Let me start out by saying that this article isn’t going to be a “how-to” on do-it-yourself upgrades. Consider it a recommendation as to what you might consider doing to improve the performance of your work computer. It is ever so true that no matter how fast your computer is, after awhile it seems slow, even if it hasn’t really slowed down. The two biggest improvements that can be made for the average user is adding more memory and improving drive storage (read/write) speed. Of the two, the first and easiest is to add more memory. Been there, done that.
On occasion, when I’ve been travelling, I used the WordPress iPad app to create, edit and submit my blog posts. Though my usual writing and photo production tool is a laptop, it’s just so much extra hassle to carry it on the road. I leave the laptop at home unless I am headed on a very long trip. The iPad’s biggest operational advantage is quick startup and application access. Those of a younger generation, more accustomed to mobile devices may disagree, but for me nothing beats a laptop for being able to run full-blown applications. About a year and a half ago, I purchased a Samsung ATIV 8 laptop. It would be my major tool for processing photos with Photoshop Elements and eventually with Lightroom. It would also be my writing and blogging tool. I usually create in Microsoft Word and export the text to my blog post. From the first day, I wasn’t overly happy with the performance of the computer. It was my first Windows 8 machine, my other machines being Windows 7 or earlier. After doing some searching on the web, I learned that Windows 8 really likes RAM, so a few months back, I added an 8 GB memory card to the 8 GB internal RAM. The difference it made, especially when working with Lightroom was impressive. I realized my original disappointment in the machine was due to lack of RAM.
I’d been reading about how solid state drives (SSD) can bring new speed to a computer system. Indeed, tablets and smart phones boot and operate more quickly in part because they use solid state memory storage, not a mechanical hard drive. After reading about the improvements other people see when they convert their mechanical hard disk drive to an SSD, I knew this would be my next major upgrade. The reasons I hadn’t switched out my hard drive sooner are capacity and cost per GB. Solid State drives are relatively expensive, and they aren’t economically available in large sizes. My laptop shipped with a 1 TB mechanical drive.
Recently I noticed that PNY introduced a 480 GB model SSD, priced under $200. For comparison, I could purchase a mechanical hard drive with over 8 times the capacity of this SSD and spend less money. A Samsung 1 TB SSD would have set me back nearly $400. The only question is what do I need more, storage space or speed? Having seen the night-and-day improvements in boot time and application load times on a solid state drive, I knew my answer would be speed, but it would be speed on a budget.
Looking at my own storage needs, I put my RAW images on an external hard drive, backing it up to the online service Crashplan.com. The Lightroom catalog and my collection of videos and all images exported from Lightroom found their way to the Samsung’s internal drive. Checking available space, I realized that I couldn’t fit everything I have on the 1 TB drive onto a 480 GB SSD. No matter, a sale on the SSD caused me to place the order. It would be a few days before the drive arrived. By then, I better have a plan to reorganize my drive structure to put more data on the external drive. A cleanup was in order as well, removing software I don’t use, deleting unneeded data. It’s been a lot of time in front of the computer, not so much out taking photos.
I decided I would keep my applications and my Lightroom catalog files on the SSD. I would appreciate the performance boost. My videos and all of my exported images would move to my external 1 TB drive. After deleting unnecessary data and moving or reorganizing file locations, I pared my boot drive down from a little over 600 GB to 226 GB. That would give me about 200 GB free space on the SSD (allowing for overhead needed by the operating system.) Images and video from now on go to the external hard drive. I reorganized my online backup software to insure it is backing up the extra data being stored on the external hard drive, and I backed up the contents of my external drive to another external drive that I keep in my car (in case of fire or theft of my originals.) I also used Windows 8’s System Image tool to make an image of the internal drive in case of a boot drive failure. This is something a computer user should do on a regular basis anyway. It makes restoring from a boot drive failure much easier. If you don’t do the repair yourself, bring your external hard drive along with your broken computer to the repair shop. The tech will be happy you have a recent system image, and you’ll be rewarded with a lower repair bill. Another bonus is that there will be much less recovery hassle on your part.
In addition to the SSD, one other purchase must be made. A temporary drive cable will be needed that connects the new SSD to a USB port so the internal hard disk can be “cloned”. Instead of buying a cable, I purchased a kit that includes an external drive housing and a DVD with cloning software. This added $40 to the cost of the upgrade, instead of $25 for just a cable. For the extra $15, once the conversion is complete, I can put the old internal drive into that case and use it as a separate external drive. I’d read some reviews of this specific kit, the Apricorn EZ Upgrade 3.0 upgrade kit for notebooks. There were a handful of bad reviews because for whatever reason the cloning software didn’t work properly. I didn’t know whether this would be a problem for me or not, but I wasn’t worried as a techie friend recommended a handful of free downloadable cloning apps, one of which I watched in use in a YouTube video (here) on converting from mechanical to SSD drives.
Once I had my computer files reorganized and drive cleaned up, I installed the PNY SSD into the external case, downloaded the latest version of the Apricorn cloning software from their website and started the clone. We left the house to run errands and when I returned, the progress bar on the clone app hadn’t moved off of zero %, and the elapsed time counter was at over 3 hours and 30 minutes. It looks like I am one of those users for whom the software failed to operate.
Referring to my techie friend’s email, I found the EaseUS website here and downloaded the EaseUS Todo Backup Free software. After a quick install, I ran the software following their online instructions. I checked the box to shut down the computer when the clone finished and headed out to the gym. When I returned over an hour later, the progress bar was a little over half finished. At somewhere around the three hour mark, I noticed that the computer had shut down. The clone was finished.
I carefully removed the screws from the bottom of the laptop case and unscrewed the hard drive housing from the laptop. I then unscrewed the drive from the housing and inserted the new SSD. The original screws are just a mm or so longer than needed, but the drive is secure, the screws are tight, and the extra length they stick out aren’t in the way of anything. I replaced the housing in the laptop, replaced the cover and with much anticipation, pressed the power button. Boot time is at least five times faster than before. Login time is still a bit longer than I’d hoped, but so much faster than it was. I am more than happy with the results. My slowest apps to load, Lightroom and Photoshop Elements both load to image and ready to work in under 4 seconds. I’m extremely happy with the performance of my “new” computer, and I highly recommend an upgrade to SSD.
I did notice that I am running into a few housekeeping bits. For example, when I first synced my iPad to iTunes after the upgrade, Apple wanted me to authorize this computer. I had to log into the Apple Store and do the authorization procedure. I also had to reinstall some Google Chrome add-ins and reset a few preferences. I expect as I run more apps, I might run into other similar issues with software that recognizes it’s residing on a different physical drive than it was originally. So far, after about 15 hours on the new SSD, I still marvel at how fast the computer has become. Whether you have a Mac or a PC, if it’s got a mechanical hard drive, consider upgrading. If you’re not a techie type, the labor for a professional to do the swap shouldn’t be excessive. Other than the time for the clone, where the tech doesn’t even have to be there, the swap should take well under an hour. Just be sure you have your data reorganized and moved to an external drive if needed. That process will take the most time by far. If you are like me, a good closet cleanout is probably warranted anyway.