• Technical Merritt

Storage & SSDs - What are my options? Should I upgrade?

Updated: 2 days ago

A little information about storage

When we talk about storage, we are talking about the place all your files are stored (not to be confused with RAM).

These come in 3 primary forms.

  • SATA Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

  • SATA Solid State Disk (SSD)

  • M.2 type Solid State Drive (SSD)

The SATA or M.2 refers to the connection type.

SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) is by far the most common.

If you currently use a PC from 2007 onwards, the chances are this is what you have.

The M.2 standard is by far the fastest of the three and is also a lot more compact. Many MacBooks and ultra-light laptops have this standard, as well as some of the newer desktop PCs.

Today we are mainly concerned with the HDD/SATA-SSD comparison.

An HDD (Hard Disk Drive - on the left in the top picture above) works a lot like a record player:

  • When your computer requests a file (document, video photo etc) the instruction is sent to the hard drive.

  • Your hard drive requests enough power to make the platters (the big CD-like disks in the picture) start spinning.

  • Once the platters are up to speed, the arm (like the one on a record player) sweeps back and forth to find the file and read the information.

An SSD has no moving parts and is akin to the memory cards you put in a camera.

So how much faster are SSDs? We're not going to get into precise figures because HDDs & SSDs all vary in speed. However, someone upgrading from an HDD to SSD can expect a 5-10x speed increase!

You will see this speed increase instantly and across the board, from turning on, to general operation.

How do I know what type of storage I have?

To find out what type of storage you have, for Windows, do the following:

  • Hold down the windows/start key + the "R" key (as pictured)

  • A "Run" dialogue box will pop up

  • Type "DFRGUI" and click okay, this will list all your disks.

  • ​In the column titles "Media type" you will see if you have a "Solid-state drive" or "Hard disk drive."

​Now we can see what you've got. The one that's key here is the C: drive - this is usually the disk drive for your operating system.

If any others are "Hard disk drives" only the files on that drive will run slower, so you don't necessarily have to upgrade those drives unless they are impacting performance.

How do I find out the capacity of my drive?

Okay, so the next thing we need to do is check your C: drive's capacity and usage. This is an important step we need to get right. Most users with a 1TB (1000GB) drive are only using a small fraction of that.

Follow these steps to check your drive capacity:

  • At the bottom of your screen, click on the file browser icon that looks like this:

  • In your file browser in the left-hand panel, click "This PC."

  • You should now be able to see your drives under "Devices and drives."

  • You are looking for something like this:

In this example, we can see this drive is 930GB and 647GB is free, so only 283GB is being used. The drive is a 1TB capacity but 930GB is what is available to use after formatting.

As the total memory being used is less than 300GB we would recommend upgrading to a smaller capacity 500GB SSD, as this will be considerably easier on the wallet than a 1TB.

The issue of capacity is dependent on your individual requirements however.

A little note to point out here though; any drive with less than 10% space remaining is likely to grind your computer to a screeching halt!

So don't cut yourself short...

What are my options for replacing an existing drive with a new SSD?

SSDs generally come in the following sizes:

  • 120GB

  • 250GB

  • 500GB

  • 1TB

  • 2TB

To implement your new SSD, you have one of two options: (this should be based on the user's individual needs):

  • Put a blank SSD in your computer, load a fresh copy of windows, then transfer any files you may have.

  • Clone your original drive - everything moves over to the SSD, including any junk.

Starting with a blank SSD means you can choose any size SSD that's appropriate, including a smaller size drive if only a fraction of the existing capacity is in use.

Another significant advantage is that you're starting with a blank slate - no junk, no unwanted apps, files or settings.

The potential disadvantages are:

  • The time it takes to set-up from scratch and transfer your files

  • You will need to reinstall all your apps. This can be an issue if licenses or install files are unavailable.

To clone the drive means minimal disruption and nothing to set up. It also means all apps, settings and files are carried across in the cloning process. The downside is if you have any junk, bad settings or viruses, they will be carried across too.

Please note that to clone your drive using the process we outline below, the SSD must be the same size or larger (to clone a drive to a smaller capacity SSD you will need to do this through the use of software, such as Acronis True Image).

In either case, you may need some additional equipment -

If you're cloning you'll want to get a dual-bay HDD Dock like this:

If you need to transfer your files, then you either need a USB stick or external USB drive, or if you have lots of data and/or none of the formerly mentioned licences, you will need a single bay version of the dock or one of these to connect to your old drive.

If you're going with the blank SSD option you will need to create a bootable USB stick.

I mention this now because if this is the only computer you have, you'll want to do this before shutting down your computer and removing your disk drive.

To access your old drive for removal (and to replace with your new one) will depend or your Laptop/Desktop. Please make sure your unit is turned off and unplugged.

Most desktop or tower PCs have easy-to-remove side panels. Once removed, you should be able to access your old drive for removal (and to replace with your new one). You will need to remove the SATA data and SATA power connectors (that look like this):

The SATA connector may have a retaining clip like this that needs to be pushed in to release:

Laptops vary wildly, and some have nice convenient access panels on the

bottom. Others, however, make it more complicated to access the disk drive.

My suggestion is to go to YouTube and search "[Your_make_and_model] SSD upgrade" then judge for yourself if this is something you are comfortable with doing.

Once you have gained access to the drive-in question, remove the larger power cable and the smaller SATA (data) cable, looking for the retaining clip pictured above. Although not on all cables, you can cause damage if the retaining clip isn't pushed in when removing.

Depending on your choice earlier (clone or copy), you will either have an SSD you have cloned with your HDD dock or have a blank SSD.

If you cloned your disk drive, you're done - just put everything back together and start using your machine!

If you have a blank SSD, we need to create a bootable Windows 10 USB and install windows. Tutorial coming soon.