When installed on an SSD, Windows not only boots and shuts down quicker, but applications load faster, and the computer generally feels more responsive.
SSDs have benefits for desktop computers as well as for laptops. (See our guide to installing an SSD inside your laptop). Since they’ve fallen in price considerably in recent months, an SSD is a great upgrade for your PC. We’ll show you how to install an SSD in a typical desktop computer, with your old hard disk as a second drive.
Just about every PC case has internal bays for adding extra hard disks, which are 3.5in wide. SSDs tend to be 2.5in wide, though, so it’s likely you’ll need a mounting bracket to fit one in your computer.
The SSD we’ve chosen is a 240GB Kingston HyperX 3K upgrade kit, which costs roughly £180. It comes with the necessary mounting bracket and screwdriver to complete the job.
SSDs have Serial ATA (SATA) data connectors, of which there are three versions (1, 2, or 3), that can transfer data at 1.5Gbps, 3Gbps or 6Gbps, respectively. The Kingston Hyper X 3K is capable of reading and writing data at 500MBps via a SATA 3 port.
It doesn't matter too much if your computer doesn’t support SATA 3. SSDs are backwards compatible, and raw transfer speed isn’t the only reason for SSDs’ improved performance. More important is their much-reduced latency over conventional hard disks, as it takes considerably less time to access data from an SSD’s NAND flash memory than for a hard disk’s mechanical arm to move into position.
There are a few disadvantages to be aware of, though. SSDs cost more, per GB of storage, than conventional hard disks. Plus, their capacities top out at around 512GB, which is well short of the current 4TB maximum for hard disks.
It makes sense to keep Windows and your applications on the SSD, which will benefit from the improved loading times, and large media collections on a separate hard disk. We’ll explain how to configure the BIOS and Windows accordingly.
For this guide, we’re using a desktop PC with an Asus P8P67 Pro motherboard and a Fractal Design Define R3 case, which has internal space for SSDs, but our advice applies to any desktop computer.
You can install a fresh copy of Windows 7 (we'll do this here) or transfer your current operating system. There are plenty of programs for doing this job, such as Acronis True Image HD, which is bundled with the Kingston HyperX 3K.
How to install an SSD
1. Unscrew the sides of your computer’s case then remove them from the chassis. Some have latches holding the sides in place, which must be pushed open. Make sure you have clear access to the motherboard’s SATA ports and hard disk bays.
2. Place the SSD into its mounting bracket or a removable bay, line it up with the holes underneath, then screw it in. Position the mounting bracket into a spare 3.5-inch hard disk bay and secure it using holes at the side.
3. Connect the L-shaped end of a SATA cable to the SSD, and the other end to a spare SATA port (SATA 6Gbps ports are blue). Connect a SATA power cable to the SSD. For a fresh Windows installation, disconnect any other hard disks inside your PC.
4. Switch the PC on, insert the Windows 7 DVD, then (typically) press Delete or F2 to enter the Bios. All motherboards are different, but there should be a menu with a boot order option. Select your DVD drive to be first, save the settings then reboot.
5. Press a key when prompted to install Windows 7. The installer should start and, after a while, you should see a language screen. Choose English (United Kingdom) from the Time and currency format box, click Next, then click Install Now.
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6. Tick the box to accept the license terms, then click Next. Choose a custom installation, then choose your SSD from the list. If you disconnected your other hard disks, it should be the only option. Click Next and installation will begin.
7. After the Windows installer has finished, it will reboot the computer. At this point, you may need to enter the Bios and make the SSD the main boot device. The Windows installer will then run final setup, asking for a user name and computer name.
8.Create a username and password, review your settings, then click Next. After you set your computer’s network location, Windows 7 will finalize your installation, display the Windows desktop, and begin installing software updates.
9. Switch off the computer, reconnect any other hard disks, then reassemble your case. Turn the computer back on, the Bios and make sure the SSD is the main boot device, not your old disk, then reboot once again. Once Windows 7 loads, we’d recommend installing the rest of Microsoft’s software updates.
Obviously, all your old files and Windows installation are still on your old disk. You can copy your documents, videos, music and pictures across to their respective folders on the SSD, but it's best to leave most of your files on the hard disk to avoid using up the limited space on your SSD.
There are numerous ways to tell your new Windows installation that your documents and other filess are on a different hard disk, but with Windows 7, the most elegant method is to use its libraries feature.
Create a folder on your hard disk (for example e:/docs). Right-click the folder in Explorer, scroll down to the Include in library option, then choose the Documents library from the list. Then copy any documents from the My Documents folder to the new one. You can do the same for movies, music and pictures, keeping your files close at hand without them residing on the SSD.
When it comes to programs, it makes sense to install those you use most on the SSD to benefit from its speed. When space becomes too tight, or you don't need the extra speed, install new programs on your old hard disk by specifying where to store the files during the installation process. If you leave the settings at their defaults, programs will always be installed to the same drive as Windows.
Find out how to tweak Windows 7 further for SSD use with our top tips for SSDs. Also, if you want to install an additional hard disk in your PC, or replace your old disk with a bigger, faster new model, see our hard disk installation guide.