Although expensive, replacing the boot drive with a fast SSD (Solid State Drive) can dramatically reduce the startup, shutdown and program load times - often by a factor of 3. Our SSD Windows 7 system with many applications and startup programs boots in about 20 seconds and shuts down in about 10 seconds. Most programs also load almost instantly.
As a test, we also copied the entire SSD drive to a new WD 500 GB running at 7200 rpm. The system startup time dragged down to about 80 seconds! Program load times for things like Firefox that load instantly with the SSD now take 5 seconds or more to start.
SSD sizes typically range from 32 GB to over 1 TB, but the cost for larger drives can be prohibitive. You'll also see a wide range of prices for the same size SSD, but there is usually a large difference in performance, and you'll want to consider this carefully. I'll show you how to get the most bang for your buck.
One trick to save money for desktop PCs is the use a smaller SSD drive along with a normal size conventional hard disk. The SSD drive holds the OS and applications. Other files such as documents, music, photos, videos are loaded onto the larger hard disk. As a bonus, it can make it easier to backup your personal data from the second drive.
Using two drives allows you to fit the OS and many applications into a smaller SSD drive in the range of 64 to 80 GB. The D data drive is a conventional larger hard disk.
Laptops and Notebooks
Laptop users typically only have room for a single drive, and the cost for larger SSDs is still quite expensive. One bonus for laptop users is the drives are impervious to shock, so while dropping a running laptop will often destroy a conventional hard disk, a SSD will encounter no damage at all. The SSD will likely be a bit lighter too.
Be aware that SSDs are only made using the SATA connection standard. If your laptop drive uses the old Parallel ATA connection, you cannot use a SSD. Most (but not all) laptops made in 2008 and later use SATA.
Not all SSDs are the Same
When choosing a SSD, there is a large difference between cheap SSD drives and top-of-the line SSDs. The cheaper drives will use a technology that will not last as long, they will run dramatically slower (although still better than a rotating hard disk), and are unlikely to support the important TRIM command.
Drives that state they are Windows 7 compatible typically implement the TRIM command. Note that prior to Windows 7, the OS does not understand SSDs and your performance and life may be reduced. The TRIM command improves the drives life and speeds write operations by eliminating data merge operations for data writes. Windows 7 also recognizes that SSDs should not be defragmented. Using a defragmenter on a SSD drive cannot improve performance, but it does waste CPU cycles, and it can actually reduce the life of the SSD.
If you were considering getting a new high-performance PC or upgrading components such as the CPU and motherboard, it is likely a SSD will give you more performance gains for the money spent than any other purchase.