Solid-state drives (SSDs) are an increasingly popular option in ultraportable laptops. Their light weight is ideal for portability, while their lack of moving parts eliminates the risk of drive judder leading to data loss. SSDs also offer significantly faster data-transfer rates than SATA and PATA hard drives, so backups and document retrieval are much quicker.
A disadvantage is their cost. While prices are dropping, SSDs still cost considerably more than hard drives.
Adding an SSD to your PC is a relatively straightforward process – particularly if you have a spare 3.5in drive bay. Here, we look at how to install an SSD in a laptop. This process requires a few extra steps, but our instructions generally apply to desktops too.
Is an SSD right for me?
Before you upgrade, you should consider whether an SSD is suitable for your needs.
If your laptop runs Windows XP, an SSD isn't worth the upgrade. Although the operating system recognises such drives, it isn't as well optimised for SSDs as Vista and Windows 7. In particular, it doesn't support an SSD's Trim command, which helps to maximise performance.
Check whether your laptop motherboard's Bios supports SSDs – some older models won't. Run a web search on your laptop's model name and the term ‘SSD-compatible' to discover any issues you may encounter.
Also check whether your laptop can be physically upgraded. Some older laptops, including certain Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro models, don't offer easy access to the hard drive. If it's a more recent model, ensure the upgrade won't void your warranty.
Consider how comfortable you are with the idea of reinstalling Windows. You'll either need to install a fresh copy on to the SSD or clone the contents of your old drive.
If you opt for a clean Windows install, simply back up your data, install Windows on the SSD, then restore the data you backed up with a tool such as Windows Easy Transfer or Laplink PCmover. You'll first need to make sure you have the right drivers. Although Windows 7 offers many generic drivers for older hardware, if it doesn't support a crucial component of your PC then you might not be able to get online and download the remaining drivers after you start the installation process.
If you've resolved all the issues mentioned above, you're ready to install an SSD. The way in which you remove the existing hard drive will differ between laptop models.
On our Acer laptop the hard drive was located under an easily removable panel, held in place by a set of small Phillips-head screws. Below the panel, our hard drive was attached by a fragile-looking connector; we took great care in slowly working it off.
Check your laptop's manual to see how your drive is connected. Some Dell models have fixed connectors inside the laptop shell, and you must lift the back of the drive and gently pull it out. Other laptop manufacturers screw the drive into the shell. Whatever the arrangement, be careful with the data and power connector: any breakages here will result in an expensive repair bill.
Our laptop uses a pair of rails to align the drive inside the laptop shell. If your laptop has similar rails, you'll need to reattach these parts in the correct orientation for the SSD to slip smoothly into place. As before, reattach the data and power connector with care.
With the SSD installed, you can boot up the laptop. We didn't run exhaustive drive benchmarks, but we did record the bootup and shutdown times using a stopwatch.
With the standard hard drive fitted,our Acer laptop booted up in 54.59 seconds and shut down in 17.94 seconds. With the SSD in place it showed much improvement, and took 38.71 seconds to start up and 13 seconds to shut down.