The difference an SSD makes

Back in the spring I bought a used computer. My wife wanted one, and while I probably could have cobbled something together for her, I didn’t have any extra Windows 7 licenses. So I bought a home-built Pentium D-based machine with Windows 7 on it from an estate sale for $70. The Windows license is worth that, so it was like getting the hardware for free.

When I got the hardware home to really examine it, it turned out not to be quite as nice as I initially thought. It was a fairly early Socket 775 board, so it used DDR RAM and had an AGP slot, limiting its upgrade options. The system ran OK, but not great, and it was loud.

The hard drive was a 160 GB Western Digital IDE drive built in 2003. That’s an impressive run, but a drive that old isn’t a good choice for everyday use. It’s at the end of its life expectancy and it’s not going to be fast. This weekend I got around to replacing it with an SSD.The first thing I noticed is that the system quieted way down. Between the hard drive, CPU fan, video card fan, and power supply fan, you used to be able to hear the system in the next room. With the hard drive gone, the system quieted down to a tolerable level, even in the same room. You can still hear the fans, but they’re tolerable now.

The other improvement, of course, is speed. The system boots in 17 seconds now. It took closer to a minute before, and was just sluggish overall. With the SSD, Libre Office and Chrome work nicely. Nothing’s going to change the limitations of a CPU released in 2005 and the limitations of topping out at 2 GB of slow DDR memory, but she’s mainly going to use the machine for word processing and e-mail, and it’s likely to be fine for that for some time. And if not, since the machine is completely standard ATX and the Windows license was a retail copy, I can swap the motherboard.

This system probably isn’t able to take full advantage of the SSD–the Samsung 840 I installed is a SATA 2 drive, and this system most likely has SATA 1–but unlike a platter drive, the SSD can keep the SATA bus saturated all the time, and of course the seek times are super fast and completely independent of the speed of the SATA bus. The Windows Experience Index still rates the drive a 6.9 on a scale of 1 to 7.9.

I’ve been using SSDs so long that I take them for granted these days, but they’re certainly the most worthwhile upgrade you can put in a PC, even if it’s one that’s rather aged.

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