Optimizing Windows for Solid State Disks

If you are running a Solid State Disk (SSD) today, there are a few important configuration changes to make to your Windows installation if you want to get the most out of it. For a primer on why Windows needs to be optimized for SSDs, you’ll find that around the end. Now read one to learn exactly how to take full advantage of your SSD!

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Use Vista or Windows 7

Make sure that you are using Windows Vista or Windows 7 when it is launched. Windows XP handles SSDs very poorly: it has difficulty managing I/O priorities efficiently and does not set proper offset when you partition an SSD. There are ways of doing this, but it must be done manually. Search the net for “partition offset xp ssd” without the quotes and you’ll find some guides. I won’t cover it, but if you are on new hardware, just use Vista or later; it will save you a lot of headaches. If you find it strange I threw Windows 7 in there, it’s because Windows 7 will best Vista in SSD support by supporting technologies like trim, among other optimizations.

Disable Disk Defragmentation

Defragmentation in a nutshell takes all the data on a drive and puts it close together at the outer-edge of a hard drive where it’s fastest. Since solid state disks don’t work at all in this way and exhibit flat performance over the entire storage medium, it is detrimental to defragment disks since you are making the drive go through read/write cycles for absolutely no benefit.

First, open up Disk Defragmenter

Start Disk Defragmenter

Second, uncheck “Run on a Schedule (Recommended)”

Disable Disk Defragmenter

Now click OK and your system will no longer defragment itself uselessly

Disable File Indexing

The third thing on our list of things to do is to disable file indexing. File indexing is another thing that was created to overcome access latency of traditional hard drives. What it does is to create a table with some information about your files and folders that is easy and quick to search. On SSDs, since all files on the disk can be found with near-zero latency, this lookup table, or index, is no longer needed since data can be fetched instantly from anywhere.

First, open the Services snap-in

Start Services Snap-In

Second, right-click on Windows Search and select Properties

Select Windows Search

Third, set the Startup type to Disabled. Click on Stop to stop the service immediately and click OK

Disable Windows Search Service

Fourth, open Computer, right-click on your drive and select Properties

Open Disk Properties

Fifth, uncheck Index this drive for faster searching and click OK

Uncheck Index this drive for faster searching

Disabling Paging File

Some people also recommend disabling paging file. Normally I wouldn’t do this unless I was running a system with 4 gigabytes of RAM or more and am not working with very large files. It is said that the fact that paging file leads to many small writes to a disk causing problems with JMicron-based MLC solid-state disks. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, I wouldn’t disable paging file unless you experience system hangs and strange slowdowns while using your disk. If you want to, here is how:

  1. Right-click on Computer and select Properties
  2. In the left pane, click on Advanced System Settings
  3. Open the Advanced tab
  4. Under Performance select Settings
  5. Open the Advanced tab
  6. Under Virtual Memory select Change…
  7. Uncheck Automatically manage paging file size for all drives
  8. Click on No paging file
  9. (important) click Set
  10. Click OK, ignore all warning messages and click OK to close all the property sheets
  11. Reboot your system in order for the changes to take effect

So there we have it, various methods for tweaking a Windows system when using a solid state disk. Gradually I expect it to become simpler and simpler to use SSDs in modern computers, but this is still new technology and the price that enthusiasts pay for being on the bleeding edge is that a little work needs to be put into their hardware and software. Hopefully this was able to help you out with getting things performing optimally. If you’ve got any questions just post a comment and I’ll try to help you out as soon as possible.

Why we Must Tweak SSDs

The use of solid state disks (SSD) in computers is still relatively recent and can hardly be considered mainstream. For those who don’t know, solid state disks replace very old hard disk drive (HDD) technology which rotates magnetic circular platters very quickly (depending on the model, between 5,400 and 15,000 revolutions per minute). Data is read and written using a magnetic head hovering extremely close to the rotating disks, the distance usually being less than the width of a human hair. Mechanical disks have lots of shortcomings, primarily being the fact that failure is much more likely with moving parts, it takes time for the head and platter to move to the right spot for data to be accessed causing a wait time before files can be read – usually about 15 milliseconds or so. There is also the fact that mechanical drives create vibrations, they can sometimes be loud and if dropped can be very easily damaged.

Fast forward to today where SSDs are getting cheaper and cheaper all the time and use the same kind of flash that you find in USB keys. Flash memory used in drives has a whole host of technical issues to overcome but engineers have largely succeeded with some of the latest models. With no moving parts, they are totally silent, exhibit near-zero access latency and behave very differently compared to their mechanical counterparts. Since the HDD has been in use in computers since 1956 (although in very different, much larger forms) you can imagine that software and hardware vendors have optimized their products to work efficiently with them. With solid state drives, a lot of performance parameters change, which is why we need to make some tweaks if we want to use such new technology efficiently in current-generation systems.

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