Apr 12 2013

Howto: Speed Up Old Laptop with SSD

Intel SSD Drive

My mother had a 10-year-old laptop that had become really slow because of the constant updates to Windows XP. I decided to buy her a newer second-hand laptop and install an SSD drive to speed things up even more. Since SSD storage blocks wear off in use, the operating system needs to be tweaked to minimize write/read operations to the disk.

I used a nicely written guide from muropaketti.com (in Finnish) as a design base. Muropaketti.com is a popular Finnish technology/forum site.

Old Laptop

Acer Aspire 7720Z

I found this beauty in a popular Finnish auction/second-hand site huuto.net for 144 € ($189). Among other things, it features:

  • 17″ display (1440×900)
  • Intel Pentium 2.16 GHz Dual-Core processor
  • 2 GB DDR2 RAM
  • 320 GB mechanical hard drive, two slots
  • Windows 7 32-bit

SSD Drive

I picked up Intel 60 GB SSD drive from a local computer store for 70 € ($92). It was the cheapest model and I knew that 32-bit Windows 7 would take about 10-20 G, so it would be enough.

Update SSD Firmware

SATA-USB cable missing

First thing you want to make sure is that the SSD drive has the latest firmware. Intel SSD drive had quick install guide that illustrated how one should connect the drive to a laptop using a proprietary SATA↔2*USB cable. But there was no cable in the box so I had to install the drive to the slot 2 inside my laptop.

Intel SSD Toolbox

Each SSD manufacturer has its own software that you can update the firmware to the latest version. My SSD had already the latest firmware.

Configure BIOS

AHCI mode in BIOS

AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) defines how data is transferred between RAM and a storage media and it is essential that the AHCI mode is enabled for the SATA interface in BIOS. Modern BIOSes support AHCI mode.

Install Operating System

When installing operating system, I always remove all other hard drives and keep only one system hard drive attached. That way I can be sure that it is installed on the right drive. Also partitioning and formatting is done to the right drive. My bargain had a Windows 7 installation media and a license.

Tweak Windows Settings

Since SSD storage blocks wear off in use, the operating system needs to be tweaked to minimize write/read operations to the disk. The following steps are for Windows.

Enable Trim

Windows-Enable-Trim

TRIM technology reduces unnecessary read/write operations to the disk. It is easy to check if TRIM is enabled in Windows. You need to open command prompt as an admin user: Start → All Programs → Utilities. Now right-click Command Prompt and select “Run as admin”. Now type in command: fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify. If you have launched command prompt as a normal user and not “as admin”, it will issue an error. The command return either “0” meaning that TRIM is enabled or “1” meaning TRIM is disabled. I had it already enabled but if you will get “1” then you need to enable it typing: fsutil behavior set DisableNotify 0.

Disable Defragmenter

Windows-Disable-Defragmenter

Disk defragmenting means rearranging the data in chunks where one chuck always has all the data that belongs to a specific file for example. With mechanical disks the data becomes scattered over time and defragmenting makes read operations faster as it needs not to be searched from the round disk. Defragmenting does not give any edge when using SSD but it makes many read/write operations that wear off the disk so it needs to be disabled.

Scheduled defragmenting can be disabled with: Start → Run… → Type disk defragmenter → Configure schedule → Untick Run on a schedule (recommended).

Disable Indexing

Windows-Disable-Indexing

Data indexing speeds up read operations with conventional mechanical disks. However, read operations are fast with SSD so it does not give any benefit but causes unnecessary read/write operations. From My computer view right-click your SSD, in my case C: and select its properties. Now untick the last tick box Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed in addition to file properties. It will run through all the files and gives warnings about some system files but just ignore them.

Disk Management

SSD and mechanical disks

When I was done tweaking Windows, I attached the old mechanical drive next to the SSD. Of course it had the old installation of Windows 7 which I wanted to erase. It can be conveniently done in Windows using disk management: Start → Type diskmgmt.msc. There you can move your optical drive to e.g. E: and delete and create partitions for the old disk and eventually move it to D:.

Move “My Documents”

I also wanted to move Pictures, Videos, Music, Documents from My Documents to the old mechanical drive which has more capacity. First create the directories under D:. Then open My Documents and right-click all the directories that you want to relocate and select properties. Select Location tab and Move… and find the new location. Notice that you cannot relocate the whole My Documents but only the directories within.

Conclusion

With roughly 200 € ($260) I got a fast and responsive computer system for my mother to use for browsing and Skype calls. Startup time was reduced from 60 s to 32 s (from power-up to Windows desktop) and all the applications start immediately when clicked. Was it worth it, considering my mother uses only browser and Skype? You’ll be the judge. I think it was a great learning experience and the price was far less than buying a new laptop.

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