The ultimate guide to SSD management

From file wrangling to housecleaning,
these tips will help you get the most
out of your supercharged storage.

IF YOU’RE STILL using a mechanical hard drive, you might consider upgrading to a solid-state drive—it will give your PC a speed boost on everything from boot times to game loading screens.

SSDs aren’t the perfect replacement for mechanical hard drives just yet, however, due to their far higher per-gigabyte costs and a few quirks. Read on to learn how to put that rip-roaring SSD to best use.

Move programs and games

Your SSD should hold your Windows system files, your installed and regularly used programs, and any games you’re currently playing.

On the SSD, they’ll load lickety-split.

If you’re retaining a mechanical hard drive to serve as wingman, it should store your media files, documents, and any files you access infrequently, as these items don’t benefit from an SSD’s blinding speed.

When you’re installing a program, choosing its destination drive is easy. Moving applications after the fact is trickier. You can move your entire Steam folder, for example, to a new drive and simply run the Steam.exe file to launch it and then play your games. Most programs, however, will display errors if you attempt to drag and drop their folder elsewhere. You’ll either need to uninstall the program and reinstall it to the new location or use symbolic links.

With symbolic links (aka symlinks), you can move a directory but make Windows perceive it at its original location. To create a symbolic link, you use the mklink command in a Command Prompt window. (Search for cmd.exe in Windows’ Run box to bring up the Command Prompt. To create a link outside your user folder, you’ll need to open the Command Prompt window as an administrator.) To move C: Example to your D: drive, you’d first drag the C:Example folder over to D:Example in Windows Explorer, and then you’d run the mklink /d C: Example D: Example command. Afterward, whenever a shortcut, Registry entry, or any other component of Windows looks up C: Example, the pointer transparently redirects it to D:Example.

Arrange Windows system folders

You can move your main user-data folders easily. For instance, to shift the Videos folder over from your main system drive (the SSD) to your secondary drive (the mechanical one), first locate the Videos folder within C:Usersyourusername. Right-click it and choose Properties, and then open the Location tab and select a new place for it. You will still see a folder at CJsersyourusernameVideos, and that folder will continue to appear as part of your Videos library, but its contents will reside on the other drive. This arrangement also works for your Music, Pictures, Documents, and Downloads folders.

In addition, you can choose the drive on which Windows is installed. If you’re setting up the computer from scratch and installing Windows yourself, click the Custom option in the installer and choose your SSD as the destination. If you’re buying an SSD later, you can move the operating system to that new SSD with a drive-cloning program, or just reinstall Windows (after backing everything up).

Keep some space free

SSDs slow down as you fill them because the drive ends up with a lot of partially filled blocks, which the drive writes to more slowly than it does empty blocks. Plan on using a maximum of 75 percent of the drive’s capacity for the best performance.

With storage at a premium, you’ll want to eliminate junk files regularly. For example, Nvidia’s graphics driver updates leave an unnecessary folder under C:NVIDIA after you install them. This folder contains the installer files, which you would require only for reinstalling or repairing the driver. They take nearly 500MB of space that you could put to better use.

A utility such as the free CCleaner (www.piriform.com/ccleaner) can scan your drive for unnecessary temporary files and delete them. And the WinDirStat tool (windirstat.info) can help you figure out where your storage space is going.

Should you reduce writes to your SSD?

SSDs can accept only a limited amount of writes before they start to fail. Sounds scary, yes—but don’t sweat it.

You’ll get many years of use out of an SSD without hitting its write-cycle cap, especially if you store media files and documents on a mechanical hard drive. And even if you don’t do that, you’ll likely buy new hardware long before your SSD gives up the ghost.

You could avoid saving temporary files to your SSD—you could, say, redirect your browser cache and Photoshop scratch disk to a regular hard drive. Doing so, however, will lead to slower performance when your PC needs to access those files. You’re probably better off tolerating the greater amount of writes for the increased performance.

Don’t defrag your SSD! Avoid defragmenting a solid-state drive. Period. On an SSD, shuffling all those bits around wouldn’t improve performance, but it would involve many extra writes and therefore reduce your drive’s life span.
Let TRIM run wild
Solid-state drives can write data only to empty sectors. If an SSD needs to modify a filled sector, it has to read that sector, note the contents, modify them, erase the sector, and then write the modified contents. The extra steps take time.
An operating system typically deletes a file merely by marking its data as deleted and erasing the pointer to it; that old file’s data still exists, and the OS overwrites it only when that space becomes necessary for writing new files. The TRIM command, however, tells an SSD to erase and consolidate cells that are no longer in use, so writing to those sectors in the future will be as fast as when the drive was new.
In Windows 7 or later, TRIM is enabled by default. TRIM doesn’t work on Vista or XP. On older OSs you’ll need to use a third-party SSD management tool (such as Samsung’s SSD Magician or Intel’s SSD Optimizer) to force TRIM, or follow the trick outlined in our guide to restoring an SSD to peak performance.
Unless you need to force TRIM, skip “SSD optimization” software. Newer operating systems use TRIM by default anyway, and your SSD’s firmware already includes “garbage collection” tools that perform housekeeping tasks. There’s no evidence that any extra utility can improve on those operations.

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