When it comes to upgrading a computer, opting for a solid state drive is by far one of the best decisions you can make. Not only will your operating system and programs start a lot faster, but you will also get rid of those annoying sounds a mechanical hard drive usually makes. If you’re using Windows 7, chances are that the operating system is doing its job pretty good already – after all, it is considered to be one of Microsoft’s most successful operating system to date; however, despite the innovations it comes with, it still needs some tweaks in order to play nicely with your brand new SSD. In case you’re new to SSDs, this article will be the perfect starting point, as it will walk you through the basics of solid state drives, and all the necessary tweaks you need to make for optimum performance; if you’re also new to Windows 7, check out this online course and you will become a Windows 7 expert in no time.
Mechanical Hard Drives vs. Solid State Drives
Mechanical hard drives are the current industry standard when it comes to computer storage, with a history dating back all the way to the 1950s. Even though they evolved a lot since then, they still retain the basic operating principle: they consist of one or more platters that rotate at very high speeds, and a magnetic head that moves across those platters, performing the reading and the writing operations.
The performance of mechanical hard drives may have been sufficient at the time of their apparition, but even though they were constantly upgraded, becoming faster and more reliable, they are now very close to reaching their limits. Technology is constantly evolving, but there’s not much it can do against a basic laws of physics that stands at the base of mechanical hard drives – magnetism. Mechanical hard drives use magnetism to store and access data: the platters are made from a magnetic material, and the head is basically an electro-magnet that changes the magnetization of small portions of the platter, known as sectors, when data is accessed or modified. Because manufacturers are making the platters denser to accommodate more storage space, the level of precision the moving head needs is constantly increasing, while the scale at which the magnetization process occurs is constantly reduced. Add into account the fact that the platters are usually spinning at 5400 or 7200 rotations per minute and the fact that the reading head has to jump from one area of the platter to another in fractions of a second, and you will understand that mechanical hard drives don’t have much longevity ahead of them. The solution? Getting rid of the moving parts.
Solid state drives use a different technology for storing data, but this one is far from new as well. Instead of moving platters and magnetic heads, SSDs rely on memory chips similar to the ones you normally find on a RAM memory stick, and a special controller that ensures that the data is stored correctly and remains preserved when the device is unpowered. This feature is not very common in electric circuits, which usually revert back to a default position when unpowered. Because there are no moving parts and everything is digital, data access on solid state drives is almost instantaneous. However, this comes at a price: reliability. Memory chips have a limited number of read/write operation cycles, meaning that they will eventually wear out. This is essentially the reason why the tweaks presented in this article are necessary – to ensure that no unnecessary operations that might wear the memory chips prematurely are performed. If you want to learn more about memory chips, circuits and digital electronics, check out this online course.
Windows 7 SSD Tweaks
As mentioned before, Windows 7 already is fast and reliable as it is, but since SSDs are not very popular just yet, the operating system was created with mechanical drives in mind, and thus comes with certain features and optimization that would increase the responsiveness of a mechanical hard drive. However, when an SSD drive is used, these optimizations can have the exact opposite effect, either by slowing down the computer or by causing unnecessary wear to the SSD. You can get an in-depth look at how operating systems work, as well as learn more about solid state drives and other computer components by taking this online course on computer essentials.
Fragmentation occurs when a hard drive has to write large amounts of data coming from different streams simultaneously. Because the writing head can only write at one place at a time, it has to quickly alternate between the streams of data and write small portions of each stream. This prevents the head from properly arranging the data, so instead of a file being stored on consecutive sectors, it might get fragmented and stored across a wider range of sectors, along with fragments of other files. This makes later access to those files slower, so operating system manufacturers came with a solution – a defragmentation tool. While the tool is indeed effective on mechanical hard drives, it has no effect on solid state drives, as they use a different file storage pattern and they can access different file locations simultaneously. Windows 7 comes with defragmentation scheduled to occur on a regular basis by default, so in order to prevent unnecessary SSD wear, it is recommended that you turn this feature off.
Hibernation is a feature designed to eliminate the slow boot times of a computer. When a computer is put to hibernation, it saves everything that’s loaded into memory to the hard drive, allowing for fast resuming. However, when using an SSD, boot times are usually reduced to a few seconds, so using hibernation simply makes no sense. Add the fact that hibernation makes constant writes on the drive in order to keep track of the state of the computer at all times, and you will understand why it is a good idea to keep hibernation off. You can turn off hibernation quick and easy by starting a command prompt as an administrator and entering the following command: powercfg -h off .
- System Restore
System Restore is safety feature that creates restore points, which can be used to restore the computer to a previous state in case something goes wrong. However, the constant monitoring implies a lot of writes to the disk, which can cause premature wear of the memory cells of your SSD. However, System Restore has limited functionality, its main role being to keep your operating system functional, without providing any actual protection for your personal files. Consider using a specialized backup tool for both your files and system and turning off Windows’ System Restore feature. You can learn more about data loss prevention from this online course.
- Windows Search Indexing and Superfetch
These two features are aimed to make Windows 7 faster by learning the patterns you have when using the computer. They constantly monitor your activities and identify which files you use most often, automatically indexing them for faster access. While these features may be useful on a mechanical hard drive, they make no sense on a solid state drive that can access files almost instantaneously, therefore you can safely disable this features to avoid unnecessary writes. Check out this online course to learn more about other features of Windows 7.
These simple tweaks will make Windows 7 faster and your SSD happier, but why should you limit yourself to Windows7, when Linux got so awesome lately? Check out Bryan Wilde’s blog post on Ubuntu vs. Windows to see why Windows 7 is not your only option.