell you how many hours I put into researching drives and trying to answer all of my questions. Some of those questions remained unanswered and I had to figure them out on my own (which I will elaborate on).
I had a lot of questions going into this, of those questions here were some of my main concerns:
- How does the Intel Migration Software work with HDD's that have multiple partitions?
- Do I even have a SATA 2.0 (3GB/s) capable motherboard?
- Windows XP and SSD's
- Drive Encryption
- Different versions sold here on Amazon with varying prices
- Will it really give me better performance?
Intel Migration Software -- So let me get into the first subject. As noted, I had three partitions on my old HDD, two were used for dual-booting XP and one was for random storage. One of the partitions used for my XP boots was much bigger than I needed, so the biggest question I had was, how does Intel's Migration software deal with partitions? Will it allow me to change the size of my partitions when it clones to the SSD? Can it even handle partitions when it clones my drive? The answer to these questions is YES, it can! I won't dive into the specific steps needed, but rest assured if you have multiple partitions on your old HDD, the Intel Data Migration software allows you to re-size (or even delete I would imagine) your partitions in any way you want when it clones to the SSD. If you do not re-size your partitions, then the migration software will 'scale' the partitions down to fit on the SSD in equal proportions based on how big they were originally. Although I am not sure how it works if your old drive is mostly full or exceeds the SSD's size, that I cannot comment on. For me I was only using up 45GB on my 320GB HDD, so the transition was easy in terms of partition sizing and my new 120GB SSD.
Is my motherboard SATA 2.0? -- My next question was if my mobo (motherboard) could even handle a SATA 2.0 connection, or if it was just a SATA 1.0. Luckily for me I found some documentation on my motherboard that said it had SATA 2.0, plus other signs pointing out that computers that came out around 2007 are likely to all have SATA 2.0. Either way I would suggest anybody who wants to find this out get a program like PC Wizard (can be found at download.com) which tells you every bit of detail about your computer and all its peripherals/drives. Get the name of your motherboard and Google it, but it is likely that if you got your PC after 2007, it probably has SATA 2.0. Heck my PC is a lower end off-brand PC and it actually has SATA 2.0. So unless you have a PC from 2005 or older, you will probably be Ok.
Windows XP and SSD's -- Next up was my concern about Windows XP and SSD's. It seemed the word was that XP and SSD's did not mix well due to the lack of TRIM capabilities, and after doing a lot of searching I arrived at dead ends every step of the way. Ironically the best source of info I came across was from a reviewer here on Amazon (Bob Blum), who actually reviewed this very SSD! He mentioned that the Intel SSD Toolbox basically does what TRIM does on Windows 7, and he was absolutely right. The Intel SSD toolbox works like a charm in executing the TRIM-like capabilities found on Windows 7, however you do need to run this tool manually or on a scheduled basis in order for it to make any difference. I personally have mine scheduled to run every day (Intel suggests weekly). It does use up a little bit of resources since the scheduler is running 24/7 (approx 10MB for two processes), but in the end it is worth knowing that my SSD won't start to slow down after being used a lot. And as far as I know, Intel is the only one offering this kind of TRIM-like capability for XP users, which is the main reason I chose a Intel over the slightly faster (yet less reliable) SSD brands like OCZ.
Installation -- My other concern was the whole process of installing and getting my data migrated without a hitch. My suggestion is to use the mini-CD that comes with the SSD, it has PDF instructions that guide you through every step of the process. And trust me, it is written very well and really easy to understand. As long as you read the instructions, you will not have any problems at all. Far as physically installing the drive, I did not remove my old HDD because I wanted it for extra storage, I just plugged in my Intel SSD to a empty SATA and power slot on my motherboard and screwed it in to the bracket right next to my old HDD. After setting the BIOS boot priority to start with my newly cloned SSD, everything started up without any problems at all.
Drive Encryption -- Ok, here is some basic info on the drive encryption that Intel has included with the 320 series SSD's. I am not going to tell you how it all works and how secure it really is, but I can tell you that if you do not have a ATA/HDD password setting in your BIOS, you will NOT be able to use the drives built-in FDE (full disk encryption). The sad fact is, most desktop computers do not have this option in BIOS (don't confuse ATA/HDD password with the regular BIOS password, because they are different), although most laptops do have this feature. My desktop PC did not, so I cannot take advantage of the FDE that comes standard on all the 320 series SSD's. Keep in mind due to how the drive is designed, the Intel 320 series SSD's actually encrypt everything by default (without any loss of performance) however if you do not set the ATA/HDD password in BIOS, that encryption won't do you any good. Think of it like gluing the keys to your house inside the lock, it may HAVE a lock, but anybody can access it since they keys are glued in.
Different versions on Amazon (and elsewhere) -- I noticed right off the bat that Amazon had two different versions of the same SSD drive for two different prices. I of course chose the cheaper version, and I am glad I did. What is the difference? Simple, one version is designed for desktop computers, the other is for laptop and desktop users. The version I got (SSDSA2CW120G3K5, which is currently $219.00 from Amazon for the 120GB) has everything you need for a desktop installation. It has the SATA signal and power cables, 3.5" bracket adapter, two different bags with screws, mini-CD with with PDF instructions and some paperwork. The other version, which they are calling the retail box (SSDSA2CW120G3B5) basically has two more things. A SATA to USB adapter, and a rubber enclosure for the SSD. This version is for the laptop users since they need to do the data migration with the SATA to USB cable. While desktop users typically have no need for this as we can connect the SSD in conjunction with our normal HDD's. Laptop users only have one HDD slot in their computers, so they have to use the USB SATA adapter to do the migration. But typically desktop users have no need for this.
Performance -- Ok, now onto the actual product! (I know, finally right?) I went into this thinking I was going to be seeing a night-and-day difference in how my computer ran, for the most part that was true. Everything is 'snappier', programs load faster, folders and files open instantly, installations are almost instantaneous, my browser and internet surfing seem faster and more responsive, windows boots in 1/3rd the time (shutdown remains about the same), and overall everything seems faster and more responsive. And while there is some aspects of my PC's performance which seem the same about the same as it was before, the overall difference is definitely noticeable.
One of the biggest differences I have noticed so far is the multitasking abilities of a SSD, I can be backing up my entire SSD, doing a virus scan and still run programs and surf the net without a single hiccup in performance. Heck, as I am writing this review my entire SSD is being backed up to my old HDD, yet I have not seen any degradation in performance whatsoever. With my old HDD I would have had some major slowdowns and performance decreases during a backup process, but not with this SSD. Doing a simple benchmark test with PC Wizard, my sequential read/write speeds have gone up between 2-3x what they were with my old HDD. But keep in mind sequential read/write speeds are only the skin of why SSD's are so much better than HDD's. Being able to massively multitask with a SSD is its biggest advantage.
As written in the title of this review, using a SSD basically eliminates the HDD as being the bottleneck of your PC's performance, it allows your processor to do it's job. When I had a HDD, my processor would barely ever do any work, my PC might have been almost frozen due to doing a hard task or running multiple programs at once, but my processor was only at 10%. With the SSD, my processor can 'stretch its legs' and do some work for a change as the SSD gives it a run for it's money.
Was it worth the price of the beyond expensive SSD's today? Perhaps debatable, but I would have to say if you have the money to spare on this, you will be glad you got it. If you are on the fence you will of course have to consider whether or not the price is worth it to you, guaranteed if you wait a year or two the prices will be down another 40-60% on SSD's. I personally had that 'itch' and my tax refund was waiting to be spent! Overall I would say it was worth it, but then again I am a techie geek who loves this kind of stuff.