When it comes to computer performance, as often as not it comes down to bottlenecks. The computer can only move as fast as its weakest point will allow it to.

For a lot of people, the bottleneck is RAM. Their computer is fast enough, but without the memory, it spends all of its time and energy moving data back and forth between the memory and the hard drive rather than using the energy to do the things that you bought the computer for.

I’ve found that most of the time, the bottleneck is RAM. I’ve found that you can breathe new life into computers that are 5, 6, 7, or 8 years old if you just put in enough RAM. Most computers can take 2GB, and most of the time that’s all you need.

That’s been changing lately, however. I’ve started to run into memory logjams even on machines with 2 or more GB of RAM. Even when running Windows XP (with Win7 it’s a bad idea to even try). And unfortunately, upgrading beyond 3GB of memory is hard to do with XP. So the bottleneck becomes the speed of the hard drive that it has to swap data with.

Enter the Solid-State Drive (SSD). The solid state drive is smaller than a regular hard drive, and a lot more expensive. But it’s also super-fast. So even if the computer does have to move data back and forth from the hard drive, it does so lickity-split.

I’d been wanting to try one for a while, but wasn’t sure about where to implement it. Then I realized that my ultra-mobile Thinkpad X60 laptop was starting to simply become unusable. I don’t know what it is about the X60 model in particular, but its performance has simply never lived up to its specs. Hit Coffee friend Holic has said the same about his (indeed, it was what convinced him to become an Applyte*).

Anyhow, I’d read that SSD HDs were good at breathing life into old machines. While this machine wasn’t old, it was mature for its age. So I went and bought one.

The results have been amazing.

I didn’t think I actually cared all that much about boot-up times, but with the SSD HD, a process that used to take 5 minutes now takes one. This is quite handy for an ultra-mobile machine, but it’s something that I could get used to for other computers.

It turns out that slow boot-up times were something I just got used to, but now I am sitting here thinking “You mean it doesn’t have to be that way?” In fact, knowing I can boot the PC up in under a minute would probably make me more likely to keep them off, saving energy.’This makes it good for battery life, too, as before I would often just leave the computer on and close to take it wherever I wanted to know. With this, I just turn it off.

It’s taken one of the least pleasant computers I have and has turned it into one of the most.

Beyond boot-up times, it allows me to open up as many tabs on Firefox as I want without fear of going into swap mode. It used to have to think about it just about every time I wanted to move between any open apps. Now, if it does, it does it so quickly that I don’t notice.

These may sound like small things, but outside of actual malfunction, it doesn’t get much more annoying than waiting through ten minutes of swapping just so that you can get to the point of closing applications in order to free up memory.

So now I am re-evaluating SSD hard drives for all of my computers. The really old ones can’t take them, unfortunately. The really new ones don’t need them. My work laptop (where I am seeking out a HD replacement) needs the space more than the speed. My newest personal laptop.

There is potential for my desktops, though. Especially since I know I shouldn’t be keeping them on as much as I do but want them accessible at any point. With fast boot-up I can keep them off the vast majority of the time because I’m not using them the vast majority of the time. I do keep my main desktop on. But even there it could be worthwhile because it’s a place where 2GB is starting to no longer cut it. I’ve been debating upgrading the RAM. Maybe I’ll upgrade to SSD instead.

Anyhow, if you have an old but not super-old computer that needs some new life smacked into it, I would recommend considering SSD drives. The same is true if you have a laptop that you take a lot of places.

* – It actually started when he was talking up macs about how PCs can just spend forever and ever swapping with the HD for every little thing you do and every time you want to switch apps. I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then, I got this model, which was the last he had used, and I understood what he was talking about.


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10 Responses to SSD, Lifebringer

  1. Logtar says:

    Recently I replaced both Bea’s and my machines and they both have a secondary SSD where we put heavy applications and I could not be happier. I probably could make it the primary and benefit from the initial boot as well, but for now I am happy with the performance of just heavy programs running very, very smooth.

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    upgrading beyond 3GB of memory is hard to do with XP.

    Why is that?

    As an aside, I just upgraded my laptop from 1GB to 2GB. For literally under $9, my performance has improved, especially witxh audio-visuals. It has not been a complete panacea though. I can go to 4GB for another $11, which is the max my laptop can handle.

    This makes it good for battery life, too, as before I would often just leave the computer on and close to take it wherever I wanted to know. With this, I just turn it off.

    Yes, the bane of people is turning off their computers. Anything that improves the booting process is helpful. I remember my C64 would boot instantly, but God help you if you wanted to load a program from a disk. Epyx sold a cartridge for the express purpose of making the computer access the disk drive faster.

  3. trumwill says:

    Why is that?

    Web can probably explain it better than I can. I know that when I tried to upgrade to 4GB, only 3GB showed up. I’ve read about a couple of workarounds, but (a) I’ve also read that they don’t work and (b) I’ve also read that it’s dependent on a lot of other factors.

    Here’s a discussion on the topic.

    I remember my C64 would boot instantly, but God help you if you wanted to load a program from a disk.

    I meant to mention this in the post, but Amiga computers (Commodore made Amiga) had computers that booted up in under a minute by the mid-90’s. I can’t remember how they did it, but I think it involved putting the OS on specific, fast storage. I do remember that it was “flashing the new OS” rather than “installing the new OS” when you upgraded.

  4. David Alexander says:

    Why is that?

    32-bit versions of Windows whether it be XP, Vista, or 7 simply have trouble with recognizing anything more than 3GB or RAM. Why exactly is something that I’ll leave to experts, but some say it’s basically a Windows issue as Linux doesn’t seem to have that same problem.

    I don’t know what it is about the X60 model in particular, but its performance has simply never lived up to its specs.

    I’m a bit surprised about that. Is it limited to your unit or something that seems to plague all of them? I’ve admittedly considered buying one as a more portable compliment to my T410 as they’re sometimes floating around used for as little as $250 or so.

    Regardless, with the relatively lower prices for the SSDs, it’s seriously starting to make a lot of sense to use them for older machines that still have some value in them. I wouldn’t bother with them in say, stone age stuff, but in a dual core unit, it will probably be worth the extra $100 or so. And FWIW, I think they have a few IDE based SSDs…

    BTW, how many ThinkPads do you own?

  5. trumwill says:

    32-bit versions of Windows whether it be XP, Vista, or 7 simply have trouble with recognizing anything more than 3GB or RAM. Why exactly is something that I’ll leave to experts, but some say it’s basically a Windows issue as Linux doesn’t seem to have that same problem.

    It’s really an odd problem to have. I wonder if it’s a Y2K thing… a combination of not thinking ahead to the fact that computers might someday need 4GB of RAM… or the old fashioned “nobody could ever need that!” problem.

    Even so, 3GB is an odd number. You’d think they would allow 4, since it’s so common for computers to have two slots that each accept 2GB cards.

    I’m a bit surprised about that. Is it limited to your unit or something that seems to plague all of them? I’ve admittedly considered buying one as a more portable compliment to my T410 as they’re sometimes floating around used for as little as $250 or so.

    Since Bob has the same problem, I think it’s model-wide. But I did some googling on the matter and couldn’t find a lot of complaints, which you would think would be out there. So maybe Bob and I have the only two defective models. I don’t know whether current X-models have the problem, though. If you’re going to get an X60, I’d recommend budgeting for an SSD or taking some time to read up on cache and other things that could be the problem.

    I wouldn’t bother with them in say, stone age stuff, but in a dual core unit, it will probably be worth the extra $100 or so. And FWIW, I think they have a few IDE based SSDs…

    I looked for SSDs for my pre-duo machines, but didn’t find any, alas. I’d think it would be particularly worthwhile for those.

    BTW, how many ThinkPads do you own?

    Ten. Plus the work one. There were two others that I gave away or sold.

  6. Brandon Berg says:

    The upper gigabyte of the addressing space was reserved for access to memory-mapped hardware devices like the graphics adapter. There’s way more than you ever wanted to know about it here.

    By the time NT 5 was being developed, pretty much everyone was aware of at least the possibility that PCs with 4 GB of RAM would be available within 10-15 years. I think that the plan all along was that a 64-bit version of Windows would be along by the time PCs began to support more than 3 GB of RAM. And in fact there was: The Itanium version of Windows XP was released alongside the 32-bit version back in 2001.

    But the Itanium never caught on in the desktop market. For whatever reason, Microsoft was slow to react to this development, and didn’t manage to get an AMD64 version of Windows XP out the door until 2005, by which time RAM prices had fallen the point where the 3GB limit was a problem.

  7. David Alexander says:

    Ten. Plus the work one. There were two others that I gave away or sold.

    Here it’s T410 and X20 which are both functional, and a R50e, X32, and 570 which are dead for varying reasons. Despite that, I’ll keep buying these things for life whether new or used.

    Um, by chance, do you have an X31 or X32 that works?

  8. trumwill says:

    Afraid not. Most of my machines are 15″. Portability, schmortability.

  9. David Alexander says:

    Most of my machines are 15?. Portability, schmortability.

    FWIW, I like the portability of the X Series units, and the old 13 inch X300 model would have been ideal as a compromise unit. I like the idea of having something that fits into my messenger bag with my camera and lenses and isn’t heavy while remaining within the ThinkPad family. 15 inch units seem kinda silly given that I have a perfectly usable 22 inch LCD monitor and dock on my desk. I ended up with the T series as at the time of purchase, it was cheaper than the corresponding X Series, and well, I’ve never had a T unit. Only X and R units so far. I’m content with it so far, but I’ve yet to travel with it…

  10. trumwill says:

    I like that I can have the X60 on one of my legs and the dog laying on the other, and I like the fact that it’s light and portable, but on the whole I don’t find it as useful as a 15″er. I need the resolution to do anything genuinely useful.

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