Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Upgrading Performance with a Solid State Drive

You want to receive the best performance from your computer, but you may not want to have to spend a lot of money to get it.

One simple way to increase performance is to add an inexpensive SSD drive to host your most heavily used programs and files.  Normally, just copying files around between hard drives on Windows produces broken file short-cut links and invalid registry entries.  You could go track all of those down and edit them by hand, or you could use symbolic links (or hard links) to tell Windows that the files have moved.  Then, any time a file is requested from the old location, Windows sees it at the new location, as though it is still in the old location.  

Hard Links, a feature in Windows since version 7, makes this task much easier than uninstalling and reinstalling your programs or editing registry entries by hand.  Here's an example from my computer.  I hand noticed that loading my desktop and many documents I use regularly had become slow on the spinning hard disk, so this made my User Profile directory the first candidate for migration.

First, I used Windows explorer to simply drag and drop the folder from one place to another.  Then, launching the Command Window as Administrator (find it by hitting the Windows key and then typing "CMD", right click on the short-cut that appears and select "Run as Administrator"), I issued the following command:

C:\Users\JC>mklink /J "C:\Users\JC\Documents" "G:\Users\JC\Documents"
Junction created for C:\Users\JC\Documents <<===>> G:\Users\JC\Documents

This produced immediate benefits. For starters, when I start windows and login, my Desktop appears almost immediately.  Opening any files that I may have been working on, such as large CAD or Sketchup files, has extremely low lag. What used to take many seconds is almost now instantaneous. 

This is a powerful feature for getting more useful life out of your ageing systems.  While we wait for Intel and AMD to re-engineer their chip sets to exclude the vulnerabilities published early this year, $40 - $50 spent on a solid state drive is a tenth or twentieth what you would pay for a full system upgrade at this time.  

Bench Notes:

Something I noticed, however, when I began copying a large folder containing around 79 GB of data, was that about 30% of the way in, the data transfer rate topped out around 35.1 MB/second and then began slowly falling. I deduced that the chips responsible for I/O were getting hot, increasing resistance, and slowing data transfer.  So I fired up SpeedFan, a tool for tuning the speed of your variable speed on board fans, and it immediately increased the RPM of one internal fan.  Over the next several seconds, the data transfer rate rose from 34.5 to 38.4 before slowly declining again.  While I don't know for sure that the heat build up was slowing the data transfer rate, SpeedFan did report that the physical hard disk was a desiccating 124F. 

Also, in my case, I sacrificed having a connected DVD drive for the addition of the SSD drive due to a lack of SATA cables. If you order an SSD, make sure you order a connection cable set as well.  You'll need one for power and one for data or a combo connector.  Take a peak at your mother board to determine what you need or have a trusted service technician do this for you.

A word on backups: always have a backup solution in place for your important data.  While SSD drives are now a mature technology, when an SSD drive fails, the data is almost always lost unless you have a skillful electrical engineer with some experience in repairing them handy.  I recommend the freeware app "Create Synchronicity" for scheduling backups, and suggest you have a home NAS (Network Attached Storage) somewhere on premises to serve as an archive.