Why you may wish to install a SSD
If you have a late-model (or not so late) PC equipped with a powerful processor and plenty of RAM that you feel is just a bit slow to boot and start programs then a excellent option to speed it up more is to install a Solid State Drive in place of your primary hard drive.
As a matter of fact, an SSD will boost the speed of nearly any PC irregardless of processor as long as said PC has a SATA drive interface.
Just about all SATA SSDs are 2.5" in size - just right for a laptop PC. And with an inexpensive installation kit they will be right at home in a desktop PC.
SSDs are very fast.
Everything is solid state in your PC with the exception of the mechanical hard drive. A mechanical, rotating-disk type hard drive is the main speed bottleneck in a PC system with a fast processor and super fast Dynamic Random Access Memory. Even the fastest 10,000rpm mechanical hard disk drives do not compare favorably to the speed of a SSD.
SSDs, composed of solid state flash memory, are super fast, especially at reading data. This means that a PC with a SSD installed will boot much faster than one with a normal hard drive. Programs will also start faster.
Adding an SSD is the best way to supercharge your PC. Instead of the normal one to two minute boot time (or more) with a mechanical hard drive you can watch your PC boot in 30 seconds or less with a SSD installed.
In addition, all of your programs will start and respond faster as will as will system files and windows.
Solid state drives store data on flash memory chips, while hard drives store data on rotational media with magnetic surfaces. Because solid state drives do not use moving parts, they are both faster and less power hungry than traditional hard drives. Solid state drives are also more rugged; their solid construction strongly resists vibration and shock.
The latest SSDs have a SATA III 6Gbits per second interface that is backward compatible with the SATA II 3Gbits per second and also the older SATA I 1.5Gbits per second drive interfaces.
If your computer has a SATA interface you're fine. Unfortunately older PCs that use the IDE or PATA interface are mostly out of luck.
The interface speed is a maximum and does not really indicate how fast hard drives transfer data. Sequential Read/Write Speeds for many SSDs usually top 500Mbs/s. This is compared to the fastest mechanical hard drives that boast Sequential Read/Write Speeds that are substantially less than 200Mbs/s.
So even though it is possible to install a SSD in either a desktop or a laptop PC and enjoy a great leap in overall system performance, SSDs also have their drawbacks.
SSDs are expensive when compared to normal hard drives.
SSDs come in sizes ranging from 32GigaBytes to 1TerraByte (960GB). SSD costs average just a little less than 65 cents per gigabyte with larger savings realized as drive size increases. This is expensive when compared to normal rotating disk hard drives that may cost as little as 6 to 10 cents per GigaByte.
Update: SSD prices have been going down for quite a while now and are, conservatively, half the price they were when I first wrote this article back in 2015.
The operating system must be either re-installed or transferred to the SSD to gain the maximum speed benefit from a SSD. This means that the entire Windows folder including Program and Users folders should be on the SSD to gain this speed benefit. Therefore the smallest usable size for a replacement drive is normally 128GB which will normally cost about $70 to $100 - for the drive alone.
64GB SSDs certainly have the capacity to hold the operating system but are a bit small especially if the SSD is the only drive installed. It is also wise to allow for future expansion.
Right now the ideal size for a SSD is 240, 250, or 256GB; the exact size depends on brand, type, and length of warranty. This size SSD is a sweet spot, which has a good combination of speed, capacity, and affordability. Expect to pay anywhere from $110 to $200 for this size SSD.
A 480, 500 or 512GB SSD will cost anywhere from $230 to $400 depending on brand and model.
Here is one place to look at SSD hard drives at Amazon.
When all is said and done, it is evident that SSDs are the way to go if you can afford one and you are willing to take the trouble to install one. Much has been written about SSD drive endurance but the fact is that SSDs will usually outlast most PC systems with anything like normal use assuming proper installation.
Finally, if you are planning to purchase a new PC but are hesitant because the one you have is still running well and getting the job done then you may want to contemplate installing a SSD in your present PC rather than getting a new one - even if you must pay a technician to install it!
Why? You will save money and get a massive performace boost at the same time, if your PC is running Windows 7 or 8.
Be sure to read the PC World article (linked above) for more information to help you make your decision.
You can also read my file Is your PC running Sloowly Now? for help to clean up your PC's hardware and software to prepare to install a SSD.
Installation with Windows 7
Installing a SSD on a desktop or laptop PC with Windows 7 is usually fairly straight forward. You can either clean install Windows 7 on your new SSD or you can use a USB to SATA connector to connect your new SSD to your PC then us cloning software to place the data from the installed hard drive onto your new SSD.
On a PC with an extra drive bay you could use your old drive as a secondary drive after installing the SSD, which will provide you will more data capacity.
Important! Make a backup of all personal data and files from your existing hard drive to a USB Flash Drive or external hard drive, if available, before removing it.
In any case, you should always be sure that your PC is running well on the new hard drive or SSD before you reformat or make any changes to your old hard drive.
If you wish to perform a clean install
#1 - Purchase a full version of Windows 7 here.
You have three choices:
#2 - Install Windows 7 from your Recovery Disks.
The purpose of Recovery Disks is to re-install Windows onto a replacement hard drive if the original drive fails so they should work to install Windows 7 onto a SSD as well.
#3 - Download an appropriate copy of Windows 7 from Digital River.
Update: As of March 2015, Digital River no longer has Windows 7 for downloads. If you wish to continue using Windows 7 with a new SSD the best bet is to clone the drive with freely available backup and cloning programs that usually come with the new SSD. (Usually as a separate download) Also: Getting a copy of Windows 7 from Microsoft is nearly impossible since they put too many stipulations on acquiring it.
I recommend Windows 10. Get Windows 10 at the following URL - https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10. If your PC was running a genuine copy of Windows 7 then Windows 10 will automatically be activated after installation with a digital liscense tied to your PC. Entering a product key is unnecessary.
If you use this any ISO to install any version of Windows onto a new hard drive or SSD you should know that all user data and installed programs will be removed. This means that you will need to make a backup of your user data to reinstall onto your new drive.
Additionally, you will need installer programs and appropriate software keys (if necessary) to reinstall your programs onto the new hard drive or SSD.
If your PC shipped with pre-installed software, such a Microsoft Office, you may be better off using the manufacturer's recovery disks to install Windows onto your new hard drive or SSD.
After you have downloaded the ISO file you must create a bootable DVD with a program such as ImgBurn or bootable Flash Drive (at least 4GB) using a small program called Rufus.
Use this DVD or Flash Drive to install Windows onto your new hard drive.
Install Windows 7
*Remove the primary hard drive from your PC.
*Install the SSD drive in the same bay from which you removed the old drive.
*Insert the media and install Windows. If PC does not boot from disk tap the F-12 key at boot or boot into BIOS and change the boot order.
After installing Windows 7 you can use the product key located on a sticker on your PC to activate Windows 7. If you choose to purchase a copy of Windows 7 you can either use the product key on your PC or the one that came with your purchased copy of Windows 7.
*If you used a full version or downloaded copy of Windows 7:
After successfully installing and activating Windows 7 open the Device Manager then download and install any device drivers that the Windows installer may have missed installing. You may need to go to the support site for your PC to get some of these drivers.
If you wish to clone the disk in your PC
You can only do this if the total data on your hard drive is substantially less than the capacity of your SSD.
*Click Computer in the Start Menu to check. You can right click each partition (C:, D:, etc.) then choose Properties to check the Used space: in Gigabytes. Add the Used space: values from each partition you plan to place on the SSD.
If the data from your installed hard drive will nearly fill or overfill your SSD it will be necessary to either get a larger SSD or remove some of the data (if possible) from the drive before performing the cloning operation.
Always leave provision for some empty space on the drive - at least 15 to 20% of capacity.
*Connect your new SSD drive to your PC with a USB/SATA connector then:
*Download a copy of either EaseUS Todo Backup Free or Macrium Reflect Free from Download.com and use it to clone your hard drive to your SSD drive.
If your SSD came with a software program to clone your drive then you may wish to use that program rather than downloading one.
*After the cloning operation is complete remove the original hard drive from your PC then install the SSD in its place. BE SURE THE CLONING OPERATION IS FULLY COMPLETE. DO NOT STOP THE CLONING SOFTWARE WHILE IT IS RUNNING!
Installation with Windows 8
Update: I recommend Windows 10 under any and all conditions.
Get Windows 10 at the following URL - https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10. If your PC was running a genuine copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8 or 8.1 then Windows 10 will automatically be activated after installation with a digital liscense tied to your PC. Entering a product key is unnecessary.
The media creation tool you download from the microsoft download site will create a bootable USB Drive to install Windows 10 on your PC. You will need a USB Drive with at least 4GB capacity. Just follow the directions.
Care and Feeding of your SSD
Even though SSDs are generally durable and long lasting there are certain things you should do, or avoid doing after installing a SSD.
You may have noticed that I did not include any information about installing Windows XP or Vista on a SSD. This is because the older operating systems do not include native support for the features required to setup and maintain a Solid State Drive.
Support for TRIM, partition alignment, and other features desirable for a SSD is missing in Win XP and Vista.
If your PC runs Windows 7 or Windows 8 you may not need to worry about setting up your SSD. - the operating system will do most of it for you.
However, if your new SSD came with software to optimize your new drive (Such as Samsung's Magician software) I encourage your to learn it and use it.
With all of that said, it is a good idea to check the settings for yourself.
- Turn off Scheduled Disk Defragmenting - in Windows 7 & 8 Disk Properties, Tools menu
- Turn off Virtual memory - in Advanced System Properties (from System in Control Panel)
- Disable Superfetch - accessed from services.msc
- Turn off Hibernation - in Control Panel, Power Options
Generally anything you can do which will lessen the necessity for small, frequent writes to your drive will help to lengthen the life of your SSD. Things such as:
Invest in additional RAM
Since RAM is relatively inexpensive now it is wise to be sure you have at least 8GB installed along with your SSD.
A 64-bit operating system is a necessity for this.
More RAM will lessen the need for frequent writes to the hard drive.
Don't over fill your SSD
SSD drive manufacturer's recommend, somewhere in the fine print, that is not recommended to fill the drive more than 80%.
This empty space is necessary to allow the wear-leveling algorithms to work properly.
If you do not overfill your SSD it will last longer.
Store large files on a secondary drive
If your PC has a second drive bay it is wise to store large media files (movies, music, massive databases, etc) on a regular mechanical hard drive.
You can use the drive that your SSD replaced for this.
If your PC has only one drive bay you simply may need a larger SSD to avoid overfilling it. Or you can put your old hard drive into an enclosure and use it as an external drive to hold your large files as I mentioned earlier.
Finally, it must be noted that SSDs are just now getting to be really popular. If, and when, SSDs get to be commonplace it is hoped that the price per gigabyte will be low enough so that almost everyone will be able to afford one (with a large capacity).
The speed advantage of SSD certainly makes them desirable now.
Windows Operating System ISO downloads
If you need a copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 for some reason you can get an ISO file from the following links. All versions require activation with a valid product key after installation.
Choose to save these files to your desktop.
Microsoft Software Recovery Page
Create installation media for Windows 8.1
Note: If your PC shipped with Windows 8.1 this ISO should work just fine. But if your PC shipped with Windows 8.0 it may not.
Download the media creation tool from the Microsoft software download page at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10. Create a bootable USB drive that you will use to install Windows 10 on your new SSD. Follow the directions to download a copy of Windows 10 for the PC you are using to download the software or another PC.
If you are unsure about which Windows 10 version to download check before you start the download.
Hint, most modern PCs are 64bit and you should choose plain Windows 10 Home unless you had a professional version of windows 7 or 8 installed on the PC.
Again, as long as the PC you are installing Windows 10 on had a genuine copy of Windows 7 or 8 you will need no product key to install and activate Windows 10.
When the installation software asks you to insert a product key simply click that you don't have one.