Thursday, July 25, 2013

Good Buy: Intel 520 SSD

Got bored a few months back and decided to upgrade my computer with a solid state drive (SSD). The thought had crossed my mind before, I just didn't want to reinstall windows from scratch and back everything on my existing hard drive up. That and cheapness -- major hurdle. Well, I did it and have not been more satisfied with the performance of my computer in a while.

Intel 520 Series Solid-State Drive 
Right around the time I finally decided to move to a solid state drive, someone else I knew just had theirs die. His was only about a year old and his computer suddenly wouldn't recognize anything on the drive. Regular backing up of files was not a regular practice for him, which meant a lot of lost files. With this in mind, I was focused on getting the most reliable drive that I could. The most reputable brand names that I heard thrown around were Intel, Plextor, and the Samsung Pro series. After much research, I settled on the Intel 520 with a 5 year warranty.

Moving back a bit, if you're not aware, a SSD is a newer type of hard drive that doesn't use spinning disks. SSDs, as their name implies, has no moving parts, are smaller, lighter, and significantly faster. However, they are relatively new technology without as long a track record as traditional spin-up hard disk drives. The SSD is also significantly more expensive per unit of storage space. The 120 gigabyte (GB) drive I got was about CAD$ 150 -- I could have bought at least a 1 terabyte (TB) or 1000 GB drive for that price. Being newer technology, they also suffer from some technical issues that have been mostly solved lately from what I've heard (e.g. limited read/write cycles).

Migrating: Gotta back it all up
I complained and moaned about the trouble of having to migrate over to a new storage drive for over a year. People told me that I could have cloned the disk, but being a stickler for stability, I had to do a clean reinstall of Windows to be sure.

Once I got the drive, I broke down and started backing hundreds of GBs of games, music, and documents. However, it wasn't as bad as I thought because I was still going to use that hard drive in my upgraded system. All I had to do was make sure files were in a recoverable state for when I started with a new Windows profile.

If I had been paying attention, I would have saved a lot of time. I bought the OEM version of the SSD, which meant that all I got was the drive and nothing else. The retail version would have included an SATA cable, a 3.5" to 2.5" drive adapter, and screws. I ended up buying a separate cable, which I returned when I found out that I had a spare in my motherboard box.

Without a drive adapter, I decided to use nylon cable ties to just tie it to a 3.5" drive tray in my Antecn P183 case. The case was designed before SSDs were mainstream, so had no slots with screw holes that fit. Luckily, it seems like a lot of people on the interwebs have done the same thing -- where I got the idea from. The SSD doesn't have moving parts, so I hope it's fine. Nothing's broken yet.

Reinstalling Windows and first impressions = Wow!
After getting everything hooked up inside the computer, I booted the system up and was happy to see the drive recognized properly in the BIOS. A few changes later and I was off to installing Windows. There, I was met with the significantly faster write speed of the SSD compared to a regular hard drive.

When Windows finished installing and I booted onto the desktop, I had a "wow" moment when I saw how quickly Windows loaded and programs opened. Huge programs installed super quick and opened just as fast. Rosetta Stone used to be a huge laggard in terms of loading: it is now fairly quick with the exception of the internet based syncing the program does. Being only a 120 Gb drive, I kept non-essential programs like games off of it and reinstalled those on my old hard drive.

Updated Windows = FML
After the first day of reinstalling a bunch of things, I started to update Windows. I was using Windows 7 at the time and Windows 8 had  come out a few months, at least, earlier. This meant years of updates that had to be applied. Everything had to be downloaded again and nothing but a more expensive and faster internet connection would have helped move that along.

In the end, it took a full week of evenings -- had to work -- to finally finish updating Windows and all other software. Also, I managed to burn through a ton of internet bandwidth and nearly blew the monthly cap to get all of those updates downloaded.

SSD = Great, Windows Reinstall = Good, Windows Update = Scarred
Months after getting the SSD installed, everything is still looking good. I'm more used to the speed now, but it is still plenty fast. The biggest highlight that reminds me that I made the upgrade on a daily basis is the speed at which the system shuts down. It used to take over a minute for Windows to close everything and do its saving, updated, and whatnot. Nowadays, I click the button to shutdown and the system is usually off before I am done turning off my monitor and receiver.

Overall, great upgrade for relatively cheap at around $150. Reinstalling Windows went surprisingly smoothly, including the process of backing up my files. Updating Windows was a nightmare and has scarred me for life. Something like 15 GB of updates downloaded and an entire week of evenings spent doing it. Oh. My.

Bad Buy: Blackberry Playbook
Bad Buy: Playstation 3
Good Buy: "Hi-fi" Speakers. Remember to bring a car...