New Computer: and Upgrade to SSD

In past months I bought two laptops for work. One had a SSD and I was blown away by its performance. The other had Windows 8 and I was blown away by how bad it was. Maybe Windows 8 shines on tablets and smartphones, but for now I’m sticking to Windows 7. Meanwhile, I’m eager to get SSDs onto my machines.

Amazon just had an amazing sale on Intel’s top-of-the-line 520 Series SSD: $130 for a 180GB SATA-6 drive rated at 550/520MBps sequential read/write and 50k/80k random read/write IOPS.

My existing primary desktop didn’t have SATA-6 support — essential to fully exploit that SSD performance — and my secondary desktop was becoming so unreliable I dedicated this weekend to upgrades. Since my primary desktop was over 3 years old this meant a new motherboard and CPU. I’ve been assembling AMD-based desktops for at least the last six years. But researching current offerings it looks like Intel has really reclaimed its technical superiority over AMD. (Aside from its graphics innovations for gaming, the last triumph I remember for AMD was when it launched its 64-bit Opteron server processors in 2005. I bought a pair for a research server as soon as they hit the market at $860 apiece.) I don’t play games and I don’t overclock, which tends to leave me looking for efficient hardware that contributes to a quiet, cool computer. Intel’s i3-3225 won this bid with its preponderance of associated innovations, including cutting-edge 22nm construction, two multi-threading processing cores, and Intel’s top-of-the-line HD-4000 integrated graphics — all provided with a peak consumption of only 65W. The CPU was $130, Gigabyte GA-H77M-D3H motherboard was $95, and 8GB of dual-channel DDR3-1600 CAS-9 RAM was $45.

The trickiest part of this hardware-only upgrade was splitting the “operating” portion of my primary 1 TB HDD out to clone to the SSD. In order to do this I first cloned the drive to another 1 TB HDD, and then deleted bulk data until I was left with a small enough set of operating system and program files to fit on the SSD with at least 20% room to spare. Complicating this process is the fact that Windows is tightly coupled to the “User” folders, so even though most of those were bulk data that doesn’t belong on the SSD I couldn’t just outright delete them (as I learned the hard way). Instead I had to pare them down and then, once running from the SSD as Drive “C” redirect the locations of reserved Windows User Folders to their copies on my original drive, which is now running as “D.”

End result? Awesome: The operating drive’s speed has always been the biggest bottleneck in booting and loading programs. With a SSD (and Windows 7’s native support for that hardware) those now occur with minimal delay, and without the drama of a spinning disk’s read head fluttering back and forth over the platters to pick up scattered data blocks.

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