Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

Summary: Solid-state drives (SSDs) let your PC start and shut down fast, and they work at speeds that blow the doors off conventional hard drives. Here's how to maximize performance.

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Solid-state drives are wicked fast. SSDs start and shut down fast, and they perform read operations (especially random reads) at speeds that blow the doors off conventional hard drives. In the first installment of this series, I gathered the numbers to show just how much faster you can expect an SSD to perform in the real world.

But you might need to jump through some setup hoops to get top performance out of an SSD-equipped PC running Windows 7. That’s because Windows has evolved over many years with features that specifically target the behavior of conventional hard disks. Features like Superfetch and Prefetch and ReadyBoot are designed to monitor files you access at startup and when you launch programs and then arrange them on the disk for optimal access. Because SSDs don’t have motors and spindles and platters and magnetic heads, they don’t benefit from those features and need to be handled differently.

In fact, there are a series of steps that must be performed before an SSD can perform to its full potential on a Windows PC. Skip any of those steps and the results can be disappointing.


Don’t miss the rest of this series:

Part 1: Windows 7 and SSDs: Just how fast are they?

Part 3: Windows 7 and SSDs: Cutting your system drive down to size


My own personal experience bears this out.

Back in October 2009, I bought a Dell Latitude XT2 with a 256GB SSD. One of the first things I did was to replace the Dell-supplied copy of Windows XP Professional with Windows 7 Professional. Disk performance was reasonably fast, but it certainly wasn’t jaw-dropping, and the disk score in the Windows Experience Index was stuck stubbornly at 5.9.

I did a little research last summer and learned that a lot of Dell customers were experiencing the same disappointment with this particular hardware combination. The problem was that the hardware—a Samsung PB22-CS3—needed a firmware update to work properly with the advanced disk-handling features in Windows 7. That update had to come from Dell, and as of last July, it wasn’t available.

A third-party utility, CrystalDiskInfo, confirmed that this disk did not offer support for the TRIM command, which is one of the key requirements for proper SSD operation. (Using the TRIM command allows the system to properly erase blocks of data in the background; for an explanation, see this excellent article by Anand.) Windows 7 supports the TRIM command natively; earlier Windows versions don’t.

Over the holidays, I decided to check again and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Dell had released a firmware update for this drive several months earlier. Because the firmware update wipes out all data on the drive, I had to do a clean install of Windows 7.

The performance difference was like night and day. And benchmark results show why. Here are the Windows System Assessment Tool (WinSAT) results from July 2010 (original OEM configuration) and then from December 2010 after updating the SSD firmware and installing the latest Intel storage drivers:

Disk throughput (bigger=better) Original Optimized
Sequential Read (MB/s) 151.9 219.39
Random Read (MB/s) 10.77 130.25
IO/Responsiveness (smaller=better) Original Optimized
Average IO Rate (ms/IO) 4.29 1.14
Grouped IOs (units) 15.43 8.94
Long IOs (units) 36.69 2.65
Overall Responsiveness (units) 566.01 23.72
Disk score capped at 5.9? Yes No

With the new setup, the disk subscore in the Windows Experience Index jumped from 5.9 to 7.4, and the difference is noticeable. The system is 13 12 times faster in random reads, which is what makes the most profound difference in everyday operation.

Updating the firmware was the key that unlocked the performance of this device, but it isn’t the only crucial step. On the next page, I list the steps you need to go through to ensure that an SSD performs properly with Windows 7.

Next page: Six setup secrets

Topics: Storage, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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102 comments
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  • Do you have an Nvidia controller?

    All of the systems I have available for testing use Intel disk controllers. I'm told that the Nvidia-supplied drivers are less capable than the AHCI drivers supplied by Microsoft. If anyone has this configuration and can confirm, let me know here.
    Ed Bott
    • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

      @Ed Bott <br><br>The 680i/780i nvidia chipset did not support AHCI (unsure about any newer releases), I had to switch to an intel p45 mobo to utilize the TRIM command on my Samsung SSD. Although AHCI was available at the time of the Chipset release I have no idea why nvidia chose to ignore it and stick with older standards. There was a noticeable performance increase, reduction in boot time, and the WEI went from 7.1 to 7.4 with AHCI enabled and the firmware updated (which could only be done with AHCI enabled). Not a massive boost, but welcome all the same, needless to say I have moved away from nvidia parts in more recent builds..
      eatmyshred24@...
    • How about a SSD clean install step-by-step guide, Ed?

      Your paltry two page article doesn't say much. At least Jason's Linux/SSD article a few months back had some real meat on it's bones.

      I guess we shouldn't expect too much from you, huh?
      search &amp; destroy
      • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

        @search & destroy
        Seems to me it was a bigger article than yours!!!
        rodley
    • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

      @Ed Bott The OCZ Revo 2 has the controllers built into the SSD PC card. Would this change the install setup.
      bodeb
    • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

      @Ed Bott - MSI 7380-750I-Win7Ult64b; partitioned Intell SSD on proper boundries; Imaged my C: to SSD; Bios to AHCI; installed NVIDA available drivers; Perf index now at 7.2 with Trim, etc; Intel tool box now works. Imaged system has all my old standard programs & some leftover Vista drivers, Wish I could get rid of ofcourse...Leo Z
      lfzimmer1@...
  • Why a clean reinstall?

    Could you not just take an image, do a firmware update and then restore the image?
    Economister
    • Storage driver mismatch, and partition aligment issues

      @Economister

      If the old installation was using IDE instead of SATA, you're going to blue-screen when you restore the image.

      Also, the likelihood is that the partition will be improperly aligned. That was certainly true in this case.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

        @Ed Bott I'd like to see a good discussion on partition alignment, how to check, how to correct, what tools respect alignment, what tools will screw it up, etc. I've seen some articles on the topic, but I'd certainly like something more up-to-date and comprehensive. I wonder now about restoring images with either Ghost 15 or Windows Homer Server and what happens to my alignment afterwards. Anyway, just an idea for another article. Thanks!
        bmgoodman
      • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

        @Ed Bott

        Great.... so basically, they will have to make a special version of Ghost for SSD drives, or we will always have to do a 'clean install'? That is a deal killer for me, to be blunt.
        Lerianis10
      • Duplicating partions might work...

        @Everyone.
        It depends on if the orignal non SSD was setup using ACHI. I've seen this recently in Dells. Most Mfrs are using this on there Intel boards.

        I presume the if his is the case, one could duplicate or image the original drive to the new SSD and theoretically it should work. Windows will probably detect new HW and you'll need to install the drivers mentioned by Mr. Bott. After that it should work in my thinking.

        Of course some prefer to do a full clean install and that point one could make an image at that point to for later use or in recovery.
        djzoey
      • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

        @Ed Bott Does this include the built-in Windows 7 imaging utility?
        ScotlynHatt
      • Even if......

        @Ed Bott

        you install the SATA drivers before you make the image?
        Economister
      • @Lerianis10: i'm not sure ..

        .. but you may well be right.

        [i]"..Great.... so basically, they will have to make a special version of Ghost for SSD drives, or we will always have to do a 'clean install'? That is a deal killer for me, to be blunt. "[/i]

        If you are right it's just another road block in the way of people forking out more of the folding stuff for an overly priced technology - and more importantly, it is just another weakness, inherent, with flash memory type disks.

        Add to that, the fact SSD's (aka 'glorified flash memory') are also know to have a considerably less, finite, read-write, lifespan than traditional magnetic disks .. and we have the recipe for almost certain indifference from the majority.

        I'm in the same mind-set as you. Basically, unless SSD OEM's can come up with some ground-breaking development that improves the longevity and performance characteristics for backup procedures of the average SSD to match those of conventional HDD's .. than, yeah .. it's a big 'de nada' from me .. oh .. and as for price??

        .. don't even get me started ...
        thx-1138_
      • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

        Ed, I was not able to view the SSD information using CrystalDiskInfo as my SSD is installed using the RAID driver. Is there a utility to view the SSD information when in a RAID configuration?
        ira@...
      • RE: VMware buys Socialcast; Fills out collaboration portfolio

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        drumandyou
    • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

      @Economister
      LarryLogan
  • WEI?

    WEI has to be the most useless measure of performance out there. Random read/write, sequential read/write, access time or similar are what matter.
    gtvr
    • Did you actually read the post?

      @gtvr

      I actually have a TABLE that includes those data points in it.

      You realize that WEI is a roll-up of some much more detailed benchmarks, right? And that a score of 5.9 on disk means that your SSD failed to display the proper performance characteristics using the exact benchmarks you're asking for?

      Yes, the overall numbers are crude, but in this case they are incredibly useful. If you get a 5.9 on the disk score, your SSD is configured improperly. Period.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: Windows 7 and SSDs: Setup secrets and tune-up tweaks

        @Ed Bott
        Interesting article, when I win the lottery I'll be able to make use of them <grin>.

        It would probably help less technical readers if you made it clear that your comments about WEI 5.9 being bad are specifically for Win7. Up to Vista 5.9 is the max, in Win7 max is bumped up to 7.9 in recognition of better hardware and software.

        http://www.worldstart.com/tips/tips-pr.php/6588

        If you want a giggle, check out what these lunatic Brits did with 24, yes 2 DOZEN, SSDs on one computer. I wonder what their performance would be like with your tweaks:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96dWOEa4Djs&fmt=22
        Ron_007