Monday, August 5, 2013

SSD Upgrade

Around two months ago, I finally bought myself an SSD for my primary gaming rig: a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro. I had been holding out for 256GB drives to reach an acceptable price (around GBP 200.00) before I took the plunge. There were two reasons for opting for the 840 Pro:

I could have afforded a 128GB drive before this, but I considered this to be too small for purpose; I have previously tried living with Windows Vista on a relatively small partition (100GB) and I found I ran out of space on C: far too quickly. Windows 7 has slightly lower storage requirements, but I still felt more comfortable having the larger capacity drive, especially as I tend to install many other applications and utilities on the boot drive.

Installation Options

Despite my having hinted at the way I integrated the SSD into my system, I thought it would be worth detailing three possible solutions:

  1. The simplest option: just attach the SSD to your system as a secondary drive and install/migrate commonly used apps/games over to it.
  2. Configuring the SSD as the primary/boot drive, which involves a bit more work: either re-installing Windows, or using a migration/cloning tool to move your existing installation over to the SSD. As you may already have guessed, this is how I have mine configured.
  3. If you have a motherboard sporting a chipset that supports the Intel Smart Response feature, you can configure an SSD as a cache drive. This makes both your SSD and HDD appear as a single device to Windows and the controller handles the caching transparently. I think the largest size SSD supported for this method is 64GB though - larger drives may work, but you won't get the benefit of the additional space.

Rather than performing a full reinstallation of the OS, I opted to try out the Samsung SSD migration tool. My existing HDD was divided into two partitions:

  • C: - approximately 330GB, containing the OS and user data.
  • D: - approximately 660GB, containing my games library.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the migration tool gave me the option to clone only my boot/system (C:), as opposed to the entire drive. I kicked off the process and was soon rewarded with the message that I could reboot.

To test that the system would function correctly without the old boot drive, I used the Windows Disk Manager to remove any associated drive letters and rebooted again. Once I was satisfied that the migrated OS was working properly, I used the GParted tool (booted off a live CD) to delete my original boot partition from my HDD and resize the second partition (my games library) to use the available space at the front of the drive.

This left the SSD as my boot drive (C:), with Windows, Office and other basic software installed on it. Steam and all my games still reside on my HDD (D:, with around 300GB additional capacity), I know I could move some of my more used games over to my SSD, I just haven't taken this step yet. Something I have noticed is that games do load quicker and I think this is due to the Windows pagefile sitting on the SSD; when the OS needs to page stuff out of memory to make room for the loading game, this happens a lot quicker as it's writing to the SSD.

Real World Benchmarks

I didn't take the time to produce any synthetic benchmarks to compare the two storage devices, as I felt there are enough great reviews out there that show how amazing SSD access times over traditional HDDs. However, I was intrigued to see if the SATA II controller would prove to be any considerable bottleneck for the SSD, so I did a couple of real world tests:

I found the boot time comparison particularly interesting; the SSD didn't make nearly as much difference as it did when I jumped from an old 160GB SATA I drive to my 1TB SATA II drive. However, the 10GB file copy show just how much of a difference the SSD makes, throughput-wise, even over SATA II.