Plenty of software is designed to improve PC performance, but what if that speed boost leaves you hungry for more? A speed boost can be gained with the installation of a solid-state drive (SSD).

A speed boost can be gained with the installation of a solid-state drive (SSD). These drives run faster than traditional hard drives and, with no spinning drive platters, there’s less risk of data loss and less noise to boot.

But replacing your hard drive with an SSD isn’t as simple as opening up the case and slotting one in. If you’re still running Windows XP, you’ll need to upgrade to Vista or, even better, Windows 7 to get maximum performance from the drive.

You also need to check that your Bios is compatible with SSD; type your Bios version and ‘SSD-compatible’ into a search engine to find out whether other users have experienced upgrade issues.

Should you buy an SSD?

Upgrading your laptop’s hard drive with an SSD will give it a noticeable boost, but it’s a costly way to gain more performance.

SSDs are far more expensive per gigabyte than hard-disk drives, which have come down dramatically in price in the past several years.

There are two types of SSD: single-level cell (SLC) and multilevel cell (MLC). An SLC SSD stores data as one bit per flash memory cell; an MLC drive stores two or more bits per cell. MLCs are less expensive than SLCs at the same capacity point, since you need fewer physical flash memory components for greater capacity. However, MLC drives are also slower than SLC units, albeit still much faster than traditional hard drives.

MLC drives are also expensive, particularly those with capacities stretching beyond 200GB. Lesser-capacity MLC drives are more affordable, with an 80GB version costing around £150 and a 120GB model around £300.

SSDs come with much smaller storage capacities than traditional hard drives – some are as low as 30GB – but 120GB and 128GB versions (depending on the flash supplier) deliver the best blend of price, performance and capacity.

Install a solid-state drive

Step 1. We replaced the 250GB Toshiba hard drive in our Acer Ferrari One Windows 7 laptop with a £245 120GB OCZ Apex SSD. Back up your data before even attempting the upgrade. If you’re substituting a smaller-capacity SSD then you may also need to move some files to an external drive.

Install an SSD step 1

Step 2. Next, transfer your data to the SSD. Using a USB drive enclosure is the simplest option, letting you insert the SSD and clone the old drive. We copied the contents to an Iomega external drive and then transferred them to the SSD. If you plan to reinstall Windows on the SSD, see step 3; otherwise, skip to step 4.

Install an SSD step 2

Also see:
How to supplement system RAM with ReadyBoost
How to run older programs in Windows XP Mode
Upgrade Advisor
Windows 7 Advisor