Converted notebook drive to SSD: Upsides and downsides

Yesterday I upgraded the hard disk in my notebook PC to an SSD (solid state drive). While they are still a little expensive I was able to pick up a SanDisk Extreme II 240GB SSD for $149.

This was a good time to change over drives in my notebook as I was planning to rebuilt it to run exclusively with Windows 8.1. Before this upgrade it was dual booting between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

The primary advantage of changing over from a traditional spindle hard disk to a solid state hard disk for your desktop or notebook PC is the speed of the disk. Depending on the actual SSD you go with and the interface you can expect a useful data access speed improvement of between 3 to 5 times. For someone like me working with Photoshop and large 22+MB picture files this speed improvement should be useful. However if all you do is surf the Web and maybe work with the occasional Word or Excel file then this data access speed improvement to your disk is not going to be a great deal of benefit—except possibly when booting up and shutting down (or copying large files).

In the case of notebook PCs there is a secondary upside to changing over from a spinning hard disk to a solid state ‘disk’. SSDs use less power. Again, depending on the SSD and what you use your PC for, and which reviews you read, you might get anything between 10 to 40 percent more battery life after converting over.

With Windows 8.1 the actual installation and loading of the operating system onto the SSD went without issues. For my Toshiba Tecra A11 all the devices drivers were found.

The worst part of the change-over was waiting for all the Windows 8 updates and then the Windows 8.1 upgrade itself to download and install—because initially you load the PC with Windows 8 (which nobody in their right mind would use on a non-touch notebook or desktop PC). These two sets of updates took the better part of five hours to complete.

So now I have Windows 8.1 Pro installed on my Tecra A11 running from the SanDisk Extreme II 240GB SSD.

One small other upside to using an SSD is that there is no disk usage noise. So now, unless the cooling fan starts up, which does not happen much on the A11, the PC runs in complete silence—except for my tapping on the keys.

Photoshop launches significantly faster now. My timings (to the nearest 0.5 of a second) for launching Photoshop with the spindle hard disk averaged 6 seconds after a boot-up (to ensure nothing was cached). With the SSD the average launch time in three tries was 2.5 seconds; less than half the time.

Another big plus is the ‘smart object’ switch time between Lightroom and Photoshop. With Photoshop pre-launched the smart object switch time into Photoshop was 5 seconds but now is 2.5. My assumption here is that ‘smart objects’ must get written to disk and then read from disk; both of which happen much faster with the SSD.  The same kind of speed improvement is evident when taking the ‘smart object’ back to Lightroom, but I didn’t have any pre-SSD timings for this to compare.

So, you might be asking, what are the downsides?

At this stage I have only found one downside, and it is probably not directly attributable to the SSD. But I am unable to install Microsoft Live Writer. I am actually keying this posting on my desktop PC via remote access from my notebook. I am not sure what is going on here because I had Live Writer installed okay on the dual boot Windows 8.1, but the difference might be that I installed Live Writer when it was Windows 8 before the 8.1 upgrade.

I am only hoping that I work out some way to get Live Writer installed without having to go back to starting again and putting it on before I upgrade the initial Windows 8 install to 8.1.

The $149 investment in the SanDisk Extreme II is looking like a good one that will give my notebook at least a couple more years life.