A solid state drive (SSD) is a faster alternative to a traditional built-in hard drive. A PC with a solid state drive will start faster and open programs more quickly, though there's typically less storage space.
Solid state drives vs hard drives
PC hard drives have moving mechanical parts. Their spinning magnetic disks need to get up to speed when you first turn your PC on. Any time you open a file or run a program, the read/write arm needs to physically move about to find the data scattered across the disks.
Because SSDs don’t have any moving parts, they’re ready to go straight away and can retrieve files much faster. They’re lighter and use less battery power than standard hard drives. SSDs are quieter than regular hard drives, plus they keep cooler. Most SSDs come in the shape of 2.5-inch laptop drives, but they can be used in desktop PCs too, with a 3.5-inch adaptor.
SSDs - fast but small
Crucially, SSD storage sizes are smaller than those of normal hard drives, and large capacity SSDs can be more expensive. The largest SSDs are currently about 1TB, and these can cost up to £350. A few ‘hybrid’ drives exist that combine traditional hard drives with a flash memory for storing regularly used data, such as startup files, though these aren’t especially common to find.
If you opt for a mid-range storage size SSD, such as a 256GB SSD drive, you can expect to pay around £80 online. This may not provide enough storage space for you if you have masses of video and music files, but you can keep these stored on your old hard drive.
How to install a solid state drive: step-by-step
Allow yourself plenty of time for this process - cloning your old hard drive, in particular, can take hours. Remember, too, that opening up your computer and replacing its hard drive will invalidate any warranty that you have. If you’ve paid for an extended warranty, check the T&Cs – you may be able to cancel the warranty.
1. Check compatibility
To run an SSD, your computer needs a SATA connection, which is common on modern PCs. Use CPU-Z (cpuid.com) to find your PC’s motherboard model, then search Google to see if it uses SATA. If it uses the older IDE style of connection, it won’t work with an SSD.
2. Choose an SSD
You’ll need an SSD that’s the same capacity as your current hard drive unless you’re happy to delete or back up old files and programs first. Cheap places to buy SSDs include eBay, Amazon and Dabs.com. It’s best to buy one that comes with an upgrade kit.
3. Back up your data
It’s wise to back up your files to an external hard drive before going further, in case of any accidental damage to your PC’s hard drive when you remove it in step 6. It’s best to create a Windows recovery disc as well, in case anything goes wrong in the next steps.
4. SSD drive letter (if needed)
Connect your SSD to your PC externally via a USB point - a USB-to-SATA cable should be included with your SSD drive. It should be recognised as a storage drive with a drive letter assigned (eg F: Drive). If so, move on to Step 5.
If the drive isn't recognised, you’ll need to assign it a letter before you can clone your hard disk to it. Remove any other external drives (such as an external hard drive) then connect the SSD via USB. In the Windows search box, type in diskmgmt then click on disk management. The SSD will be listed as Disk 1 underneath your main hard drive (listed as Disk 0). Right-click on the SSD (not your main hard drive) and select Change drive letter and paths then Change. Choose a letter to use for the drive (pick something from F onwards).
5. Clone your drive
Install the drive-cloning software that came with your SSD. With the SSD connected via USB, run the migration tool and follow the steps. This will clone the contents of your old drive to your new SSD – your files, the Windows installation and the correct system partitions. Be warned, this is a long, slow process, so put the kettle on.
6. With a desktop...
Switch your PC off and unplug it from the mains. Unscrew or unclip the side panel to get inside the desktop. Look for the hard disk and unplug the power and data cables, then slide the drive out – you may need to unscrew it or squeeze the holding clips.
With a laptop...
It varies from model to model, but the hard drive is typically found under a removable panel on the underside of the laptop. Unscrew this panel and put it to one side, then gently pull out the hard drive – sometimes there is a small plastic tab you can pull to help remove it.
7. Install the SSD
Insert the new drive exactly as you found the old one, replacing any screws, clips and panels. Desktop PC owners may need a bracket to fit a 2.5-inch SSD in a 3.5-inch drive bay. Some SSDs come with these, or they can be bought for about £2 online.
8. Restart your PC
Turn your computer on. If everything has been carried out correctly, Windows should now start up much
more quickly than before, and programs will open much faster. Test your system to make sure everything is as it should be and that all of your programs are able to run as normal.
9. Free hard drive!
There’s no need to throw out the old hard drive that you removed from your computer – it can work perfectly well as an external storage drive for backing up your files. You can fit it into a USB caddy (£10 online) and connect it via the same USB-to-SATA cable used in step 4.