Going small(er): Trading spinning disks for SSDs

Lincoln Spector

Solid-state drives can give a significant boost to system performance, but at the cost of storage space.

Here’s how to sort out the data on a big spinning-platter drive and fit what you can onto a smaller SSD.

Migrating down to a smaller system drive

Install a solid-state drive, and it’s love at first boot. The minutes it took to load Windows suddenly become seconds. Everything is faster; you’ll never want to go back.

There is, however, a cost to that extra speed. SSDs cost far more per gigabyte than hard drives and typically come in smaller sizes. As I write this, a 120GB SSD typically goes for U.S. $90 to $100; a 256GB drive will set you back about $200. A 512GB SSD from one of the well-known drive manufacturers could cost you $400. By comparison, you can buy a traditional 1TB hard drive for just $70.

So unless you’re rolling in cash or need only a small amount of storage space, trading your primary spinning-disk drive for an SSD requires making some hard decisions about which files you’ll keep on the new drive. Moreover, the simple task of cloning your old drive to a new one probably won’t work — you can’t clone 500GB worth of files onto a 120GB drive.

Bottom line: Migrating to an SSD will probably be more complex than you might at first assume. Along with those hard decisions, the process of transferring Windows and data to a new SSD will require a few more steps. I’ll discuss those steps below.

Using an SSD on desktops vs. laptops

In most cases, adding an SSD to a desktop system is considerably easier than upgrading a notebook. Technically speaking, the issue isn’t really desktop versus laptop; it’s whether the system has room for two internal drives. But practically speaking, the vast majority of desktop PCs have extra drive bays — and most laptops don’t.

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Lincoln Spector

About Lincoln Spector

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at PCWorld.com and Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.