Friday, August 31, 2012

Installing Solid State Drives on Old Laptops

Within the past couple of weeks, Amazon.com had a Gold Box Deal of the Day sale on two brands of solid state drives (SSDs):  Transcend (128 GB) and SanDisk (120 GB).  I purchased both drives when they were on sale, along with two USB enclosures to place the hard disk drives (HDDs) afterward.  After some (read: lots of) trial and error, I managed to upgrade a 2007 MacBook and a 2009 Acer netbook.  With the right keywords, you can Google all sorts of helpful information.  With the correct tools, all this could have been easy.

Trying to Upgrade the Netbook with the Transcend SSD:
1. Create a bootable USB stick with Linux and a disk utility.
2. Shut-down computer.
3. Boot-up computer from USB stick.
4. Resize the 160 GB HDD partition into less than 128 GB to match the SSD size.
5. Shut-down computer.
6. Boot-up computer in Windows XP.
7. Insert new SSD into USB enclosure.
8. Clone resized C: drive onto SSD.
9. Shut-down computer.
10. Remove all the guts of the netbook, down to the motherboard, to reveal the hard drive enclosure.
12. While I'm there, I might as well upgrade the RAM to its 1.5 GB capacity.
12. Remove HDD with enclosure.
13. Remove HDD from enclosure.
14. Replace SSD into enclosure.
15. Install HDD into USB enclosure.
16. Reinstall hard drive enclosure.
17. Reinstall the netbook's guts.
18. Boot-up computer.
19. Find that Windows XP won't boot from the SSD.
20. Shut-down computer.
21. Reinstall HDD (see steps 9-16).
22. Do further research to find out that XP doesn't play well with SSDs.
23. Decide to install SSD onto Macbook instead.
24. Get some consolation that an added 0.5 GB of RAM makes the slow netbook slightly less slow.

Upgrading the MacBook with the Transcend SSD:
1. Insert slightly-used SSD into USB enclosure.
2. Download and install hard drive cloning app.
3. Clone 128 GB HDD to the 128 GB SSD.
4. Shut-down computer.
5. Boot-up from external cloned SSD to check if cloning worked.
6. Shut-down computer again.
7. Remove battery pack.
8. Unscrew L-bracket.
9. Pull out original HDD with enclosure.
10. Realize I do not have a Torx T8-sized screwdriver.
11. Drive to Home Depot for a Torx T8-sized screwdriver.
12. Buy a $5 23-piece set that contains a T8 piece.
13. Drive home.
14. Remove HDD from enclosure.
15. Replace with SSD into enclosure.
16. Install HDD into USB enclosure.
17. Reinstall hard drive enclosure into the computer.
18. Reinstall L-bracket.
19. Return battery into place.
20. Boot-up from internal SSD.
21. Copy-and-paste Terminal commands to turn off unnecessary HDD-related processes.
22. Download and install TRIM-enabling app.
23. Enjoy a computer where the only noise comes from the fan.

Upgrading the Netbook with the SanDisk SSD:
1. Decide to buy a Windows 7 Home Premium 32-Bit upgrade, then clone the drive.  Or clone the drive, then install Windows 7.
2. Go to the purchase page at the Windows store.
3. Decide to online chat with a Microsoft employee.
4. Get convinced that the upgrade-clone would not work.
5. Save $120 (the price of the Windows 7 Home Premium upgrade).
6. Do not buy $200 full Home Premium retail version, either.
7. Buy system builder's full version of Home Premium for $90.
8. Scratch head why Microsoft has so many pricing levels.
9. Learn that I have to enable AHCI before installing SSD and Windows 7.
10. Shut-down computer.
11. Boot-up computer in BIOS.
12. Find no such AHCI option in BIOS.
13. Boot-up Windows XP.
14. Download and install BIOS upgrade.
15. Shut-down computer.
16. Boot-up in BIOS.
17. Find the AHCI option.
18. Find that Windows XP will no longer boot with the new BIOS.
19. Enable AHCI.
20. Shut-down computer.
21. On another Windows computer, create Windows 7 USB install stick.
22. Remove all the guts of the netbook, down to the motherboard, to reveal the hard drive enclosure.
23. Remove HDD with enclosure.
24. Remove HDD from enclosure.
25. Replace SSD into enclosure.
26. Install HDD into USB enclosure
27. Reinstall hard drive enclosure.
28. Reinstall the netbook's guts.
29. Boot-up computer from Windows 7 USB install stick.
30. Install Windows 7.
31. Boot-up Windows 7.
32. Have Microsoft see that it's a genuine copy of Windows 7.
33. Place the "Genuine Windows" sticker on the bottom of the netbook.
34. Install malware protection, as is customary on a Windows computer.
35. Install updated trackpad drivers for complete mouse movements.
36. Enjoy a computer where the only noise comes from the fan.

The Unscientific Results

Boot-up:
> The SSD MacBook boots up in about 40 seconds, shaving about 20 seconds from the HDD version.
> The SSD Windows 7 netbook boots up in about 25 seconds, compared to a couple of minutes with the Windows XP HDD and years worth of bloatware.

Shut-down:
> The SSD MacBook shuts down slightly faster than before.
> The SSD netbook shuts down much faster than before, with no weird memory errors (so far).

In-between:
> The SSD MacBook noticeably loads apps faster than before.  It feels just as stable as before.  Too bad the current battery only lasts about an hour and a half, otherwise I'd be everywhere with this more "rugged-ized" laptop!  I'll have to buy a new battery to remedy this.
> The SSD netbook is still slow, perhaps a bit faster since it has slightly more RAM and a solid state drive.  But it's still slow and underpowered compared to the MacBook.  Once it gets running, with the browser program open, it plays on the Internet better than before (and perhaps more stable, due to the operating system upgrade).  The current (original) battery lasts about three hours.  Until I buy a new MacBook battery, the upgraded netbook will have to suffice whenever I want to watch an uninterrupted movie on Netflix in my backyard.  So far, I do not notice the size downgrade (from 160 GB to 120 GB), since I haven't really (re-)installed programs or loaded a music library like the netbook's previous incarnation.

The Old HDDs:
> The 160 GB netbook HDD still has the resized (now useless) NTFS partition, with all the netbook's old files.  In the process of resizing the C: drive, I created a FAT32 partition from the surplus space, and named the K: drive after my dog Kate.  The K: drive currently has no visible files.  At least it is in a USB enclosure for future access and use.
> The 128 GB MacBook HDD is also archived safely in a USB enclosure.  I think it can boot Mac OS X in any Mac computer, right?  I don't feel the need to try it out.  Windows 7 Home Premium computers can't see HFS+ (Mac)-formatted drives without a special program, so this external drive is less useful than the one with the NTFS/FAT32 partitions.

Was It Worth It?
> If it weren't for the Torx screwdriver size confusion, which was my error, upgrading a MacBook would have been a breeze.  In any case, yes, it was worth making my MacBook a bit better.
> When it comes to the Windows netbook, I would have saved a lot of headache if I had stumbled onto an article similar to the one I have just written.  As a learning experience, I guess this particular adventure was worth it.

The Moral of the Story:
Nothing is ever easy.

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