Upgrading my laptop to SSD disk: Hands on

Upgrading my laptop to SSD disk: Hands on

Summary: My Lenovo T400 disk drive was small and slow, so here's how I replaced it with an SSD drive that is bigger and faster.

TOPICS: Storage, Hardware, Linux

About six weeks ago I bought a refurbished Lenovo T400 laptop with docking station for use on my desk at home. 

I have been very pleased with it so far - in fact, I would say that I could almost not be happier with it, almost. 

The only thing that has bothered me is that by today's standards it came with a rather small (160GB) disk drive. 

Now that I have decided that it is a "a keeper", meaning it will be my home desktop system for the foreseeable future, it's time to do something about that. Some time ago I upgraded my HP Pavilion dm1-4310ez to an SSD, and the results of that have been very good. Since thin SSD drive capacity has increased, and prices have come down so I decided to do that again, this time with a larger/faster SSD drive.

After looking around for a while I settled on a Kingston Hyper-X 240GB upgrade kit.  This is a wonderfully complete package, containing absolutely everything you might need to perform this upgrade:

  • 2.5" Hyper-X SSD drive (duh)
  • 3-1/4" mounting bracket
  • SATA cable
  • External USB disk case
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM with documentation and software
  • Various mounting screws
  • Screwdriver (yes, really!)

This cost me CHF 190.-(~ £130 / €155 / $210).  Of course, the same unit is available as a disk-only package, but at least around here the price difference is ridiculously small (about 5-10 francs). 

The very handly little screwdriver included in the kit is worth that much.

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

Btrfs hands on: My first experiments with a new Linux file system

The first thing to do was figure out how to remove the disk drive from the T400.  In fact, I checked on this before making the decision to buy the SSD, because if it had been too much trouble I probably wouldn't have bothered. In fact it turns out to be trivial, remove one screw on the bottom left corner of the case and a small panel comes off, then pull a handy little tab to slide the disk drive out.

Then there are two rubber cover/slide panels on the disk drive assembly, which pull right off, and then there are four screws to mount the drive into the bracket.  Removing and replacing the drive took a total of less than five minutes.

The Hyper-X kit includes an external USB/SATA disk case, which has a slide-off cover, with the USB cable in the case. Remove the cable, slide the old drive into the case, replace the cover and connect it to the T400. Another two minute job.

Now comes the fun/interesting part, initializing the new SSD drive and getting whatever data you want transferred. The Hyper-X kit comes with a custom dedicated version of Acronis True Image HD on the CD. I assume that if you are running Windows, it does the job of copying everything from your old disk drive to the new Hyper-X SSD. 

Of course I have multiple Linux partitions and I use GRUB to boot, and Acronis doesn't handle this - after analyzing the old disk it basically said that it would copy the partitions to the new drive, but it was my problem to figure out how to get Linux to boot from it. Thanks a lot...

There are, of course, a variety of Linux-based solutions to this problem, here are just a few of the most common:

  • Gparted - Can create partitions on the SSD, and copy from the old drive to the SSD.
  • Clonezilla - Can clone disks or partitions, and a Live Image is available.
  • SystemRescueCD - A Live CD/USB Linux image including lots of disk/partition management utilities.
  • Parted Magic - A Live CD/USB image, includes Clonezilla and other disk/partition utilities.

Now, I don't want to get into a long discussion (or argument) here about which of these is better or worse, which has the best selection of utilities or whatever. So check them out, choose whatever you like and works for you, and be happy. 

Also, fair warning, if you go to the Parted Magic Downloads page, you will see that they want to charge $5.00 to download a copy, or various other amounts for an annual subscription or physical media (USB stick or CD). I have no problem with this, but if you do then simply go to one of the others listed above.

After considering my options, I decided that I wanted to reload the Linux distributions from scratch on the new SSD anyway - for one thing, I want to load openSuSE and Fedora with btrfs filesystems, and now that I will have a large disk drive I want to increase the size of both of them. 

Yes, I know that I could do both of those things after simply cloning the old disk (convert ext4 to btrfs and use Gparted to increase the partition and filesystem size), but it only takes me about 10-15 minutes to load whatever Linux distribution from scratch, and I couldn't do the convert-and-expand manipulation much faster than that anyway. 

So all I did was copy the Windows Boot (/dev/sda1) and Windows C: (/dev/sda2) partitions, and then installed openSuSE 13.1 to get GRUB loaded and configured for multi-boot. 

That all went very smoothly, and in about 30 minutes I was up and running on the SSD - and wow, is it ever fast.  The GRUB installer found the Windows partitions and configured that, and I booted Windows to confirm that is was going to work properly. No worries.

I then went on and installed the rest of the Linux distributions that I keep loaded on my desk at home. As I said, I installed openSuSE and Fedora with btrfs filesystems, and the rest with ext4.  Nothing else new, different or unusual in any of this. 

Once they were all done and configured, I did a bit of testing to compare boot speeds. The last thing I did before taking out the old disk drive was time the boot speeds, so now I could compare them to booting from the SSD drive, and the results are impressive. 

For all of these tests, the time indicated is from the boot where the boot sequence actually starts (i.e. when I press Return in the GRUB menu), until the Login window is shown and I could enter my password.

  HDD Boot SSD Boot
openSuSE 13.1 0:35 0:12
Fedora 20 0:34 0:11
Linux Mint 16 0:30 0:09
Windows 7 0:40 0:16

The first time I booted from the SSD was openSuSE, and my reaction was "You've got to be kidding me!".  By the time I got to Linux Mint, I was just shaking my head. I mean, really, less than 10 seconds for a cold boot?  That pretty much does away with any need for Suspend/Resume, doesn't it?

So, the bottom line here is pretty clear: converting to an SSD drive is very easy these days, and doesn't take much time. 

The performance improvement is substantial, cutting boot time in half or more, with corresponding improvements in disk performance during normal use. SSD drives are still a lot more expensive than normal SATA drives - and their price is still very non-linear, as drive capacity goes up, the price increases dramatically.  But if you can afford one, perhaps by balancing the disk space you really need against the cost of smaller or larger drives, it can really pay off.

One other note - the little screwdrive that is included in the Hyper-X kit has two different tips, and is magnetic.  I'm old enough that it still gives me the creeps to have magnets around disk drives. Oh well...

Related stories

Topics: Storage, Hardware, Linux

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Speed and magnets

    Boot times? I do that once a month or so, more interesting would be how much faster it is in actual use.

    As to magnets, have you ever opened a hard drive up? They have large, very powerful magents in them. The strength of a magnetised screwdriver isn't going to worry them.

    I use the magnets from old drives on the side of the fridge, but it takes a VERY strong grip to remove the magnets, I usually end up sliding the papers out from under the magnet!
    • What is "actual use" or "typical use"

      I chose to compare boot times because that is something which is relatively disk-intensive, and which is common to whatever computer or operating system you are running. I could have tried to measure "actual use", but what would that mean? Web browsing for some, Office/Presentation applications for others, Graphics and photo editing perhaps, or Database activity, or even software development? They all can be considered "normal use" for significant numbers of people, and they all have dramatically different disk read/write characteristics and thus would give dramatically different results.

      As for magnets, it was meant to be a bit of humor. I haven't actually seen or heard of a disk drive being disturbed by magnets for many, many years.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Boot times are a poor performance benchmark for HDDs

        The majority of activity at boot time as far as the hard drive is concerned is read activity. SSDs are notorious for strong read speeds and significant variance when it comes to write speeds. Using boot times to measure the performance of your HDD is like using a ping time to measure the performance of your internet connection. Don't forget to keep backups, SSDs still have a limited lifespan.
      • Thanks for taking the time...

        to reply. Not all bloggers do that here.

        Times for loading large applications, such as OO.o or Firefox, for example, pr opening and saving a RAW image would be useful, for example. I agree, that it is hard to define what is normal or average, but booting is something my PC generally does whilst I am making tea or coffee. I am much more interested in whether / how much faster it feels in actual use.

        It is also good to see somebody using everyday laptops for real things, so many seem to just report on the latest kit they gave for review, whilst most people will use the same device for several years.

        Merry Christmas.
        • Welcome, Merry Christmas

          I appreciate the comments to my blog - when I write "Thanks for reading and commenting" I mean it. I agree that times for loading significant programs or data would be interesting, and as kinggi99 pointed out just above, write-times would probably be even more interesting than read times. But that was well beyond what I intended to show, I wasn't trying to compare this SSD drive or kit to any other SSD drive or kit, I wanted to show what the incremental difference in performance from the original drive to the SSD was. That was also why I included Windows along with the several Linux distributions - not because I wanted to show that "Linux is faster/better/whatever" as several Windows apologists immediately panicked and assumed below, but because I wanted to show that the improvement in performance was consistent not only for Linux.

          Oh, and if your PC booted in 10 seconds, would it still be something you let happen while you were making tea? One of my good friends used to turn on her PC and then go take a shower, and still got back before it was up and ready.

          One more thing - all of my posts are written about systems which get real-world actual use, because they are my systems. Being given some kit for review might be something that happens for some, but it has never, ever happened to me, I purchase everything that I write about out of my own pocket, and I usually keep it and use it myself as well - unless one of my friends wants/needs it.

          Thanks again for reading and commening.

          Merry Christmas.

          • Yes.

            "Oh, and if your PC booted in 10 seconds, would it still be something you let happen while you were making tea?"

            This PC I'm typing on has a spinning hard disk. It's sitting on my kitchen table right now. When I'm done with it I will simply close the lid. Tomorrow morning when I get to work I set it in the docking station, hit the power button, and start brewing the coffee (first one in).

            If I wanted to I could immediately begin working as the system takes a second or two to adapt to the new environment. I see no benefit to SSD boot times. It's something I do infrequently (basically every patch Tuesday).

            "One of my good friends used to turn on her PC and then go take a shower, and still got back before it was up and ready."

            Either she takes really quick showers or there's something wrong with that system. Perhaps this would be a good case for an SSD (perhaps you could benchmark it?). Improving on a 40 second boot time is, IMO, not worth it.
    • For most users an SSD buys them little.

      I'm still trying to understand the fascination with reducing a 35, 34, 30, 40 second boot time. While I'm all for improving performance this reduction comes at a cost in money and smaller capacity.
  • Acer 1810TZ

    I recently replaced my Acer laptops disk with a Samsung SSD. Everything went well until I cloned the disk using the bundled Norton Ghost software. Somehow it changed the drive letter of the source and destination to d: rendering them useless. After five hours on trying everything I could find on the net I eventually reinstalled Windows 7 from scratch and then spent 17 hours installing the more than 200 patches. Having said all that the speed now is awesome and the it is a pleasure to use. I would recommend an SSD to everyone so long as you clone the drive from Linux using Linux/dd and just bin the Norton CD.
    • You can fix that

      with the Windows recovery CD. Usually just running Startup Repair fixes it automatically, but even if that doesn't work you can use BCDBOOT.EXE to fix it.
      Michael Kelly
    • Typical Problems

      I have seen and heard of problems similar to yours, with pretty much all of the disk cloning software. In some cases it seems to work flawlessly, in others it turns into a never-ending nightmare. I recall once, I think it was Norton Ghost, which insisted on copying the partition table from the old drive to the new, and I had the devil of a time sorting that out. This kind of thing is one of the major reasons that I chose to reinstall all of the Linux distributions, so I could get everything arranged and sized the way I really wanted it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • My computer boots faster...

    without the need for any SSDs. Thanks to Windows 8 Fast Boot feature, my system boots in 8 seconds installed on a standard HDD. That comparison of boot times isn't fair, since you're comparing the latest versions of various Linux distributions against an old Windows version (no, Windows 7 doesn't qualify as the "latest" Windows version). I can only imagine how much time would it take to Windows 8 to boot from a SSD.
    • 2 to 5 seconds

      With fastboot on, it's around 2-3 seconds, with fastboot off around 5-6 seconds, not counting the time spent on the BIOS/UEFI screen which can vary a lot depending on devices installed (the more HDD you have the longer the BIOS/UEFI screen will be).
    • What is "Fastboot"?

      It might be interesting to find out exactly what "Fastboot" mode is. I was extremely surprised to find that on both of the Windows 8 systems I have, when I said "Shutdown" what it actually did was "Suspend". That made it seem extremely fast at the next "Boot", but extremely confusing when I was trying to shut down and then cold boot to Linux.

      In any event, the numbers aren't fudged in any way, I ran each of the tests several times to make sure they were consistent. Because I was swapping out the disk in my Lenovo T400, these boot times are for that system; however, I am absolutely certain that neither my Acer AO725 nor HP Pavilion dm1-4310 boots Windows 8 in anything close to the times you mention. If I have time and motivation perhaps I will time both of them just to get a ballpark figure. But to be honest, I don't really care exactly how long Windows takes to boot, the point of this post was to compare the difference in times before/after SSD conversion.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Indeed, this article isn't about Windows or Linux boot times...

        but you posted a comparative table anyway, implying that Windows boots slower than Linux on your upgraded computer. You compared Windows 7 against the latest versions of several Linux distributions, and I think that's not fair. Windows 7 lacks many boot time improvements that Windows 8 has.

        Aside from this: Fast Boot is similar to suspension, but it's a different thing. Fast Boot hibernates only the kernel session of Windows, which is a very smart optimization because the kernel session tends to remain static between Windows reboots. It's a feature worth having, anyway.

        By the way, great job on your posts about Fedora. Big fan of those!!!
  • easeus disk-copy

    For copying HDD I use Easeus Disk-copy. It works great when both HDD are connected to SATA/IDE ports, but caused errors when one was connected to a USB 2.0 port (didn't try on USB 3.0 yet).

    It can let you do a full HDD copy or choose which partition to copy. It does a bit by bit copy so everything is as before, grub loader included if it's there. Make sure destination HDD is at least the same size than the original if making a full disk copy.

    Also, something to watch for all disk copy / OEM recovery on new HDD: make sure the sector size on the new disk is the same as the original. Recently some new disks have 4K sectors while older disks all have 512 bytes sectors. The copy/recovery seems to work fine while it's being done, but once Windows boot after a lot of things don't work fine. In my experience Windows lost all its file/security information on files so even basic Windows programs like notepad.exe were having UAC prompts because they were all from "Unknown" publisher.
    • EaseUS works great

      I cloned a Windows 7 disk to a solid state drive using EaseUS. Clonezilla did not work and neither did some other program whose name I have forgotten. I then installed the SSD in place of the old hard disk. At first it would not boot, but after I booted from Windows 7 repair disk and chose Repair, it works fine.
  • Something is fishy here

    - I have a 160 GB SSD in my desktop computer
    - Running Windows 7 Professional 64 bit SP1
    - Out of 160 GB, I only have 2 GBs of free space on it. Shameful, I know, but I watch movies a lot so I am often lazy to delete them or move them to my external.
    - I have had this computer since August 2011 and each morning I boot it up, Windows 7 takes 7 to 10 seconds to boot from BIOS to a fully ready desktop.

    So I found your scores really fishy. Could you put the bias aside for once and just admit that Windows is fast? Windows 8 on this same system boots in about 5 to 7 seconds.
  • SSD Options....

    The advantages of SSD over HDD is without question. I first deployed an SSD Drive on a 13" 2012 non-retina MacBook Pro. A straightforward upgrade of RAM to 8GB and an installation of a Crucial 512GB M4 SSD. to compliment the Intel Ivy Bridge i7 CPU and Intel HD4000 Graphics. With the upgrade to OS X Mavericks a decent Laptop was turned in to a productive workhorse. Granted SSD Drives are not cheap but taking this route is a lot cheaper than purchasing a new MacBook Pro. with Pre-installed SSD.

    Another great way I have deployed an SSD is by running OS X Externally. On my 21" 2012 iMac it has the standard 1TB HDD. Whilst performance is not bad it can be sluggish whilst running some applications such as Parallels Desktop. Performance was transformed by purchasing once again a Crucial 512GB M4 SSD and External USB 3.0 Caddy. Once assembled the OS X Mavericks installation was cloned from the iMac using Carbon Copy Cloner. The improvements in performance are stark and using Parallels Desktop it is one of the rare occasions you can run Windows 8.1 (or any Windows release) externally.

    Through my own experience you cannot go wrong with an SSD Drive. Spend a little extra and go with one of the major manufacturers.

    That's pretty much it :)
  • annamashburn

  • I did this last year on my T400...

    And on a well-used legacy system, I found it bumped my battery time by about half an hour to 45 minutes. That's an informal estimate, with the system running Win7 only (T400/160G Intel X25 SSD)