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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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.

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?
        pd374@...
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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