Installing Solid State Disks (SSDs) on Windows XP

January 5th, 2009 – updated February 8th
Hi,there. If you are reading this, it’s because you’re a dork researching SSDs. And that’s okay. I installed some SSDs recently, and ran in to trouble a couple of times, and found not-a-hell-of-info about itonline. So I thought to myself “I’d better put this online” – partially for folks such as you, partially as a memory-refresher for myself in case my computer ever shits the bed. So here it is. 

I have an Alienware Area-51 tower (not the retarded looking one. Or rather,the less-retarded looking one). My setup included a RAID-0 C: drive and a regular D: drive for project files, running XP Home, with 4GB of RAM(ie XP recognizes 3.25GB). Well, after 2-3 years, I was getting an error on one of the RAID drives and it couldn’t be properly scandisked or defragged or isolated or any of that stuff. Things were still working okay, but it lit a fire under my butt to find a remedy over the holiday, when I wouldn’t be in the middle of a big project (I do graphic design and some animation – check out the top menu if you happen to care). So after some research and thinking, I decided to go slightly out on a limb and go for some “leading edge”-type shit. Solid State Disks. Why:
– no moving parts – ie longevity and stability
– runs cool
– runs silently – compared to a spinning disk; my computer hums like an SOB
– draw less power – obviously more of a laptop concern, but it makes me feel better in some dumb way
– many claims of performance gains – on disk reading times (note there are issues concerning small file writes, necessitating many XP tweaks)
This is not my happy-fun-play-online-games machine. This is my work machine.My sole source of income. My mortgage-payer. So while I am keenly interested in performance and speed, I am also very concerned with downtime. My aim was to install on the day after xmas (a Friday) and have the extended weekend to get it all done – hardware installed,fresh XP install, programs loaded, and preferences reinstated – and beall set for work Monday morning.
I hit newegg,because that’s… Well, that’s where I go. I like that site. When I am uninformed about something (like, oh, I dunno, SSDs), I read the hell out of the user reviews.Mob rule, I say. Anyhoo, I was eyeing the OCZ drives (rebranded Samsung drives, in case you’re price comparing online). NOT the black plasticones, the aluminum ones. The aluminum (more expensive ones) are single layer, the black are multi-layer. SLC’s have better longevity. I limited myself to the 32GB version (since the 64GB is way expensive,and I was gonna RAID 0 anyway, yielding a 50-odd GB drive). They sounded good, but I was contemplating a $600-ish purchase, plus another$20-40 ish for a mounting kit to put a 2.5″ laptop drive into a 3.5″desktop bay. Also, somewhere in the newegg comments, someone wrote”This is no MTRON, but it’s good” (paraphrasing). So I googled MTRON and found this other brand that newegg didn’t carry. I also discovered they were pretty expensive, but well regarded. Unlike theOCZ, which has a really good user forumfull of smart dudes, these MTRONs had very little online presence, justa handful of (glowing) reviews of their best drive from like, mid/late2007. But then I found a PDF of a press release saying Imation had cut a deal with MTRON to rebrand and distribute drives. Which led me here: (that site was completely redesigned right after I posted this… I dunno what’s there now.)
The Imation Solid State Drive MOBI 3000 looked like what I wanted. Now, I had a hell of a time extracting info out of that site… pretty sparse stuff. There are links to PDFs that are all messed up. I eventually got em, and they weren’t all that informative… I finally found a PDF for Imation distributors that told me whether they were SLC or MLC (they are all SLC, FYI). PLUS #1: They are manufactured as 3.5″ drives, so no dumb adapter things. PLUS #2: I found the 32GB 3000 on provantagefor like, low $200s apiece. So the price was better than OCZs and the specs looked good. I sort of wished they were on newegg, and I sort of wished they had the support/online community like the OCZs, but I took the plunge. I purchased two 32GB drives for around $450.
The physical installing was smooth. Never installed a SATA drive before.(And hey, check out the photo below – those SSDs are nice’n’slim compared to a standard drive… neato.) The Alienware chassis allows the whole drive bay to pull out the front, which was cool. Easy-peasey,like Jamie Oliver says. Note that no SATA cables are included. I was recycling one of my old spinning disk RAID drives (you know, the good one, duh) as a scratch drive, so I ended up being short one cable, and had to overpay at Best Buy the day after Christmas. Shoulda bought one online. My big recommendation for installing drives: I have a silver Sharpie. Invaluable for marking the ends of cables. I also wrote thedrive’s serials on their back panels in case I needed to ID them once they were mounted.
Here’s an Alienware/Intel thing:I needed to look up my motherboard (fortunately I had my original reciept still, cos their site support is sort of shit). I ended up downloading an Intel Chipset Utility to ID stuff, then had to get a set of RAID drivers that the Windows XP install would extract off a floppy and integrate into it’s install process ( this is called an F6 install). Intel even offers a ready-made set of stuff to go onto a floppy.Please note that (at least for me), this thing didn’t work. Why? Ithink it’s the way I unzipped the downloaded file. Even though Intel refers to it as “the floppy disk containing the following files:IAAHCI.INF, IAAHCI.CAT, IASTOR.INF, IASTOR.CAT, IASTOR.SYS, and TXTSETUP.OEM “, those files need to be on the floppy in a folder called”$OEM$” or the WinXP installer can’t find them. I gleaned this nugget of information from some random-ass forum somewhere, and I wish I could find it again so I could sign up just to thank the dude that mention edit. So we’ll chalk that up to being my fault.
Here’s an XP thing: Ihad two SSDs RAID 0ed as my C: drive, then my D: drive with all my work files, then the aforementioned former-RAID as a scratch E: disk. but somewhere in the BIOS setup or something, I missed a drive order setting, and Windows got installed on my RAID, but listed my RAID as drive D. Furthermore, I got two blue screen o’ deaths during installation, resulting in the creation of threeWindows folders: Windows, Windows 0, and Windows 1. The first two were setup files only, the “Windows 1” was my actual OS. So needless to say,that first fresh install SUPER-FAST bootup was sort of tainted with sadness, cos that shit was all messed up. I was also getting a triple-boot option because the computer thought I had 3 versions of windows loaded. guh. I had to scrap that install. I un-RAIDed the drives in the BIOS and re-RAIDed them (to ensure all data + root level boot sector stuff was all wiped) and reinstalled XP again. I ended up leaving my 2 extra disks unplugged until Windows was installed properly, then I shut down, plugged them in, set the BIOS drive order,and all was well. Once again, mistakes are all mine. Tough learning curve on this stuff.
Two random things that drove me insane:1. I had to hook up an old PS2 Microsoft keyboard because my USB Apple keyboard wouldn’t work for BIOS or Windows setup stuff. 2. A goddamned FLOPPY?? I know I could’ve slipstreamed a new XP install disk. In fact,I tried a week or so before, went through the whole setup process, and then the damned slipstream program crashed on me. So I didn’t bother trying again. The annoying part is that the only other computer I own with a floppy drive (in order to make – and later alter – the floppy in question) is my old Dell, which is hooked up to my TV set downstairs via the TV out on the video card (for Netflix Watch Instantly & The Colbert Report, yo). The Dell was also where I grabbed the Microsoft keyboard from, so fiddling with a floppy suddenly became a really annoying procedure of running up and down stairs with a flash drive,floppy, and keyboard. Crimony.

OK,so I finally got the goddamned XP installed correctly on my RAIDed SSDs. Let me again mention: hot-ass bootup time. I downloaded ServicePack 3 and started setting up my preferences ‘n’ shit. Then I started going through the notes I’d made on SSD tweaking, and referred heavily to the above-mentioned OCZ forum and this fella had some smart-soundin’ stuff too. I’m not inferring that these folks are wrongabout any of their tips or anything like that, because I am dealing with a different brand drive, different drivers, different motherboard,RAID, etc. These are just a few comments about my experience. Refer totheir links to see the How & Why of these tweaks; I’ll keep my list brief. Here’s what I did and did not do:
* Disable winXP prefetcher – yes
* Turn off hibernation to save space – yes
* Disable the 8.3 Name Creation on NTFS Partitions – yes
* Turn off Indexing on All Drives – yes
* fsutil tweaks (journal and lastaccess timestamp) – yes
* turn off paging file – yes – I ended up turning it off on my SSD and moving it on on my scratch drive
* move Windows TEMP and TMP folders off the SSD – yes – I also moved all my scratch drives – Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects
* auto-updates off – yes
* Disable the Background Disk Defragmenter and Disk Cleanup wizard – yes, though the explanation lists a registry entry I didn’t have, CleanupWiz
* Disable the Windows Search Indexer for Unknown File Types – yes
* DisablePagingExecutive – yes – even microsoft recommends this as a performance gain
* dskcache.exe – yes – Yet another tweak that does not have any *apparent* effect. But I ain’t no bench-marker. No harm done? heh.
* Turn off Windows Disk Caching – NO – This tweak fucked me hard.i right clicked on my SSD RAID in Hardware Manager, disabled it, and my machine locked up, then crashed. I rebooted. it froze at bootup. I rebooted in safe mode. I saw that it was stuck on mups.sys. This is apparently an “infamous” Windows error. Google it. I did. A lot.I fought and wept like a little sad girl for a long time over this shit. Did lots of research. Stayed up til 3AM Saturday night/Sunday morning (remember way at the top of the page when I mentioned wanting to be ready for work Monday morning?… yeah.) Finally gave in, a defeated man. I wiped the drives AGAIN and reinstalled XP AGAIN. Itjust seemed like the only way to move forward. It still hurts, just thinking about it.
* Turn off System Restore – NO– This, in theory, is a perfectly legit and fine tweak. But after the above fuckup, I was starting to get a little nervous, right? I was several days into this process, and kept having to take three steps back, and was panicking just a little. So after the second reinstall ofXP (wait, maybe it was the third?) and after installing a handful ofdrivers and a couple of programs, but before I started on this list of SSD tweaking,I decided to get a backup copy of my C: drive as it was. I used a program recommended by a friend of mine, Drive image XML. This program essentially fucked with my boot sector, screwing with the security permissions of my pagefile.sys file, and immediately crashed my computer. I will not delve into the depths of my feelings about this program. I rebooted and got a popup saying I had no paging file.Regardless of how I set my pagefile (using the regular XP applet or regedit), I would get this popup error at start. I was also unable to shut down, because XP would hit an error on shutdown and auto-reboot.(I realize I can change that setting now, but at the time, it was an extra level of bafflement). So this goddamned problem sent me off on anotherhuge Google search, where I learned tons of useless shit about setting user permissions in Safe Mode, etc. None of this golden knowledge helped, of course. Do you know what saved my ass? Yes, that’s right. SYSTEM RESTORE. If I had tweaked and then tried to use Driveimage, I would’ve been royally fucked and been forced to reinstall yet again. Therefore, my previously ambivalent feelings towards Windows System Restore have been forever changed. I love this thing now. I don’t care what resources it hogs. Hog away, motherfucker. It saved me from heartache on top of heartache.
* Set up a RAM disk – NO– I installed one, Disk Management recognized it and let me format it,then it would either become inaccessible (drive icon turns to a little question mark) or crash my computer. After all the heartache I went through getting everything else right, I REFUSED to fuck with this further. By this point it was late Sunday afternoon and I just had no stomach for anything even remotely risky. Here’s an interesting page saying why RAM disks might not be any good anyway (part of a way bigger, pretty in-depth memory article).
Iam up and running now. Tweaks tweaked and a lean selection of programs loaded. The super fast bootup went away somewhere in there, perhaps due to startup programs and services (I don’t have all that many, but I’m running CS2 and CS3 stuff), or maybe that system restore undid some magic, clogged an artery… I dunno. It is still an acceptably fast boot, and there are no error messages, and after what I dealt with,that feels like a bonafide god-damned victory. My CS3 stuffloads nicely. Word and Acrobat practically open in a blink. Quicktime 7opens like molasses like it always did, because It is a shitty program.After Effects renders slightly faster, but that’s more of an anecdotal feeling than any sort of number-comparison.
I am comparing my experience of having a spinning disk RAID-0 to having an SSD RAID-0, so I’m not super blown away by performance gains as some other people might be. But I feelbetter, knowing the failing disk problem might be a thing of the past for me. Remains to be seen, I reckon. But that’s security for ya.Sometimes it’s just a feeling. The silent-running aspect is a bit moot for me. I went from 3 conventional spinning drives (2 raided,1 for work files) to 2 SSD and 2 spinners (raided pair for OS and program files, 1 spinner for work files, 1 spinner for scratchdisk/temp). The net result is I don’t feel like I’m living in the future or anything silly like that. But my fast computer is still fast.I can still earn a living with it. That’s a good thing. Ho ho ho.
I will re-state for the record: this page isn’t a swipe at any of the smart techie folks I’ve linked to, or Imation, or Alienware, or anything in particular. Just a cautionary bit of advice to bear in mind if you’re thinking of this setup. The willy-nilly acceptance of online advice can bite your fanny sometimes.

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