Solid-State Drivers (SSD)

Retired By Retired, 16th Sep 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
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Solid-state drives are a hot commodity with enthusiasts these days. Although SSDs are still exponentially more expensive on a cost-per-gigabyte basis than traditional spinning platter-based hard drives, competition in the segment has put the drives within reach of many more power users than was the case even just a few months ago.

SSD Tips, Tricks & Tweaks

It is now possible to
score an inexpensive SSD to use as a
boot volume for well under $100.
When paired with an inexpensive, standard hard drive, SSD users can have the best of both worlds—ultra-low access times and speedy transfer times from the solid-state volume and cheap bulk storage from the HDD. A fast SSD and high-capacity hard drive have become the preferred storage configuration for a large percentage of power users.

The relative affordability of currentgen SSDs is a definite boon to performance- conscious users. It has been said many times before, but it bears repeating here: Moving to solid-state storage is arguably the most effective and perceptible upgrade one could perform to a system. And although simply installing and using an SSD will result in increased performance under most circumstances, there are still a multitude of system modifications and tweaks you can perform to further enhance the performance and longevity of an SSD.

Primped, Primed & Ready
A handful of SSD optimizations should be performed before an operating system is installed or a single file is even copied to the drive. In particular, we recommend
completing the following tasks before actually using your new SSD: update its firmware, secure-erase it, set the motherboard’s SATA ports to use AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface), and create any partitions using an SSDaware tool, such as the one built into Windows 7.
Updating the drive’s firmware is selfexplanatory. New SSD firmware typically introduces additional features (such as TRIM or garbage collection) or enhance performance, so it’s almost always worth updating. Keep in mind, though, that
some firmware updates are destructive and will wipe all data from the drive, which is why new SSD owners should check for firmware updates immediately.
Some will argue that secure-erasing an SSD before using it is unnecessary, and, for the most part, they’d be correct. But we’ve encountered more than one SSD that exhibited strange behavior and performance fresh out of the box, and secureerasing them resolved the issues. So take a minute and secure-erase the drive using a tool like HDD Erase before installing anything to the drive. We explained how to use HDD Erase in “Advanced Q&A Corner” a few months back.
I also recommend using AHCI mode with any modern SSD because legacy ATA specifications don’t have accommodations for several new features, including TRIM. Some SSDs have controllers that won’t benefit from using AHCI, but the latest drives that use Marvell or SandForce controllers will, and their performance will be increased
as a result. To use AHCI, you’ll have to enable it in the motherboard’s system BIOS before installing the OS. AHCI is also necessary for TRIM to function; you should definitely be using AHCI to maintain peak performance if your drive has TRIM support.
Finally, when setting up the drive for the first time, use an SSD-aware partition utility that will align the drive properly. Older partition tools from the pre-Vista era will likely create the first partition on an SSD at sector 63, which is usually in the middle of an SSD page. A misaligned SSD could degrade performance significantly and cause OS
stuttering problems due to increased read-modify-write operations being performed. Proper SSD alignment requires that the first partition start at sector 128. The partition tool built into Win7 (or the latest versions of GParted) will create a partition on an SSD properly, so use the newer tools to ensure the drive is configured properly.
The final pre-OS installation tweak is manual overprovisioning, but before we dig into this technique, the procedure requires a bit of explanation. It is sometimes mistakenly called “short stroking” an SSD. Basically, manual overprovisioning means leaving a portion of flash memory blank, without any partition information, for the drive’s controller to reclaim as space for wear leveling, garbage collection, etc. Although SSD manufacturers often do this to an extent already, giving more space to the controller allows the drives to potentially recover from dirty state more rapidly and makes more blocks available for bad-block replacements.
Manual overprovisioning is as easy as creating a partition size that is smaller than the total volume of your SSD. For example, if you have a 120GB SSD, create a partition of 110GB and let the drive’s controller reclaim the spare 10GB. I acknowledge that storage space is a limited commodity with SSDs, but if you can afford to overprovision some space, the drive will usually recover from dirty states faster and theoretically have a longer life span.

Performance Optimizations
Once the initial setup of your SSD is complete and Win7 is installed, there are a number of other steps you should take to wring out some additional performance. As we mentioned earlier, enabling AHCI is important. But it is equally important to use the right AHCI drivers to ensure TRIM is functional. The drivers included with Win7 are usually all that is necessary, depending on your motherboard’s southbridge or the SATA controller being used, but the latest Intel Rapid Storage Technology drivers support TRIM, too. This is an area that is in a constant state of flux, however, as newer drivers are released, so check your chipset manufacturer’s Web site for the latest with regard to AHCI drivers.
Even with the proper drivers installed, it may be necessary to manually enable TRIM from within Windows. To check that TRIM is functional, open a command prompt with Administrator privileges. At the prompt, type fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify and press ENTER. The result “DisableDeleteNotify = 0” means that TRIM is already functional. If the result is “1,” then you need to manually enable TRIM from the
prompt. Type fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0 and press ENTER.
If AHCI is enabled and the system’s AHCI drivers are TRIM-capable (and the SSD has TRIM support, of course), the feature should be enabled after entering the aforementioned string. If TRIM does not work after making the change, however, it’s likely due to a driver or firmware problem. Look to update the drivers and
firmware where possible.
Another worthwhile SSD performance tweak is to disable Windows’ indexing on the drive. By default, drive indexing is enabled within Windows to speed searches, but SSDs have such low access times that indexing is largely useless. Indexing also makes many small writes to the drive to modify index results, which is detrimental to the longevity of the drive.
Disabling indexing is quite easy, thankfully. Simply click the Start Orb, go to Computer, right-click the SSD, and choose Properties from the menu. On the General Tab, remove the check mark from the box labeled “Allow Files On This Drive To Have Contents Indexed In Addition To File Properties.” Disabling index on a drive full of files can take a few minutes, but it’s worth the wait when using an SSD.
A couple of other quick SSD performance- related tweaks have to do with virtual
memory, namely the page file and ReadyBoost. SSD users should always set the size of the page file manually (use the recommended value on the virtual memory settings page) and keep it on the SSD. Also, don’t use ReadyBoost. Ready-Boost is a feature within Windows that essentially uses a USB flash drive as a page file mirror, but there’s no USB flash drive fast enough to match the speed of a SATA SSD.

Maximize Longevity
The fact that the NAND flash memory used in today’s SSDs can only handle a finite number of writes before failing is well known. To help minimize this limitation, and also account for the inevitable bad blocks in some NAND flash memory chips, SSD manufacturers typically provision additional memory for wear leveling, garbage collection, bad block replacement, etc. The practice is known as overprovisioning, which is what we did earlier while prepping our SSD. Some SSDs sold as 100GB drives, for example, actually have 128GB of flash memory; the additional 28GB is the overprovisioned area. Having this overprovisioned memory is not only one of the ways manufacturers extend the life of their drives, but also a method to maintain peak performance during TRIM and garbage collection operations.
With that in mind, taking steps to minimize writes to an SSD is a good idea. As such, the next mod we’ll mention will help. Windows maintains a number of different logs and updates them constantly whenever the OS and a given service(s) are running. Unfortunately, all of the updates make tiny writes to the drive, which is a no-no with an SSD. Moving the logs to a different drive, preferably the HDD you’re using for bulk storage, is somewhat tedious but very straightforward.
First, create a new folder on the hard drive and name it whatever you’d like. Then navigate to the C:\Windows\System32\winevt\Logs folder, highlight all of your log files, and drag them over to the new folder. Then, click the Start Orb, type event viewer into the Search field, and press ENTER, assuming you’re using Win7. (Event Viewer is available under Administrative Tools with other versions of Windows.) When Event Viewer opens, expand Windows Logs and select the Application and Event logs to see a list of all of the log files being maintained on the system. Right-click each of the logs under Windows Logos, select Properties, and, in the Log Path field, update the path with the info for the new folder that you created. Please note, the filename of the log must also be in the path, or the change will not take effect.

Solid State In A Solid State
There are reasons SSDs have become so popular with power users, namely performance and reliability. And it is well within the power of savvy enthusiasts to adjust both of these aspects of their SSDs. This starter article should help you clear some of the more common hurdles, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other SSD-related mods out there worth exploring.


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author avatar Jerry Walch
16th Sep 2010 (#)

Very informative

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author avatar j.m. raymond
16th Sep 2010 (#)

This is obviously an area of great interest to you - it shows in the details presented in your article. Well done.

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author avatar siboiss
16th Sep 2010 (#)

This may actually be a bit above my head.

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