Setting up Windows on an SSD requires a few extra steps that aren’t necessary with an installation on a conventional hard disk. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Make sure you have the latest firmware. Because firmware updates wipe out all data on the drive, you must do this operation as the first step; make sure to back up all existing data first. You’ll need to check with the drive manufacturer or the OEM, depending on whether you purchased the drive as a retail upgrade or as part of an OEM PC. Follow the instructions to complete the firmware update; this typically requires booting from removable media such as a USB flash drive.
2. Set the disk controller to AHCI mode. In the system BIOS, set the SATA controller for Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) operation before installing Windows. This step is crucial. Using the legacy IDE or ATA mode prevents you from installing the proper disk controller driver later and will result in reduced performance.
3. Consider using a Secure Erase utility to reset the drive to its original, out-of-the-box state. This step isn’t essential but can be helpful, especially on a well-used drive. Do not perform a full format using Windows disk management tools. For Intel drives, you can use the Intel Solid State Drive Toolbox. If you have a Lenovo computer, this feature is available as part of a BIOS Menu Setup Extension. For OCZ drives, see this discussion thread for links to a Secure Erase utility. The HDDErase tool also works with many drives; see this tutorial for download links and instructions.
4. Boot from the Windows media and begin the clean install. Use the Windows Setup utility to create the partition. If you have a partition created using any other tool, delete it and use the Windows 7 disk tools to create a new one. This ensures that the partition is properly aligned.
5. Install the latest storage driver. If your system includes an Intel SATA controller, you should use the most recent version of the Intel Rapid Storage Technology driver, which is located here. Currently (updated January 2012), the most recent version is 10.8.0.1003.
6. After completing setup, check the Windows Experience Index. Click Start, click Computer, then click System Properties. On the System page, click Windows Experience Index, which takes you to the Performance Information and Tools page. The Primary hard disk score for a properly configured SSD should be over 7.0. If necessary, click Re-run The Assessment to refresh the numbers.
To verify that all the features of the SSD are working properly, install the free CrystalDiskInfo utility. As this example shows, it confirms that Native Command Queuing (NCQ) and TRIM are enabled.
It also offers an interesting glimpse at the health of your disk.
When Windows 7 detects that you have a properly configured, fast SSD drive, it disables several unnecessary features, including Superfetch, Prefetch, and ReadyBoot. It also disables scheduled defragmentation operations for the SSD, which isn't necessary, and can reduce the usable life of the drive.
In the final installment of this series, coming up next, I’ll discuss the best ways to split up system and data disks.