I’ve been tracking solid state drives (SSD) for years now, always thinking they were beyond my financial grasp. I finally chose to make the leap recently, thanks in part to a brief mention of SSDs by Carlton Collins, and now there’s no going back. If my article sounds like technical mumbo-jumbo so far, let me clarify: Laptop and desktop computers have traditionally shipped with mechanical hard drives, which spin a stack of magnetic plates that save or retrieve information and launch programs. However, an SSD has no moving parts and could be thought of as additional memory that you add to your computer that retains what you’ve stored when you turn the computer off. Because an SSD isn't mechanical, it’s extremely fast.
Although I haven’t set a timer against it, I can turn on my new computer and be logged into Windows within what feels like 10 seconds. Programs like Excel load instantaneously, others almost as quickly. Now, not every activity is turbo-charged: For example, exporting a report to Excel from my accounting software still takes longer than I would expect, but overall the performance is life-changing for me. Historically I get about 18 months out of my primary laptop computer. Recently I’ve been feeling as if I have attention-deficit disorder, as it would take my previous computer so long to perform a simple task that I kept finding myself trying to compensate by flitting off to another activity. That’s no longer the case with my new computer. It’s been the difference between slogging along through mud and flying along on a zip line over the mud.
Due to the price, you may end up with a smaller SSD than you’d like, but I’ve already used a few tricks maximize the available space:
- Storage hygiene: First, I performed a search of gigantic files by way of Windows Explorer, as shown in Figure 1. This allowed me to unearth and remove numerous video files that I no longer needed to store, along with other Brontosaurus-type files.
Figure 1: It’s easy to ferret out large files on your computer in Windows 7 and later.
- Program hygiene: Instead of loading up every single program that I had on my old laptop, I’m being choosier this time, and only including my go-to applications. I can add others as needed, and I also removed any of the preloaded programs that shipped with my computer that I’ll never use. To review the programs on your computer, access the Programs and Features section of the Windows Control Panel, and then follow the steps shown in Figure 2. I also use the Custom Installation option if available when loading programs such as Microsoft Office. Although my work requires that I install four versions of Excel (Excel 2013, 2010, 2007, and 2003), I don’t also need four versions of PowerPoint, for instance, nor do I yet see the benefit of OneNote.
Figure 2: The Windows Control Panel allows you to remove unwanted programs and features.
- Windows hygiene: As shown in Figure 2, I reviewed the list of Windows features and expunged any that I won’t ever use. I can always add these back on demand. Be careful here, though—removing the XPS Services feature inadvertently caused a conflict in QuickBooks for me. XPS stands for XML Paper Specification, which for as long as I can remember has been Microsoft’s counter to Adobe’s PDF (Portable Document Format). Apparently some programs do rely on the XPS Services to create PDF files, so make notes of the features that you turn off so that you can unwind your actions if needed.
- Turn off Hibernation: I found the hibernation file on my computer consumed 16 GB of space (the same as my available RAM). The differences between hibernation and sleep are a bit nuanced, but know that hibernating a laptop will cost you a chunk of hard drive space. You can manually turn off hibernation, but this Fix it For Me tool from Microsoft saved me from digging through arcane settings. I use the Sleep mode in lieu of hibernation, but even if I were booting up from a cold start the difference would be almost imperceptible, other than having open files and programs again.
- Tweak Virtual Memory: I also adjusted my settings to have a maximum virtual memory of 4 GB, instead of the default 16 GB of space (also the same size as my available RAM). I haven’t noticed any perceptible difference in performance by adjusting this setting.
After making these changes I went from less than 30 GB of free space on my new SSD to close to 90 GB. I’ll still need to keep a weather eye on my hard drive, and some point I might try one of the 5 Best Hard Drive Space Analyzers that Lifehacker recommends, but I’m good to go for now.
I look forward to seeing where I stand in 18 months. I’m not one to pay attention to the fragmentation of my hard drives, and amidst the fray, my laptop sometimes gets put in my computer bag while it’s still running, which results in heat stress—in short, I’m hard on my computers. Although I didn’t run the numbers, I’d say I paid an extra $500 for my current laptop, but that I’ve already recouped much of that premium in time savings. If nothing else, I’m happy to have paid a bit more to feel like the guy sitting in this chair.
About the author:
David H. Ringstrom, CPA, heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based software and database consulting firm providing training and consulting services nationwide. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter. David speaks at conferences about Microsoft Excel, teaches webcasts for CPE Link, and writes freelance articles on Excel for AccountingWEB, Going Concern, et.al.