May 11 2012
01:15 pm

Got tired of waiting for business class "Ivy Bridge" PCs to show up and did another upgrade to my ancient (two-and-a-half year old) desktop with an embarrassingly obsolete Core2 Quad CPU.

I already did the USB 3.0 upgrade which was cheap and delivered a lot of bang for the buck.

To squeeze a little more life out of my PC, I decided to try out one of these new fangled Solid State Disk (SSD) drives. I'd been watching them for a while and early versions seemed to have a lot of problems. It appears Intel has finally gotten it right with the 520 Series (we'll see, I've only had it a little over a month).

I got an Intel 520 Series 180 GB SATA 6Gb/s Solid State Drive. It's about $250 street price. You can get a 120GB version for about $175 and a 60GB is only about $110 if that's all you need. (I'm only using 72GB of mine, and I have a LOT of software installed.)

NOTE: Order the full kit, not a bare OEM drive, so you get the mounting adapter and cables in case you need them. It's a 2.5 inch drive and won't fit in the standard hard drive mounting rails. The part number I ordered was SSDSC2CW180A3K5 for the full kit.

Even though I don't have a 6Gb/s SATA3 controller, I wanted a drive that would be compatible with my next PC which will have one. The SSD is backward compatible with SATA2 controllers, and the connections are the same.

So far I've seen some improvement in performance, but not the dramatic boost I was hoping for. The 3Gb/s SATA controller is likely the limiting factor.

I set it up as my C: boot drive, where I install the OS and all my application software. I have a separate regular HD drive for data.

Windows 7 boots to login in about 20 seconds (after POST and BIOS startup). I don't remember how long it took before, but that seems pretty quick and I rarely need to reboot anyway.

Apps seem to load a little quicker. Photoshop and Lightroom load a LOT faster, like about 5 seconds v. 30 to 40 seconds or more before. My software development tools load pretty much instantaneously. So all that's pretty nice.

Some notes:

One thing I learned is that SSDs are engineered for read performance, not write speed. So it helps to move a lot of your temp/work files like cache and so forth off the SSD to a regular HD (which seems counterintuitive but it works). Here's a great tutorial on how to do that along with some other tips.

Installation may not be for the faint of heart. You could take out your old drive, install the SSD, and reinstall Windows and all your apps, but I have a lot of apps so that's an all day deal for me.

My brilliant plan was to take a Windows 7 System Image backup to an external drive, boot from a recovery disk, and restore it to the bare drive.


What I learned the hard way is that Windows won't restore a system image backup to a smaller drive. My old drive was 320GB or something, and even though I was only using about 70GB it wouldn't restore to the smaller 180GB SSD.

So, plan B was to RTFM. The Intel SSD comes with a utility to clone your existing hard drive regardless of disk geometry. (It appears to be a special version of the Acronis bakup utility.)

I unhooked my second data drive, temporarily attached my old C: drive to that adapter, and ran the utility. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully so you don't accidentally wipe out your old drive.

That seemed to worked fine, except a few registry entries lost their owner/security IDs somewhere along the way and I had to run the "subinacl" utility to fix it.

(I seem to have to do that a lot for some reason, so maybe it was unrelated. Here's a tool to diagnose the problem. Here are some instructions on how to fix it. Proceed at your own risk.)

NOTE: No matter how you decide to get stuff copied from your old C: drive to the new one, remove any other "data" drives (like a D: drive). If you boot with an unformatted C: drive Windows might get confused and think your D: drive is now the C: drive and wipe it out while installing/restoring etc.

Another oddity is that a Windows system image backup of the C: drive with approx. 70GB to an external drive that used to take about 15 or 20 minutes took THREE HOURS? I asked around, and someone suggested that it might have to something to do with the Windows volume shadow copy service not playing nice with SSD. I used a different backup utility that ran a lot faster, and haven't had time to go back and research the issue. UPDATE: Never mind. Just now tried the Windows system image backup again, and it took about 12 minutes. Go figure.

Anyway, after getting over all those speed bumps everything seems to be working great and I am mostly satisfied but not amazed with the performance boost. Still looking forward to a proper Ivy Bridge PC. At least I already have an SSD for it.

redmondkr's picture

In the past I have had drives

In the past I have had drives that are past their prime, even one with a noisy bearing that I feared would crash any minute, and I have 'cloned' my operating system drive to a new, larger drive using Norton Ghost. I wonder if that would be a practical way of migrating to a new SSD.

R. Neal's picture

Ghost should work fine. OEMs

Ghost should work fine. OEMs and VARS use it all the time to image new machines. Seems pretty solid and reliable.

Factchecker's picture

I upgraded my Mac Mini to an

I upgraded my Mac Mini to an SSD a couple years ago and it made a big difference in speed. When I boot up now it seems to hang there for over 30 seconds and then BOOM!, the monitor kicks in and you can be running in under a minute total. Launching apps is much faster too. However, it's a Kingston drive that's only 64GB, so I bought a Micron M4 series 256GB about 6 months ago. But I still haven't done the swap (heh). I could have saved a bundle or gotten one of the newer drives if I'd just waited till I was really ready to install it before buying. For what I use this for, though, I should be able to load most of my music on the 256 and it should be a decent media server.

I kept my stock 80GB rotating HD and use it for backup via Time Machine. Maybe it undermines the secondary goal of achieving lower power, but it seems to work well and seamlessly nonetheless.

Also, the SSD install was not that difficult or time consuming on my Mac. It just required finding a cloning app and doing that on my own before the install, as the Kingston only came with Windows SW, IIRC.

gonzone's picture

If you've been using a

If you've been using a smartphone, tablet, or netbook, you've probably already gotten accustomed to the performance gains from SSD storage. The new NAS/SAN racks now implement SSD storage for "hot data." I look for mechanical hard drives to become as tape is today, a medium for archival data only.

Anonymouse's picture

Not to troll, but you're way

Not to troll, but you're way off base. The lion's share of portables use a class 4 sd/microsd card which is nowhere near the performance of an SSD. Nowhere.

Factchecker's picture

Can't remember what SW I used

Can't remember what SW I used nor can find a copy of it, but I remember narrowing it down to two and am thinking I must have settled on Carbon Copy Cloner.

jmcnair's picture

+1 for CCC

+1 for CCC

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