Why you should replace your Hard Drive (HDD) with a Solid State Drive (SSD)

Hard drive vs Solid state

You're considering making the switch to an SSD, but what difference will it truly make?

With thousands of users looking to upgrade laptops we're fortunate enough to have laptops of every configuration imaginable enter our facility on a daily basis. These range from XP machines to the newest stuff on the market. We quite literally spend our day testing computers and thought to ourselves, why not show some real world information rather than the bench tests the plague the internet?. This isn't to say bench tests aren't a valuable resource and often done by very credible organizations seeking to find the true capability of each part tested. We fully understand how and why such tests are done, however from years of day in and day out testing we feel they truly leave something left to be desired.

We deal with hundreds of customers each month asking us the most simplistic of questions. We've been asked how to speed up an older laptop hundreds if not thousands of times, yet nobody has ever asked which SSD to buy. At the end of the day, the average computer user is merely looking to improve their user experience. This isn't measured by a theoretical advantage in controlled conditions with the nicest equipment available, it is measured by simple things like boot time, application load time and overall feel of the OS.

So we've decided to take a different approach, we all know replacing your aging hard drive should increase overall system performance, boot speed, program loading etc. Many bench tests have shown massive increases in read/write speed when comparing HDD's to SSD's, but how many of us (ourselves included) could truly tell you what that difference would be when installed into your specific laptop or one with similar specifications. Is it worth the upgrade? Which drive should you pick? Could your money be better spent somewhere else?

How can I tell the difference?

We've devised a relatively simple set of tests, with the average user wanting to simply have a faster feeling computer we've prioritized boot time and application load time. You may wonder why, well, because the vast majority of the general public isn't playing World of Warcraft worrying about how high they can adjust the video settings, nor are they editing 4k video. Most of us use our computers for work and school which tends to consist of your favorite web browser and simple office tasks like Word, Excel or maybe an e-mail client like Outlook. None of these would be considered computer intensive by any stretch of the imagination so the average computer handles them with ease. That doesn't mean you don't find yourself wanting a faster computer, but upgrading is typically quite expensive. Not only in dollar cost but the investment of time. For most, making the switch to a new computer takes many hours. Transferring your data is usually the easy part, most everyone has a thumb drive which makes it nothing more than a drag and drop procedure, the applications you run become the issue. One cannot simply copy a program from one Windows machine onto the next, it must be re-installed, settings reconfigured and data imported from your backup. This typically isn't hard for the seasoned vet but again for the general public it can feel like a monumental task.

So how can you get away from this costly upgrade? Well, the most obvious way is to upgrade your existing computer. If you're using a laptop you essentially have two options, memory (RAM) and your hard drive. Could you upgrade your processor? Sure, but for arguments sake it is not for the faint of heart. If you'd like to disassemble your entire laptop you're welcome to do so, again the average person shouldn't even consider it.

We've decided to cover the hard drive upgrade in this article and after testing we can quite honestly say no single change will have as profound of an effect on your computers performance. We've tested many drives ranging the whole gamut of speeds, if you aren't familiar with hard drive speeds here is a quick rundown. Older drives range from 4200 to 5400rpm. This is the rotational speed of the physical platters or 'disks' inside the hard drive. Newer laptops and some older performance machines came equipped with 7200rpm drives. The brand and style of your drive is truly irrelevant, no matter what any bench test or geek tells you, the faster your drive is spinning the faster things will load from it. Sure there are differences between two 5400rpm drives but again they are minor. From our experience the vast majority of laptops to this day are still sold with 5400rpm hard drives. Unless you've purchased an upgraded computer, it is likely a 5400rpm drive and that's fine, you'll notice a massive change when upgrading.

As for Solid State Hard Drives, there are hundreds of options and more reviews than we can count. In a general sense every single SSD is going to be vastly superior to your existing HDD. SSD's have had their issues in the past but for the most part that is water under the bridge. We see hundreds of failed or failing hard drives, but very rarely see a failed SSD. You may be wondering which SSD is best, and you're welcome to spend hours reading through reviews and comparing models but truly, you'll be hard pressed to notice a difference in the average laptop. The drives are so blazingly fast they will no longer be the bottleneck in your system, your motherboard chipset, processor and memory will now be what's holding you back. We suggest worrying more about the size of the drive than how it stacks up speed wise against its competitors. Fortunately the cost of of these drives has plummeted recently and it's become easy to find a high quality and high capacity drive at an affordable price. We've recently upgraded our laptops to use the just released Samsung EVO 850 line of drives. Why did we pick these? Well, they were newer, faster, and almost the same cost as the prior 840 line. In general, newer SSD's are better than older models and when the cost is all but identical it's an easy choice. We opted for the 500gb version and at the time of writing it is readily available on Amazon for $188.99. You may not need all that space and can cut the price in half by selecting the 250gb version. We've made a simple video to show you the results you can expect to see when upgrading from a traditional hard drive to a solid state drive, again most SSD's would have almost identical performance in your average laptop. Additionally most of the newer SSD's (and certainly the EVO 850's we bought) now come with simple software and instructions on how to move your information to them, in turn eliminating the need to re-install Windows, your programs and your data. In essence you'll install their software with the included CD, plug in the drive via an external drive enclosure (more on that here) and with a few clicks of the mouse you'll have an identical copy of your existing information. You'll then replace your hard drive with the new SSD and away you go.

Let's see it in action

The test computers being used here are identical Dell Latitude E6430s with 2.7GHz Intel i5 processors, 8gb of memory and the exact same information on each drive. These are very capable machines and likely faster than what most readers are using, regardless the tests hold true. From left to right the computers have a 5400rpm drive, a 7200rpm drive and finally a Samsung EVO 850 SSD. How did we do that? Well, to make things fair we've done a fresh install of Windows 7 Professional onto one, then cloned that drive onto the others. In essence this means each drive is loading the exact same information, on computers with the exact same specifications and the only change made is the drive itself. The difference in performance speaks for itself.

Keep in mind these are laptops with what would still be considered higher end specifications than what most are using. We've done this test on numerous computers and the results were strikingly similar. We used an HP G62 with a 2.3GHz Intel Pentium Processor and 2gb of memory running Windows 7 and the difference was nothing short of night and day. Prior to the drive change the computer was very sluggish, simple tasks like booting up took over a minute and a half. I personally would have absolutely considered selling the computer and upgrading to a newer machine. We cloned the drive to an older SanDisk SSD (circa 2013) and with no other changes the computer would boot completely in under 30 seconds. This is the kind of performance increase you could previously only dream of. There's a good chance your current laptop with a new SSD will be faster than many of the sub $500 laptops you could pick up at your local big box store today. Sure if you're getting into heavy usage their processors and memory will give them the edge but for day to day tasks the SSD is going to be a game changer for you.

Hopefully this article helps point you in the right direction with your next computer upgrade, upgrading the memory (RAM) will be covered next. These simple changes can keep your aging laptop usable for years to come. Questions? We'd love to help answer them, simply ask in the comments below!