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 SSD...ending the Vista Grind Minimize
Location: BlogsSean Cullinan    
Posted by: Sean Cullinan 8/4/2009 9:53 AM

Computing with Vista is really a grind.  I am a laptop user, and despite having a Dell D820 with 2.16Ghz Core 2 based processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 7200 RPM Hitachi Travelstar harddrive, Vista was grinding away much of my day.  And by grinding I mean this literally...the hard drive just constantly grinds which causes delays throughout my average use. 

I have no idea how we've gotten here but I plugged in an old Pentium 200Mhz based machine running Windows 98 last week and was shocked when it actually "felt" faster than my laptop.  I realize that it wasn't doing as much, but who cares, I was actually getting more done.  The first thing I noticed is that the hard drive on the Windows 98 machine wasn't constantly only really lit up when I needed something.  It was clearer than ever that the biggest problem I have with Vista is that it's disk bound. 

Now I could probably turn off Windows Search (indexing) but then the UI in Vista doesn't really make any sense since it's really based around "searching" the index rather than the traditional start menu approach.  So I had to come up with a solution and a solution I's called SSD or Solid State Disk.  This is the future.

In my research I found this article at Anandtech which is amazing albeit VERY technical.  After reading this article it was clear to me that this technology holds a lot of promise, but the article is also a bit scary.  There appears to be a lot of "finick factor" involved in this new technology, although Anandtech clearly points to the OCZ Vertex drive as a winner at a relatively affordable price.  With Windows 7 coming in a few days via MSDN I figure I would need a new drive to load the new OS onto anyway so it was time to make the leap.  So with that it was off to Microcenter where you can grab the 120GB OCZ Vertex drive for $300 after rebate.  Pricy, but not outrageous if it stops the Windows grind.

Now I couldn't just get my new toy and let it sit for a week while I waited for Windows 7, so I backed up my Vista install to a USB drive using the Ultimate editions backup my PC tool.  This tool works very well.  I then swapped in the Vertex drive but realized that it didn't have the latest firmware.  Fortunately it did have version 1.10 which is easy to upgrade to the latest edition.  I simply burned this ISO image from the ocz website, booted from my CD drive, ran FWUpdate.exe and was good to go. It did report a fatal error on exit which scared me but it was after it said everything ran ok.  The drive was successfully updated.

Next step was to restore Vista onto the SSD drive...this is simply accomplished by booting off of the Vista CD and selecting the repair/restore option and following the prompts.  It found my USB backup drive and restored everything to my Vertex SSD.  My backup was about 92GB so it would take a while, I left to do other things.

About 3 hours later I returned to my PC to find it off.  Odd, scary, but when I booted up off the SSD disk the Windows logo appeared with the progress bar beneath it.  And then it just kept "progressing" infinitely.  It would not get past it.  I had seen this in the past on my Vista install was built in 2006 when it RTM'd and was made available to developers so it is far from pristine.  But usually a hard reboot gets past this, however not this time.  I booted in to safe mode successfully (and quickly), and all was ok which was encouraging.  I then rebooted and Vista came up...and it came up FAST.  Crisis averted.  Using disk management I extended my partion to fill the extra 20GB of drive space (the old drive was a 100GB drive).  Unfortunately Windows wanted to re-activate even though the only hardware change was the drive.  It let me do so online, I didn't have to make the dreaded phone call.

I've now been using my system for a few days and would not go back to my hard disk at all.  Windows just "feels" fast again.  The only glitch I've had is with the hanging on a full reboot at the progress bar, this happened again and to fix it I had to go to msconfig and on the boot tab check "No GUI boot."  This seems to be a more permanent fix.  Everything now fires up much quicker, a prime example is I took a Windows Defender update today, a process that would grind my harddrive for about a minute thanks to MSI reading god knows what to install the patch.  With the SSD it took about 5 seconds.  The system is whisper quiet with no more grinding noise, and supposedly power consumption is less. I will say that my CPU cores are running hotter, and I'm going to attribute this now to more data getting to them for processing...IOW the system is now CPU bound rather than hard disk bound.  This is just speculation though.

Visual Studio 2008 is still a bit of a dog on large is much faster now but it's problems were not as severely disk based as they were CPU and memory based.  Firing up VS is much quicker, loading projects is quicker etc. but there are still the annoying times where it can't keep up with my typing due to it pegging the CPU for background processing.  I REALLY hope VS 2010 is better, although being XAML based I'm not totally encouraged.

My plan is that next weekend I will re-backup this Vista image and restore it to my old disk, clearing out this one for Win7.  Win7 is supposed to have even better support for SSD such as a TRIM implementation.  Given the supposed improvements to performance native to WIn7 over Vista along with this new SSD technology I am optimistic that the 3 year period I spent grinding away with Vista are about to be a thing of the past!

Feel free to contact me with any questions if you'd like to do the SSD upgrade.



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