Setting Up Windows on an SSD

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There are lots of reasons to replace your main drive with a solid state drive (SSD), but for anyone who doesn’t know, the main difference you’ll find is that a flash based disk is immensely improved read/write speeds. The point is, you won’t have to sit around for nearly as long waiting for things to be read from your drive, which means much less sitting around, twiddling your thumbs while your drive spins along finding your data.

I do love how nice internal hardware can look... Engineering fetish? Maybe.

I do love how nice internal hardware can look... Engineering fetish? Maybe.

Naturally enough, it’s a great idea just to have miles of flash based storage so that your machine runs everything on it as fast as possible. The only issue is that SSDs are far more expensive than regular storage. The best example of this is this OCZ SSD we sell, which is €145 for a 60GB drive. You can grab the OCZ 60GB SSD here.With that kind of €:GB ratio, most of us will very quickly start totting up the total storage we already have and realise the prohibitive cost of moving to solid state memory entirely.

That’s okay though, the easiest way to get as much mileage as possible out of your SSD isn’t to just throw as much of your data as possible onto it and hope for the best. The easy way to get the best for your money is to just move the things you’re always going to be running over onto your newly acquired solid state storage. Somehow, it doesn’t always immediately occur to people, but the one thing you run most often will almost always be your OS. Putting your OS onto an SSD will mean generally more nimble performance and still leave plenty of space for you to pick and choose what other applications you want to live on your SSD.

Windows XP:

For those of us who just couldn’t force themselves to move on to Windows Vista, there are some important points to note about installing Windows XP on an SSD that you really should be aware of before you order and SSD and crack it into your machine.

XP

The first, and perhaps most bothersome if you haven’t seen it coming, is the fact that Windows XP install discs tend not to come with SATA drivers. This is all well and good if you’ve got the kind of forgiving BIOS that will let you just swap over to IDE and still pick it up, but a tremendous number of us don’t have that level of luck. Instead, you’ll be forced to go through the very tedious process of making sure it can read from your drive. This process involves making an .ISO image of your Windows XP disc and then using a program called NLite to inject some SATA drivers into your Windows XP disc image. It’s a bit tricky, but this is an awesome line to throw out at parties, so you get a bit more out of your day’s installing than just a flash-based Windows XP install.

Unfortunately, the whole “injecting SATA drivers onto a Windows XP disc,” while relatively simple, is a bit beyond our remit on the blog. By a charming happenstance though, there’s already a really wonderful guide on how to manage the whole affair. It’s what I’ve been referring to as necessary whenever I need to play with the XP install on my machine.

For a guide on how to use NLite to slipstream SATA drivers into an XP ISO, click here.

The only other issue is one you can neatly avoid. It seems that SSDs have a lower life expectancy than regular old disks in one important respect – it seems they’re more limited in terms of the number of ‘write cycles’ the device can manage before it eventually breaks down. Normally, this would be fine, but Windows XP writes a tremendous amount to its paging file. Fortunately enough again, there’s a nice and easy way to turn off the Windows XP paging setup.

Moreover though, its recommended that you have at least 2GB of RAM, because disabling paging is going to make your machine that bit heavier on your memory. There’s an excellent short article on how to manage that and some other bits and pieces on how to make sure your OS behaves itself and doesn’t knacker your SSD, which you can take a look at here.

If you’re not afraid of really getting your hands dirty and spending a few hours elbow-deep in your own OS then you can take a look at this excellent compilation of ways to make XP and a slew of general hints and tips at running from an SSD easier.

You can can check out the OCZ forum’s excellent Windows XP on SSD optimisation topic here.

Windows Vista:

While installing windows Vista would mean you get to keep away from the whole kafuffle with Nlite and slipstreamed Windows XP drivers, there are altogether separate problems with installing Windows Vista on a solid-state drive. Indeed, Sandisk said last year that Vista simply hadn’t been designed with the limitations of SSDs in mind… the recommendation seemed to be not to bother.

Vista

Admittedly, Vista’s tendency to overdo it on caching and large numbers of small disk operations saw a bit of a revision with the release of Service Pack 1, but it’s still a long way off being the recommended option.

For our money, if you can bring yourself to do it, you’re probably better off just jumping on the Windows 7 RC bandwagon. Despite having released a launch date for its upcoming OS, and pricing on that OS having leaked already, it seems as though the main Windows 7 still boasts a link to download the release client.

You can find that here. Check the sidebar on the right hand side for the Windows 7 RC download and you’re away.

Windows 7:

In stark contrast to Vista, there’s been an awful lot of interest in Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 as the kind of OS that could make itself very comfortable indeed on an SSD. Indeed, it seems to be very much the case that Windows 7 behaves itself well enough to be recommendable without any fiddling to make sure it doesn’t kill your nice new SSD.

windows7

If you want to take a look at the kinds of read/write speeds you can expect to get out of a few different kinds of SSDs when you’re running Windows 7, you should check out HotHardware’s in depth analysis of Windows 7’s performance on SSDs against Windows Vista’s. It’s got heaps of graphs… we love graphs at Komplett. They’re so informative.

You can check out their analysis here.

The only real issue for the moment is that the vast majority of machines already running from an SSD are netbooks, which leaves you kind of snookered. The problem is that netbooks sadly make it quite difficult to install Windows 7. The biggest problem (and most netbook owners will have realised this already) is your lack of a DVD drive, but once you’ve worked around that, you’re likely to encounter minor bother afterwards.

There’s an excellent in-depth step by step guide to installing Windows 7 on pretty much any netbook you could care to on Gizmodo. Interested netbook owners can take a look at here.

Closing:

Alright, we hope anyone who’s stuck with us this far has found something worth their time. With any luck, there’ll have been a bit of something for everyone here, with links to more in-depth articles that should satisfy curiosities about moving over to an SSD for your OS install.

If you’re interested enough to want to investigate a nice small SSD you can fit your Windows install on then we do sell a few models at recommendable prices for their capacities.

As mentioned above there’s the €145 OCZ with 60GB, here.

There’s also a Corsair at €149 with 64GB. If you ask us, it’s worth dropping an extra €10 for the 4GB and the better read/write speeds. You can grab that, here.

Of course, there’ll always be daredevil affairs where you push to put everything on one drive, in which case you can move up to a 256GB model for the princely sum of €599. You can grab that one, here.

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Note

If you already have computer components that you would like to add to your PC, bring them with you to one of our Build &amp Upgrade PC Classes and we’ll be happy to show you how to do it! You can express an interest by dropping an email to byopc@komplett.ie. For more information visit: Build & Upgrade PC Classes.
For location, date and time : Build & Upgrade Class Schedule
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6 Responses to “Setting Up Windows on an SSD”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Wouldn’t it be cool, if, for promotional reasons, komplett gave away one of those SSDs to the first person, who comment on this post? :)

    • komplettie Says:

      It’d be awesome, but I don’t have that kind of leverage with the wonderful people at the level where that wouldn’t look like a good idea ;)

      • Daniel Says:

        Not many things would promote the blog and commenting on it as well as give away every now and then :)

        BTW shame there’s nothing on installing Mac OS on SSD :>

  2. komplettie Says:

    It’s only worse because some of our staff are pretty devoted Mac users. There are guides to be had, but I have no idea how well you’d fare with Mac OS on an SSD. I imagine it’d need less tweaking though, the page file being less pronounced on a Mac and all.

  3. Stephen Says:

    I’m running Windows 7 RC on an OCZ Vertex 60GB and it is very quick :)

  4. HDDs versus SSDs – Which do you need? « Komplett Ireland Says:

    […] – Which do you need? By komplettie We got some feedback from readers of our piece on installing Windows on a solid state drive (SSD) asking if we’d do a bit of a beginners’ guide to the SSD vs. HDD debate, so that’s […]

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