Home > Computer Hardware, My tips and tricks > Having fun with Solid State Drives

Having fun with Solid State Drives


A week ago, our school purchased 3 SSD’s, to run a small experiment on the viability of replacing many of our mechanical hard drives with SSD’s instead. Our older classroom PC’s have 160GB mechanical drives in them, any newer machine generally has 500GB mechanical drives. Most of the the time, usage of the mechanical drive doesn’t surpass 50GB total. Since all staff documents are redirected to their network profiles, most staff don’t store info on the local PC’s themselves.

We purchased 3 Samsung 840 EVO 120GB drives. One was to be installed in our staff work room, and the other two in classrooms with different types of PC, in order to get a decent sample range. One PC is much newer than the other, with the older model being what most classrooms currently have.

In order to save time, I decided to use the included cloning utility to do a straight clone from the mechanical to SSD. This way we save time, transfer a working system as is with minimal downtime and we don’t use up activations on Windows and Office. In the past, I’ve had issues with cloning software being unable to clone from a larger to smaller drive, but I’m pleased to say that Samsung Magician was able to clone 2 of the drives successfully.

As luck would have it, the oldest PC out of the 3 kept throwing up this error when the clone got to 100%

WP_20140224_001

I scoured the net, but I couldn’t find much in the way of information on this particular problem. It could be the fact that the motherboard doesn’t support the AHCI standard, despite supporting SATA 300 ports. I’m guessing when MSI designed these particular boards back in the day, they were trying to save every penny possible, and ended up using the version Intel’s ICH9 chipset that didn’t support AHCI.

Anyway, solving this problem was a little more tricky. Samsung Magician would not finish the job, no matter what. Upgrading to a newer version didn’t help, nor did a typical restart. Eventually, I had to turn to 3rd party tools if I wanted to get the job done. Clonezilla refused to clone the drive, due to the larger-smaller problem. Trying to force Clonezilla did result in a copy, but the copy refused to work no matter what. I turned to Parted Live next. Using the included GParted, I copied the existing 2 partitions off of the mechanical drive and onto the SSD, while resizing the main partition to fit. This time, both partitions successfully copied. Trying to boot the drive however simply resulted in a blinking cursor. Turns out that GParted couldn’t create a proper partition table. Using the Windows 7 Emergency Recovery Disk, I let it detect and repair problems, which it duly did by creating a proper partition table.

After the required reboot, the new drive was up and running, easily maxing out the SATA port, despite the chipset not supporting AHCI and all the advanced features it brings. Even on this older slower PC, applications feel snappier to open up, boot time is reduced, and there’s almost no sign of typical mechanical thrashing you normally encounter the first few minutes after a PC starts up.

The other classroom PC has a SATA 600 port, so performance on that machine is screaming. The teacher in that class is actually the head of IT, so I look forward to him putting the drive to good use and providing some feedback. The drive in the staff work room is performing, but I suspect Windows needs to be reinstalled. Even before the clone, Windows was not too healthy on that particular PC, and the SSD hasn’t magically cured the symptoms.

Overall, I suspect that despite the still rather high price, we will be making more use of SSD’s in the future. While a 1TB mechanical hard drive is about half the price of these 120GB units, the speed and other benefits of the SSD are not easily ignored. Older computers in the classrooms will get an extended lease on life due to these drives, and that is a good thing as it will allow us to focus on other IT projects for a change, instead of constantly replacing the older computers. Eventually, the older PC’s will have to be replaced of course, but an extension of life is welcome for the time being.

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