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Pimp My PC: From HDD to SSD

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything to upgrade my PC. My last upgrade was “out-of-the-box”: a Ducky Shine 3 full-sized mechanical keyboard to replace my flimsy Rapoo wireless keyboard that kept me away from any serious games. This time, I’m addressing a more performance-related aspect of my PC.

What’s The Issue

I consider my PC good enough in all other areas: Intel Core i5-3570K, 2×4 gigs of Corsair Vengeance, a 2-gig MSI HD7850, a 250-gig WD Blue for the system and 3 terabytes of Hitachi for the primary storage.

Everything is great for now. Gaming is okay, with enough frames per second to prevent me from damaging my Ducky. But I’m not fond of the idea of shutting it down after a day’s work (well, a day’s play).

It takes about 21 seconds for my PC to display the Windows 8.1 login screen from a cold boot. This, I don’t mind. What I do mind is the time it takes from login to ready. Get this: 4 minutes plus. I could fall asleep in half of that! I have enough RAM and definitely enough juice in my i5 to crunch through the startup process easily. The bottleneck is clearly my WD Blue.

Choices, Choices

The course of action is clear on this one: ditch the HDD and get an SSD. It has to be (1) big enough so that I can migrate my existing HDD without problems, (2) fast enough so that grumpy is replaced with happy, and (3) doesn’t make me cry when I look at my bank account later on.

Five minutes of googling will tell you that in mid-2015, the one of the best all-around performer SSD is the Samsung 850 Pro. I quickly found a unit at a computer store near my home. At about $148 (or IDR 2 million) at the time of writing, it’s also not that expensive considering its performance.

Without really thinking much, I grabbed a unit and here it is:

Samsung 850 Pro 256GB
Samsung 850 Pro 256GB

Installation

I tried to follow the steps outlined here. On second thought, the new drive is actually larger than my old drive. I can skip the backup and the move-here-and-then-move-back-there routine, right? Awesome! Opening up my Corsair K550 to find a spot for the SSD is a walk in the park, and after fumbling with the box my P8Z77-V Pro came with to find an extra SATA cable the installation is straightforward.

Turning on the PC, I see that the BIOS detected the SSD and proceeded to log into Windows as usual. I skipped the backup, cloned my WD Blue to the 850 Pro, reconfigured the boot priority, and it’s good to go.

Benchmarks

The first thing I wanted to do after installing was test it out. I grabbed a copy of AS SSD Benchmark, and here are my initial test results:

AS SSD Benchmark Samsung 850 Pro with 3GB/s SATA
AS SSD Benchmark Samsung 850 Pro with 3Gb/s SATA Cable on Asmedia 6Gb/s SATA III Port

Hmmm… Something’s not right. The benchmarks I found online suggested that the drive is capable of sequential write speeds of around 500 MB/s. So why is this unit lacking? I decided to check the cable and my hunch was right: I was using a 3 Gb/s SATA cable and was plugging it into an Asmedia SATA port. After swapping the cable out with a more suitable 6 Gb/s cable and plugging it into an Intel SATA port, the tests reveal numbers closer to the 500 MB/s mark:

AS SSD Benchmark Samsung 850 Pro with 6GB/s SATA
AS SSD Benchmark Samsung 850 Pro with 6Gb/s SATA Cable on Intel 6Gb/s SATA III Port

Benchmarks are just benchmarks and I never believe that any benchmark could ever supersede real-life performance. So before installing the 850, I decided to measure the time it took for my PC to boot to login, and then from login to ready (which I set as the point in which my Rainlendar widgets show up). Here are the numbers:

Condition BIOS Beep to Login Login to Ready Total
Initial (WD Blue) 25 seconds About 4 minutes 4-5 minutes
Samsung 850 Pro w/ 3 GB/s cable 21 seconds About 1 minute 90-ish seconds
Samsung 850 Pro w/ 6 GB/s cable 21 seconds 31 seconds Under 60 seconds

These numbers (especially Samsung’s numbers) are not taken on the first successful boot. After I switched to the SSD and/or whenever I plug the SSD into a different SATA III port on my motherboard, the boot time will take forever. Well, no, actually it’s about 5 minutes. I’m assuming Windows 8.1 is doing it’s thing, but you should google it if you really want to know.

Conclusion

You can’t go wrong with an SSD upgrade. My total boot time is now improved from 4-5 minutes down to less than 60 seconds. That’s a roughly 5X increase. I bet Adobe Lightroom and everything else on my PC loads that many times faster also.

This is by far the easiest and most convenient way for me to squeeze that extra oomph out of my existing hardware. It may be a bit on the pricey side, especially for some people who contact me and say “hey, can you build me a PC for 250 bucks?” (you know who you are). I already spent about $2000 on my PC, so yeah, this is an enthusiast’s upgrade.

All said, I couldn’t be happier with the decision to join the SSD bandwagon. Also, I’m glad I’ll have an extra 250 gigs of storage to stash my music or whatever. This has been fun, and I’d recommend the 850 Pro for enthusiasts who want the extra bit of performance.

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