Technology DIY: How a ‘Solid State Drive’ can perk up that old...

Technology DIY: How a ‘Solid State Drive’ can perk up that old computer

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MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., June 18, 2014 – It is so nice when we get a new computer and everything works. The few programs that are included work fast and we feel great.

As time goes by, the computer gets full of junk and unless we are very careful, its performance goes down. We are left there waiting for the computer to start or shut down and if the former, for a particular program to start.

There are many offers on the Internet to get your computer up to speed. Many work to a certain extent, but you will dish out a lot of money. At worse, you may dish out a lot of money and you will only receive a very minimal improvement in the way your computer works. Many offers include a “free” scan of your computer. Don’t be deceived, while the scan may produce hundreds and even thousands of things wrong with your computer, many are not that important. You will also find that after correcting the problems (and paying the money they want for their service), your computer will not work any better.

So here are some simple things that you can do to keep your computer working optimally:

  1. Be very selective on what you download to your computer. Do a disk clean up at least once per week. On Windows Explorer right click your main hard drive and select Properties -> Disk Cleanup and follow the prompts;

    Screenshot of disk clean up
    Screen shot for Disk Cleanup
  2. From the same window, you can select the Tools tab and you can check for System errors and defragment your hard drive. This latter one is important as a “fragmented” drive requires the system to check for parts of file in different places instead of just in one place (note that this only applies to traditional hard drives, not Solid State Drives);
  3. Except for Windows updates, when you get a notification to upgrade Java, Flash, Acrobat or any other program that you recognize, be alert. While the programs need to be updated to improve and correct problems, some vendors piggy back a lot of trash. So make sure you read each screen as the program is updating. Opt out for all or most of the stuff they want to install that is not related to the program you are interested. By the way, this is good advice to follow when downloading anything from the Internet. Java updates are particularly guilty in this aspect as they want you to install some awful stuff in your computer that you will eventually will have to un-install, costing you time;
  4. Never fill your hard drive past 80% capacity. If you have a lot of programs open, you may start running out of memory. In such cases the computer uses part of your hard drive as “virtual” memory. This is also related to paging and other processes that the computer performs to keep thing going;
  5. Visit your installed programs by going to Control Panel -> Programs -> Uninstall a program
    How to uninstall
    Clicking on Uninstall will give you the list of all programs in your computer

    Use common sense, but if you see something that you either not use or not recognize, uninstall it. Make sure that the particular program is not used by one of the peripherals of your computer. Usually it is safe to uninstall if IT DOESN’T come from Microsoft, Adobe, Java, or your computer manufacturer. Generally you will start noticing some intrusion into your web browser. Write down the name of the intrusive program and uninstall it. If you are not sure, leave it alone.

  6. Be very selective of the material you download. You will find that the cute kitten video you like so much and downloaded, will never be seen again and is only occupying space in your computer. Most materials on the Internet will remain there for you to access in the future.
  7. Get yourself a good cleanup program. CCleaner is excellent and it has a free version. Consider purchasing the Professional version to support good software;
  8. Add memory. Memory is fairly inexpensive. Read up on your computer and find out how much memory can be installed. You can find out how much memory you have by either pressing the windows key and Pause at the same time or by right clicking on “My Computer” and selecting Properties.

Well, you have been practicing safe computing, have upgraded to the maximum memory and have a good portion of free hard drive. You also have used a good PC cleaner (like CCleaner), but your machine is over five years old and is no longer satisfying. Is there something else you can do?

YES! (A resounding yes). Instead of buying a new laptop or desktop that may set you up close to a grand, buy a Solid State Drive (SSD) for around $150. In most cases, after a computer has been topped out with memory, converting the main hard drive to an SSD drive will provide a boost higher that all the other things combined. For example, a fairly decent laptop about 6 years old like a Dell Satellite D630 with 2 gigs of memory and an SSD will start and invoke programs as fast or faster than a new XPS 2710 with an I7 processor and 16 gigs of memory. (I did this and I am still amazed and wonder why I didn’t do it before, please click here if you want additional information on how to do it.)

Usually the bottle neck for computers is in the hard drives. While memory’s speed is calculated in nano seconds, hard drive speed is calculated in milli seconds. That is why when you click on an application, and at least part of it has to be loaded into memory, there is a lag. An application stored in an SSD drive is like having it already loaded into memory.

Of course SSD have some draw backs. For one, they are expensive, about 10 times or more.  Today a 128 gig SSD costs about the same as a 1 terabyte traditional hard drive. Their performance degrades with time as has been reported and apparently there is no benefit in defragmenting them and in fact it may be harmful for the drive to do so.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century is still on his quest to find the perfect computer. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+ and Facebook (Mario Salazar).


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