Friday, January 21, 2011

Hard Up: An SSD Hard Drive Upgrade

Patient: A 2003 IBM X31 1.4 GHz Thinkpad

Procedure: Transcend SSD upgrade

I've had my IBM X31 for a few years now.  It was one of the many ultraportables I've owned.  The first being the famous "Butterfly" Thinkpad (701C).  For something that's going on 6 years, it has fairly decent specs: 1.4 GHz CPU, 12.1" LCD, 3 lbs, ATi video card, Bluetooth, Wifi, PC card slot.  Nothing impressive by today's standards... but the fact that it can still hold up to entry level machines today after 6 years says a lot.

The only thing that was showing signs of aging was the tiny 40GB HDD.

So I decided to try and see if the new SSD (Solid State Drives) would extend it's useful life even further.

Procedure was simple enough, Thinkpads are fairly easy to upgrade due to their modular construction, access to internal components is easy.

1) Clone your original drive using back-up software if you have no intentions of doing a clean install.  I use Acronis True Image.

2) Get all your parts ready, screwdriver, SSD, USB CD-Drive, external HDD

3) SSDs are more sensitive to static discharge so don't forget your grounding band.  You can just touch a large metal object to drain your body's static electricity or wear a ground band on your wrist.  Or my preferred method: ESD footwear (Also useful in dry climates to eliminate static shock when you open car doors)

4) Swap out your original drive, then install the new SSD

5) Restore the back-up image to the new drive

6) Boot up

    Now, I only did a restore of my original IBM setup.  This includes all the original IBM software that came with my Thinkpad out of the factory.  You may do a clean install of Windows if you want as well.

    Noticeable improvements:
    • Startup-Shutdown times is under 30 seconds
    • Webpage loading is significantly faster
    • Battery Life extended by 40%
    Additional benefits:
    • Shock resistance.  SSDs do not have moving parts (like an iPad and the new Macbook Air) so you can use it on the move, and makes your system immune to extreme vibration.
    • Slight reduction in weight.  SSDs are far lighter than traditional spinning drives so you save a few grams.
    Now a few minuses:
    • SSDs offer significant speed increases in most areas, but create DECREASES is performance in others.  For those in A/V production, SSDs offer much slower read/write real-world performance than current performance drives.  This is due to the fact that SSDs have to erase data before writing new data...ALL THE TIME.  Even over empty sectors of the drive.
    • Current OSes aren't fully optimized for SSDs and some optimization settings can cause significant lag.  Swap files, temp files, and prefetching all cause really bad system lag.  These must be disabled when upgrading to an SSD.  Easiest way to do this is to run SSD Tweaker
    How big a deal are SSDs?  Well, right now, 50/50.  For everyday computer tasks like surfing, word processing, and e-mail it is a big deal.  For large files, you might still be better off with a traditional platter drive.

    **Hallo, ich lerne Deutsch und ich kann ein paar Fragen zu beantworten.
    Je parle un peu français aussi. Je peux répondre à des questions sur mes messages.**


    1. very useful info there John! this will help out the people who are intending to use SSDs on their lappys :)

    2. Thanks Roberto!

      An added note, if restoring from the original drive image, the whole upgrade takes less than an hour.

      If doing a clean install, it could take hours mainly due to windows update downloading all the necessary files and locating and installing all the proper drivers.

    3. I wanted to replace my HDD with a SSD drive. But do you think there would be any compatible for an Acer Aspire laptop? Aside from that, is there even a SSD that comes with more than 80GB of space?

    4. Hi Risa, there should be no problem upgrading your Acer Aspire. You just have to know if your laptop uses IDE (older, harder to find) or the newer SATA drives.

      There are 256GB SSDs available in the US for about US$500. CES just showcased 512GB SSDs but these are generally out of reach for regular consumers. 128GB drives go for about US$250. These are probably the most reasonably priced SSDs per GB... you'll be lucky to come across these locally as of now, 80GB is what they carry locally.

      Your best bet would be the 80GB SSDs or the current hybrid drives. Seagate has a 500GB hybrid which has a 4GB RAM drive capacity, this should boost everyday tasks a whole lot since word processing, surfing, and general powerpoint and spreadsheet use doesn't really go over 4GB to load the whole app.

    5. Hi John,

      I just read your article, I am curious with the SSD you paired with the X31, i have a T40P that is still gutting it out, it is slow now to the point that using it would just annoy me.

      I would like to replace it also with an SSD drive, though IDE versions are scarce, if you can point me in the right direction with what and where to buy would really be helpful.

    6. Hi Mark! Thanks for reading! Are you in the Philippines? IDE SSDs are hard to come by, I got mine from it was a Transcend 32GB SSD. They are quite expensive as most HDD manufacturers are investing in SATA and Thunderbolt interfaces and IDE is already obsolete.

      I only got the 32GB to replace the existing 40GB one, and I use my X31 more as a netbook now... but its age is showing... even compared to my Sony Ericsson Xperia android phone.

      Unless you have some sentimental attachment to the laptop... you're looking at spending anywhere from $150-$200 just for the HDD. Most newer (and much faster) netbooks cost just a little more.


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