More Performance for Notebooks: Safely Upgrade to SSD

You flinch from doing the upgrade from HDD to SSD yourself? We show you step-by-step how to convert your notebook into a little speed-wonder - without any loss.

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The advantages of having an SSD (Solid State Disk or Solid State Drive – installed in a notebook, rather than a conventional hard disk, are obvious. Extremely short response times allow you to work very much quicker – booting the operating system and starting applications requires a fraction of the time needed by a hard disk. A notebook with 8GB RAM and an SSD is a combination which is very hard to beat. Even a system with 16GB and hard disk cannot compete.

In particular, the SSD has advantages over the hard disk for mobile use. Because it has no moving parts, it is extremely mechanically robust. An SSD is silent and requires no cooling. Furthermore, it uses less energy which means that the system will run for longer between charges.

What puts a lot of people off from upgrading to SSD is that it requires modification to the system, i.e. existing software and data are affected. For those wishing to make the upgrade, adherence to a few basic rules makes it a simple and safe operation.

We will show you, step-by-step, how you can vastly increase the speed of your notebook – without any loss of data. The appropriate SSD for your device can be found at CompuRAM.

Step 1: Notebook Check – can I install an SSD in my machine?
Step 2: Flash Memory Check – select format and capacity
Step 3: The Correct Migration Strategy – safely copying content to the SSD
Step 4: Workbench Check – do I have the right tools available?
Step 5: Let’s Do It! – the actual SSD installation

Step 1: Notebook Check – can I install an SSD in my machine?

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SSDs can be installed in all notebooks with a SATA interface

An SSD can be installed in any notebook with a Serial ATA (SATA) interface. Installation in machines which have an IDE or ATA interface is not to be recommended – even though adapters are available. The transfer rate of these interfaces is insufficient to take full advantage of the relatively expensive SSD technology.

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You can find out if your system has a SATA interface and is therefore suitable for an SSD upgrade without even needing a screwdriver. All you need is to run ChrystalDiskInfo, which can be downloaded free from the producer. Select the Shizuku Edition, which allows it to be run without installation.

CDI-Download

After downloading, unpack the ZIP archive to any folder of your choosing and start the executable DiskinfoS.exe. In Windows XP, you must be logged on as administrator. In Windows Vista, 7 or 8, you will need to accept the user account warning and may need to enter the administrator password.

CDI-Ausgabe

Within a couple of seconds you’ll get detailed information on the installed hard disk, the interface and transfer mode. Has the system got a Serial ATA interface? If so, you can continue with step 2.

Step 2: Flash Memory Check – select format and capacity

Almost all notebooks have 2.5“ disks installed so disk size is pretty much a foregone conclusion. There are however, large differences in the height of the disk. The new ultrabooks in particular, require SSDs with a height of 7mm or 9mm. Using a 7mm SSD such as those offered by CompuRAM, means that even this stricture can be ignored as this disk will fit any notebook. The positioning of the fixing screws is standardised so regardless of the height the disk will fit correctly in its holder.

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Our slim-line Samsung SSD (left) fits eben the latest extra slim ultrabooks

More difficult is the selection of the right capacity. The down-side of moving to an SSD is the relatively high price and the fact that they are not available in the more traditional hard disk storage capacities. Currently, a 128GB SSD will cost around €110 (Feb. 2013) – anyone wanting to install 256GB or 512 GB must expect to spend in the region of €200 or €400 respectively. For power-users who use their PC for such performance-intensive applications as processing graphics, the investment is definitely worthwhile.

How much memory do I really need?

In order to calculate your memory requirements, it is worthwhile to take a look at your current disk. The installation of an SSD is often a good excuse to clean up your data and re-organise it. Move images and videos, for example, to a WAN storage (NAS, Network Attached Storage) or to an external USB hard drive. Tools, such as AllDup or Xleaner, assist in finding redundant data and superfluous junk files which are easily accumulated (particularly by incomplete installations and de-installations).

Step 3: The Correct Migration Strategy – safely copying content to the SSD

You have the SSD and the notebook. In order to migrate your system as efficiently as possible, you need to decide on a migration strategy. Where possible you want to avoid unnecessary and time-consuming new installation and configuration. Migrating the data without loss must also be a priority.

Desktop PCs allow several disks to be installed which is not the case with notebooks. Data can be copied from the current disk to an external storage medium and then later on to the SSD. This is fine for data but not for the operating system. A couple of scenarios are possible:

Variant A: New installation of the operating system and simple transfer of the dynamic data

If you have been considering a new installation of the operating system and of your programs in the course of upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8 for example, there is nothing further to consider. You install the SSD as described in Step 5 and then install the operating system and software. Check if the manufacturer has an update to the BIOS and if necessary, install it. You can then attach your old hard disk via a special adapter (see Step 4) to the USB interface and copy your data onto the SSD. If you don’t want to use the special adapter, you can copy the data to an external hard disk and copy it back, after installing the SSD.

Variant B: Make an Image of the hard disk

If you want to make use of the entire content of the hard disk, including operating system, programs, passwords and personal settings, you will need to create an image of the hard disk, including Master Boot Record and partitions and put this image onto the SSD. You save the time and effort of new installation and subsequent configuration. There are special tools to help you in this, such as True Image, a backup and recovery software from Acronis (you can download a free 30-day demo-version). The Samsung-SSDs that you can buy from us have a migration tool as a download.

As configuration of the data transfer mode is the most common requirement in an upgrade to SSD, we will cover this in detail in Step 5.

Step 4: Workbench Check – do I have the right tools available?

arbeitsplatz-250pxAn SSD is like a RAM module, a sensitive component that can be easily damaged by electro-static discharge. Dust, magnetic fields and unsuitable tools can all put your newly acquired SSD at risk.

Before getting down to work, you should prepare your workbench and make sure that everything necessary is at hand.

If you have experience in the handling of sensitive hardware and know what you are doing, you may not feel the need to read the following passages. If you do have problems though, please don’t say that we didn’t warn you!

Ensure that you have a clean and clear working space with all necessary tools at hand.

  • For the installation of an SSD, we recommend ESD (electro-static discharge) compatible tools.
  • To copy the data from your hard disk to the SSD via USB port, you need SATA to USB hard disk adapter.
  • Avoid static electrical discharge during the installation of the SSD. You should wear special anti-static gloves or an ESD armband to discharge any static charge in your body to earth. In organisations, where working with highly sensitive items is the order of the day, special floor coverings and protective clothing are required. At home, though, the use of ESD tools and/or anti-static gloves is perfectly adequate

When everything is ready you can get to work.

Step 5: Let’s Do It! – the actual SSD installation

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With the Samsung SSD which we are installing, the “Data Migration Software” comes on a CD with the SSD and is specially configured for the installation of Samsung SSDs. For those who haven’t received any migration tools with their SSD, they can clone their hard disk with a tool, such as True Image (see Step 3).

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We connect the new SSD to the USB port via the aforementioned adapter and install the data migration software. The software gives us clear and concise instruction on how to proceed so that the cloning process can be started. Whilst the cloning process is running, there’s time to do other things. Depending on the disk capacity and amount of data, the cloning process can take some time. In our case, the process took around 2 hours.

As instructed by the system, we shut down the notebook. We can now remove the hard disk. If you’re not sure how to proceed make sure that you take the time to read the notebook’s manual.

The Lenovo Thinkpad has two rubber insulators, one on each side of the metal frame, to hold the hard disk in place. The exact structure of the frame differs from manufacturer to manufacturer (see photo) and few bother with this additional shock protection.

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N.B.: Take note the orientation of the hard disk in the frame (e.g. position of SATA interface). As the SSD is thinner than the hard disk the position of the screw holes doesn’t always give a clear indication of orientation.

ssd-halterungen

The Lenovo Thinkpad gives additional shock protection to the hard disk/SSD by use of a metal frame and rubber insulators (not visible in the picture). The Dell Latitude, the SSD is only screwed to one side of the frame (RH Image) and then installed directly into the hard disk slot.

We can now put the SSD into the frame and screw down tightly. After inserting the rubber insulators (if required), we can push it into the relevant slot until the SSD clicks into place and then close the cover.

ssd-einbau

After screwing the metal frame tightly and installing the rubber insulators, we can push the SSD into the hard disk slot (Thinkpad, images left and centre). The image on the right shows the Dell Latitude.

This is where it gets exciting: will the system boot and will all the data be there? The PC starts very quickly. Checks show that the settings were transferred and the programs can also be started.

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Conclusion:

Those who take the time to be well informed and have the right tools available, should have no problem in upgrading a notebook. Particular attention should be paid to the migration strategy. There are software tools available that will lead you safely and securely through the entire cloning process.

We will be happy to help you in the selection of the right SSD.

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One thought on “More Performance for Notebooks: Safely Upgrade to SSD

  1. Genny Doss

    This is really a very helpful and important topic to go with. The post is also provided with a lot of well-defined information.

    Reply

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