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Scott's Column
Computer Upgrades

April 2, 2014
By Scott Lewis

My current computer was built in 2010 with the intent of fairly serious gaming. Unfortunately I don't have as much time for gaming as I did, or even thought I would. The computer runs pretty well, and is still capable as a gaming machine, though some of the latest games are going to require turning down the video settings.

However, as I use my computer more and more for photography, I am feeling the pain. When working with multiple photos in Photoshop I definitely have lag due largely to hard drive thrashing.

I wanted to do some minor upgrades, that would provide the most bang for my buck. I figured the two best upgrades for the money would be an SSD (Solid State Drive) and more memory (RAM).

I currently have a 1 TB HDD (Hard Disc Drive) and 4 GB of memory. I was at Fry's helping a friend of a friend get the parts to build his first computer. So I pulled the trigger on the parts.

I bought a 240 GB SSD. This should give a significant boost to Windows overall performance since it will be running from the super fast SSD (and not the slower hard drive). Also, Photoshop and all my other applications will be installed to the SSD giving all of them a boost. Remember, SSDs are what they put in those "Ultra" portable laptops and the MacBook Air that allow them to turn on almost instantly.

I also bought 16 GB of memory (4 - 4 GB modules). My motherboard has 4 memory slots, and supports a maximum of 16 GBs of memory. This should also help Photoshop when holding open multiple photos, since it won't need to swap memory to disc as much. Win-win.

And yes... I am running the 64 bit version of Windows 7, so it can use all the memory. 32 bit Windows only uses 3 GB, even if you have more installed.

In preparation for migrating my desktop to use an SSD... I had to move as many files off the internal HDD as possible. Since I already have an external drive attached to the computer full time, it was just a matter of moving most of the files there. However, there was more to it than that. For instance, to free enough space I had to move all my music and podcast files that iTunes uses. I moved them to the external drive, then pointed iTunes at that drive so it could still access all the files.

I uninstalled all of my games. I will reinstall a couple after the upgrade just in case I have the spare time to get into them. I won't know until later if I will be able to install games on the fast SSD, or install them to the HDD. It depends on how much free space will be on the SSD after the migration is complete.

I wish I kept better notes when I was deleting and moving files around. I missed writing down a few step below, but this gives you a good idea what was involved. NOTE: All sizes below were just from the main screen looking at the drive in Explorer. Nothing fancy, just what Windows said was there and free.

Starting Point: C: = 114 GB Free of 931 GB = 817 GB of data
Goal: C: < 731 GB Free of 931 GB = 200 GB or less data to clone


114 GB free - Starting Point
247 GB free - Moved Downloads to External HD
278 GB free - Moved Zune Transcode files to External HD
330 GB free - Moved Zune Movies to External HD
370 GB free - Moved all my "files" (documents, etc, including deleting 2 Win XP VMs)
648 GB free - Moved iTunes Library (music & podcasts)
794 GB free - Uninstall games
                   DC Universe Online
                   Assasin's Crred 2
                   Blur
                   Crysis
                   Dishonored
                   Far Cry 1, 2, & 3
                   Need For Speed... Hot Pursuit & Most Wanted
                   Star Wars Old Republic
                   Starcraft II

Final Result: C: 794 GB free of 931 GB = 137 GB to clone

With 137 GB to clone, that leaves plenty of room to install apps and such on a 240 GB SSD.

I ran a Full Backup of My PC (all my files, both on the external and internal drive) to my server (just in case).

I opened the computer and attached the SSD. With the case still open, I used EaseUS Backup to clone the C: Drive to the SSD. I unplugged the C: Drive and booted from the SSD. Yea... is was FAST!!! I made sure everything was working. I then removed the old memory (2 - 2 GB modules) and replaced it with the 16 GBs of memory. It booted right up.

Next up was to plug the HDD back in and and boot again. Now the HDD is the D: drive, bumping my optical drive to E:.

The only weird part of the install was the system partition on the SSD. EaseUS Backup made that partition (a.k.a. the MBR) 28 GB. I would not have looked for it if it wasn't that Windows saw the SSD as 195 GB. I know you never get the claimed size on the box, but only 195 from 240 GB. That was drastic. I shrank the partition down to 100 MB, the same size as it was on my 1 TB HHD. Then I had to create a new partition on that free space. Then I was able to merge the two partitions together... resulting in Windows seeing 227 GB (out of 240).

Everything else went smoothly... because I took the time to prepare before hand. I had backups of every important file, should something bad have happen. I could have installed Win 7 from scratch if necessary, but that would have taken much longer, and been a nightmare to get every little setting and every single app installed. Yikes! I didn't plan for that, but I could have.

Conclusion

The PC is so much faster for everyday tasks like e-mail, web surfing and Photoshop. It takes about 15 seconds to boot now, and many apps launch almost instantaneously. Makes me wonder how it will do with games. But games are very video intensive. Hmmm... I have been eyeing a new video card!!!

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