01-23-2011 11:02 AM
Lenovo’s IdeaPad system have powerful components, but are still limited by the traditional spinning hard drives. Although hybrid drives have attempted to create a bridge, they still do not offer the true optimizations of a complete solid-state drive.
The traditional spinning platter hard disk installed in almost all notebooks comes in multiple flavors. These include 5400RPM, 7200RPM, and some very rare 10,000RPM drives. With faster speeds, comes decreased latency, or faster read and write speeds. However, the spinning disk has a fatal flaw. As more data accumulates, the data is further away from the center of the platter. This means it takes longer for the platter to make a full rotation.
As Windows boots, it loads system drivers required before launching the GUI. This includes anti-virus, network drivers, chipset drivers, and any other core components to the OS. Throughout the life of the system, as driver updates are issued, they are written where-ever there is free space on the drive. This leads to system drivers being located further out on the platter. During boot-up, the armature that reads the sectors needs to jump around the drive to get all the data. This leads to excessive wear of the arm, and increased load times. It is best to compare these movements to a clock arm jumping from 9 to 12, back and forth, repetitively.
Because of this issue, it is difficult to actually determine a hard drive’s read speed. For comparison, this article will use the manufacturer’s provided read and write speeds for comparison. Actually obtaining these write speeds are near impossible.
Hybrid hard drives are the industry’s attempt to bridge the SSD / Platter world. They offer a traditional spinning disk, with a small solid-state drive. Through software, the hard drive logs the most accessed files, and mirrors them to the SSD, and in theory increases the read and write speeds. However, the user has no control over the SSD, and cannot put the full OS on this partition.
Solid-state devices are quickly becoming the most desirable option for the fastest Windows Experience. Unlike spinning disks, solid-state drives work similar to RAM. Each bit has an address that can be addressed through the built-in controller. Since the bus length is so minimalistic, it is assumed that the address time for any bit is the same across the drive. This means the drive will never slow down, even as content fills up the drive.
Unfortunately, solid-state devices are still the highest in cost per gigabyte. With a 256gb drive exceeding $500, it is certainly hard to justify the price, without seeing the benefits first.
In this article, I will feature the performance differences between the stock drive of a Lenovo Y550, and a solid-state drive. I am currently waiting on a drive adapter to insert the stock drive as a secondary, so this article will assume this to be a future addition.
Stock Drive: Western Digital WD3200BEVT 320GB 5400RPM
Solid-state Drive: Corsair Force F40 40GB
Boot time with Windows decreased from 30 seconds to fewer than 10 with the Solid State drive. Statistics found online have shown a 6x decrease in latency read times when moving to the SSD. Welcome screen to the fully loaded desktop, including anti-virus and instant messenger, comes in around 3 seconds.
Following guides to optimize SSDs for Windows 7, the total installation size of Windows 7 is around 20GB. The 40GB drive used is adequate for most tasks, but will not be suitable for gamers, unless you have a secondary drive to hold all the game data.
Ease of Installation:
The solid-state drive comes in a 2.5” form factor, making it fit perfectly in the current enclosure. The Lenovo BIOS detects the drive without any modifications.
Before installing a solid-state drive as your primary drive, it is important to note the variations between the new installation and the old installation:
- Due to the small sizes of SSDs, it is not advisable to attempt to migrate the recovery partition from the old drive to the new drive. It is advisable to create a set of recovery DVDs, and use them as your recovery option.
- Windows 7 is the first OS to utilize solid-state optimization methods. Earlier operating systems, and alternatives such as Red Hat Linux or Ubuntu may not reap the same benefits listed above.
- In order to gain the most benefits from an SSD, 4GB of RAM or higher is recommended to help reduce write cycles on the drive.
- To prevent wasting space on the drive, it is advisable to integrate a secondary hard drive to store all excess data. Since Lenovo notebooks do not generally have bays for secondary hard drives, you can install an aftermarket second hard drive caddy to replace your optical drive with another hard drive.
As mentioned above, it is critical to create a set of recovery disks if you do not have any other Windows 7 install media. Windows 7 takes up 20GB once set up, however, Lenovo’s installation media may increase that data requirement. Consult Lenovo for installation requirements for their configuration.
Press F2 at Startup, and ensure your hard drive mode is set to AHCI. This is required for the manufacturer’s drivers to work with SSD drives. Your drive should be AHCI by default, but may be IDE if you installed Windows XP without AHCI-integrated drivers.
Windows 7 installation requires no specific configurations during installation. Proceed with the installation as normal, until you reach your desktop.
Windows 7, by default, disables items such as defrag and chkdsk for the solid-state device, since these techniques are done by a built-in technology known as TRIM.
Check if TRIM is enabled: http://forums.legitreviews.com/about23670.html
SSD Tweaker is a utility that changes registry values to reduce write-cycles to the drive. It can be found here: http://elpamsoft.com/Downloads.aspx?Name=SSD%20Tweaker
Another optimization is to install Intel Rapid Storage Technology. It includes a controller driver that allows the TRIM commands to connect directly to the device. For more information, and downloads, visit http://www.intel.com/p/en_US/support/highlights/chpsts/imsm
Believe it or not, during boot, your computer doesn’t load any information while the boot animation for Windows 7 plays. This increases your boot time by about 2 seconds. To disable this animation, visit http://www.intowindows.com/how-to-hide-windows-7-boot-screen/ for instructions. Your screen will appear blank between the Lenovo BIOS screen and the Welcome screen, however, you will see about 6 green lines in the upper left corner of your screen.
If you have 4GB of RAM or more, I would highly recommend disabling the pagefile. In a nutshell, the page file is a Windows feature designed to create “virtual RAM” on your hard drive, in case your system requires more. I have previously found that Windows sometimes dumps data in the pagefile even if you have more available RAM. By disabling the pagefile, you will gain extra storage space, and ensure no unnecessary writes occur. For more information, visit http://www.mydigitallife.info/2008/02/26/tweak-windows-vista-virtual-memory-change-or-disable-paging...
After all these tasks have been run, be sure to update your Windows Experience Score. For more information, visit http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/What-is-the-Windows-Experience-Index
Lenovo machines, without a doubt, show a significant speed increase when using a solid state device. Although the current sizes and prices aren’t as low as we’d all like to see, you can create a fully operational environment for under $200. The speed increases are significantly noticeable. With the write cycles increasingly rising, the fear of your drive dying in 10 years is becoming extremely unlikely.
Although SSDs are fast, the size limitations may be a deterrent. If your machine can somehow take a second drive, use a traditional platter disk for data that doesn’t require instantaneous loading, such as documents, or lower-bitrate videos and photos.
As a personal testimonial, I can safely say my Y550 now outpaces my girlfriend’s Y560. SSDs have really unlocked the power of my Lenovo.