In 2009 I posted an article called Speed & Space: The Two Hard Drive Solution. In it, I laid out my preferred hard drive setup for desktop users looking to maximize system speed and storage.
In short, I recommended desktop users have two hard drives in their system: one fast drive – the 10000 RPM Western Digital VelociRaptor – for quick loading of the OS and applications, and a second, slower (or standard-speed 5000-7000 RPM) drive for file storage. I had used this setup with my office Windows desktop for years and found it very useful, not only for boosting general system performance (boot, app load time), but also for its easy system restores (the OS on the boot drive can be wiped and reinstalled without losing the documents, videos, photos, music library, etc. stored on the second storage drive).
But I stopped using the setup in 2010, or – more accurately – updated it.
This is an update to my 2009 Two Drive post. In 2011 and beyond, it shall be known as the SSD + Hard Drive solution.
From a configuration standpoint, this is no different than the previous Two Drive model. You simply substitute an SSD, or Solid State Disk, for the fast boot drive. This not only boosts performance above and beyond that provided by a fast hard drive, but also reduces power consumption and noise.
SSDs Are Fast, But…
Like the high-speed VelociRaptor hard drives, SSDs offer blazing performance, but the cost per gigabyte is higher than traditional drives.
A 120GB SSD from Intel, for example, is $229, or $1.90 per gigabyte – compared to a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive, which is only $0.08 per gigabyte.
While 120GB is probably more than enough for the Windows OS and your installed applications (Office, Firefox, iTunes, Picasa, games, etc.), it leaves little room for large media files. For this reason, SSDs are not practical for typical storage needs.
By having an SSD for a boot disk (Drive C) and a large hard drive for file storage (Drive D, E, F…), you get the best of both worlds: a fast (but expensive) SSD drive for your OS and application installs, and a large, inexpensive hard drive for your files.
Here’s how to do it.
Clone & Keep
If you want to replace your existing boot drive with an SSD, you can copy its contents to the new SSD (retaining all of programs, settings, files, etc.), then wipe the old drive to use for your second storage drive. However, this will only work if the used space on the hard drive is less than the total storage space of the SSD.
My favorite disk cloning tools are from Acronis. I recommend Acronis Migrate Easy because I’ve used it and its more powerful alternative, Acronis True Image, for years with great success. These tools allow you to copy every file on one hard drive to another – or to an SSD – for the purposes of upgrading. This is called disk cloning.
Once you’ve booted back into Windows from the new, cloned SSD, you can copy your files (photos, music, documents, etc.) to the now-empty storage drive, then erase them from the SSD to conserve space.
Sadly, you might not be able to use this option with an SSD since its available space may not be able to accommodate the data on your existing hard drive. If you now have a 500GB hard drive in your desktop with 250GB used, but want to add a 120GB SSD as the boot drive, you won’t be able to use Clone & Keep.
If this is the case, you can copy all of your large data files to an external drive, trimming down the hard drive’s used space until it can be cloned to your SSD. These files can then be copied back to the secondary internal storage drive.
Or you can start fresh.
This method requires a fresh Windows installation on the new SSD, reinstallation of your applications, and selective deletions of now-unneeded files from the secondary storage drive. It’s a pain, but it also gives you the (probably) much needed opportunity to reinstall your OS for better performance (I reinstall Windows every six months to keep things running smoothly); in addition, installing Windows on an SSD (particularly Windows 7) can result in some configuration changes that make an SSD work better.
To begin, disconnect the old hard disk and connect the SSD to the existing SATA cable. Use your system restore or Windows installation disc to install Windows on the SSD. Once you’ve booted into the new installation of Windows, shut down the PC, re-connect the old hard drive using an additional motherboard SATA hook-up, and reboot.
All of your previous files (music, photos, videos, documents, etc.) will still be there on the now-secondary hard drive, but so will your applications and Windows files. These latter files can be deleted since you’re now using the SSD for the OS and applications.
The Windows folder on the hard drive can be deleted, as can the Program Files folder (if it was only used for installed applications). Any other files and folders you no longer need on your file storage drive can also be removed.
Once you have the old drive pruned of applications and the old OS, it’s free to be used as a data-only drive.
NOTE: When you reconnect the old hard drive for the first time after having installed Windows on the SSD, your motherboard’s BIOS may attempt to boot from the old hard drive. Be sure your BIOS is set to boot from the SSD.
I have been using this SSD+HDD setup for nearly a year and am very satisfied with it. Initial setup can be a pain, but once you’re booting Windows and running applications from the SSD, you’ll never look back.
You may be able to get away with a 60GB SSD for your boot disk; Windows 7 takes up 10-15GB, leaving 40+ gigabytes for applications. Unless you have a lot of large games to install, this will likely be more than enough. If not, a 120GB SSD is a good alternative.
I generally recommend Intel and OCZ SSD offerings.
Be sure to backup your files whenever you make changes to a storage scheme on your PC. Carbonite (a Pocket PC Central advertiser) is an excellent choice for unlimited off-site backup. An external hard drive is also an easy solution.
This is a very basic outline of a procedure. If you have specific questions, feel free to ask or post them in the comments section.