Magid: Make your PC sizzle with a solid-state drive

Magid: Make your PC sizzle with a solid-state drive

I recently reviewed a couple of all-in-one computers, and though I had good things to say about them, they both had a problem that plagues almost all PCs with hard drives. They were slow to start and restart. And by slow, I

A solid state drive is faster than a traditional hard drive because it has no moving part.
A solid state drive is faster than a traditional hard drive because it has no moving part. 

mean it could take as much as five minutes before the machines were ready. One of those machines was a 24-inch Hewlett Packard Pavilion that I bought at Costco for $699. But after upgrading it with a solid-state drive, it boots in less than 12 seconds.

The machine came with a 1 TB hard drive, but this week I replaced that drive with a 1 TB MX500 2.5 Inch SSD from Micron Technology’s That 1 TB model sells for $260, but you can buy a 500 GB SSD for $135 or a 256 GB version for $80.  I was impressed by Crucial’s free phone support. I had a question and got through immediately to a knowledgeable and helpful person in Idaho. That was a pleasant surprise, considering how bad many companies are with tech support.

An SSD is faster than a hard drive because it has no moving parts. A hard drive consists of magnetically encoded platters with arms attached to read/write heads that travel across the platter to the needed location. The heads must arrive at the proper spot before they can read or write data.

An SSD is non-volatile memory like smart-phone storage. There are no moving parts, but there is a processor that helps the PC instantly access that memory. Bottom line, it’s not only faster but quieter, more energy efficient and less likely to fail, especially if the machine is dropped or jostled.

Many laptops today come with SSDs, which is a good thing in the event they are dropped or banged around. Last year I dropped an SSD-equipped MacBook Air. Upon inspection, the screen was fine, the case only slightly bent and the drive – as I expected – was still operational. A hard drive might not have survived such a fall.

The Crucial SSD drives are marketed for self-install, and it’s basically a three-step process. First, you connect the new drive to your PC via a SATA to USB cable (not included but available online or at electronics store for about $7). Then you download and run the free copy of the Acronis True Image cloning software to make an exact copy of your current hard drive. Then you take apart the machine, remove the old hard drive and install the new SSD.

I found the cloning process to be fast and easy. If the computer had been a standard desktop PC, I would have installed the drive myself, but it’s an all-in-one so I was nervous about having to take it apart and possibly have to pry off the back.

I took it to my local Microsoft Store that charges $49 for hardware installation or does it for free for those who pay $149 a year for Assure support service. I’m glad I did. Even the technician found it challenging to take the machine apart. I needed to track down instructions on the HP website, and, even then, he had to use a special screwdriver that I don’t own. Another wrinkle was that he needed an adapter to place a 2.5-inch drive in a case designed for a one that is 3.5 inches. That only cost me $6, but required a trip to Fry’s Electronics.

Most desktops and some laptops are easy to take apart and others aren’t, so it pays to check around – including on YouTube – to see how your machine comes apart.

The SSD upgrade was worth it. Once the machine was back together it worked perfectly. The cloning process put all my software, settings and data exactly where they had been on the old drive so there’s no need for any additional configuring. The machine is quieter, and not only does it boot faster, it’s faster to launch applications and to save and load data and copy files. Crucial provides software that uses some of your system memory to make the drive even faster, but it’s fast enough without that software.

Some Macs can be upgraded with SSDs but — as with any machine — check first. Not all machines can be upgraded.

Even if you don’t want to spend $260 for a 1 TB drive, you can get a lower-capacity drive such as that $80 256 GB model that’s likely big enough for the operating system, all your software and all the data you need for current projects. You can store the rest of your data on an external USB drive. You might even by able to use the hard drive you pulled from your machine by spending as little as $20 for an enclosure and power supply that lets you use it as an external USB drive.

When it comes to a PC upgrade, an SSD is probably the best investment you can make assuming your machine has at least 8 GB of memory — the minimum I recommend for modern PCs. But before you do any hardware upgrades or replace your PC, make sure that you’ve done all you can to speed up your machine. Make sure your machine isn’t wasting time and memory by loading unnecessary programs during start-up. Both Macs and PCs let you control which apps load automatically, but if you’re not experienced with this, seek expert advice to make sure you’re only eliminating non-essential programs. You might benefit from a “tune-up” utility such as Iolo System Mechanic (search for PC Mag’s “Best Tune-Up Utilities of 2018“).

Use Microsoft utilities to optimize your PC’s hard drive (that’s rarely needed on a Mac). If the machine is really slow or buggy, it sometimes pays to completely restore it to factory settings. You have to reinstall your software and restore your data from a backup, but you may notice a remarkable improvement in performance and reliability. Good sources of help and advice — in many cases for free — are Microsoft store’s Answer Desk and the Apple store’s Genius Bar.

Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.

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Published at Thu, 22 Feb 2018 04:27:36 +0000