Tuesday, February 15, 2011

HDDBoost

On another (mostly) negative experience, loosely connected with note-taking: As I may have said before, my computer died in early January. I bought a newer faster one. This brought on the itch to make "my system" even faster.

As the Windows Experience Index was 5.9 due to the hard drive, with the next lowest one at 6.8 (for the Graphics Card), I thought what better way to accomplish this than switching to a Solid State Disk?

SSDs are small (the biggest affordable one being 128GB) while hard drives (HDD) are very big. Research seemed to show that it is very difficult to transfer the Operating System from a big drive or partition to a small one. So I thought of a hybrid drive. This is where SilverStone's HDDBoost came in. It is a drive enclosure with circuitry that combines an SSD with an HDD. It's "dumb," that is, it just mirrors the beginning of the hard drive on the SSD for very fast read speeds and writes to the hard drive with very fast write speeds, updating the SSD only when you power down. The overall speed increase should be about 70%, but by all accounts is more between 30% and 50%. I never really found out, how much it would have been.

I installed the thing as per instructions. It worked, so I booted it up twice, powered down, and installed everything firmly in the machine. Don't know what went wrong, but it would not boot up again ... just a black screen. Took it apart again, took out the hard drive from the HDDBoost assembly, connected it the way it was before. The hard drive had errors which were easily fixed by using the recovery disk. This took about an hour.

I re-installed the HDDBoost assembly ... black screen again ... waited for a long time ... shut it down again, etc. After about one hour I gave up, took out the hard drive from the assembly, re-installed it in the computer. This time it could not be fixed by recovery. I had to re-install Windows from scratch. Another two hours gone.

When the system was ready I downloaded Easus Todo Backup Home 2.0 and backed up all partitions on the C drive. Worked beautifully (about 20 minutes). I then (re)formatted the SSD drive (64 GB Micro Centre). It also worked fine. I then restored two of the Windows partitions (bootup and C:), installed it, took out the old system hard drive, stored it safely, and put in a 500 GB Seagate as a Data Drive (for D:). This took approximately another 40 minutes.

Everything now works fine. The Windows Experience Index is up to 6.8 (the SSD drive alone gets 7.9). It's faster, but is it worth $100.00 and four hours of work? Probably not. It will take a while for the gained milliseconds to translate into four hours.

Lesson 1: Some things that promise to be easier by compromising turn out to be harder. What went wrong? I am not sure, but my explanation is that it has to do with HDDBoost's mechanical "mirroring" of the beginning of the hard drive and the fact that it writes to the SSD only when you power down. Once bad information is written to the SSD that does not allow Windows to start, the hybrid system can only be fixed if the computer powers down properly. But this cannot happen because HDDBoost does not even allow windows to start. There may also be a way to do this from within Windows, but, again, this is useless, if Windows cannot start. If there is another way to solve this without reformatting the SSD, I do not know what it might be.

I could probably try to start all over after reformatting the SSD and make the hybrid work again, but the better solution (an SSD at 100% speed) is ... well ... better than a hybrid at 30% to 50% speed. If I had known how easy it is to transfer the OS to a smaller partition, I would never have tried to get a boost from HDDBoost.

Lesson 2. Today, "fast" is measured in milliseconds. Even an increase in speed like the one afforded by SSD is not dramatic. The computer is just a little snappier I'd say.

Lesson 3: Windows just needs about 32 GB. My files (some programs and document files, including several hundred PDFs) use even less space. I don't need 2 TB, nor 1 TB, nor even 500 GB. But hard drives under 500 GB are quickly becoming extinct.

Enough of this foolishness already ... back to work!

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