It’s not often that I get to write a truly “geeky” article, but every once in a while I can manage to sneak one in under the guise of blogging for LOTRO. In this case, I think it’s also pretty relevant in that my recent foray into computer hardware also has a true benefit on my gaming time. So, if you’ll bear with me I’m going to put on my “nerd hat” and talk to you about the wonderful world of Solid State Drives!
Don’t run away! I promise not to get too technical, but instead I’ll do my best to sticking to what I think is relevant to you as a gamer. First, let me explain that my computer system is just about four years old. At the time I put it together (it’s a desktop machine that I built myself) it was pretty solid gaming machine; and it still is. Of course it’s more lower-middle class than it is upper-middle class, but it still handles LOTRO and most other games quite well at their highest resolutions. I won’t bore you with the specs, but for those who are curious we’ll just say it’s a Core 2 Quad Core with 8 GB of RAM.
However, even with these specs one thing that I had noticed lately were longer loading times that were occurring when I played LOTRO. I also noticed a lot of slowing down client-side when a bunch of particle effects were going off and when other kinds of artwork would load. At first I didn’t really mind, but the slowdowns kept occurring more frequently and my frustration started to build. It finally got to the point where I was thinking about purchasing a new computer, but when I got an email about a deal on Solid State Drives I wondered if an upgrade wouldn’t go a long ways to resolving my issues.
Why Use a Solid State Drive?
So why are Solid State Drives (SSD’s) so good for gaming? Well, to be honest they aren’t always so good. In fact, at times it really depends on the game, how it manages files, and sometimes even the solid state drive being used. As Tom’s Hardware discusses in a very in-depth article, a game like World of WarCraft (and LOTRO) that uses large archives to store game assets (artwork, music, etc.) that have to be decompressed during gameplay will find a large advantage in performance. Games that don’t rely upon this kind of storage may not see an actual increase in performance.
One large downside to SSD’s is that they’re pretty limited on space when compared to magnetic drives; even if you’re willing to pay top dollar. So, if you’re a pretty heavy user of your Documents, Music, Video, etc. folder on your C:\ drive you might find yourself using features such as Windows 7’s Libraries so that your larger files can be stored on a second hard drive. For example all the files I use to put together the podcasts are now stored on my previous C:\ drive.
Why? Because my profile for Windows before the SSD installation was over 300 Gigabytes, and my new SSD is only 256 Gigabytes! Needless to say I had to prune a few things out of there before transferring my data over and podcast files, home movies, and music were the main culprits taking up most of that space. So, before you take the plunge I would suggest seeing ho much space certain files are taking up on your hard drive before you make a purchase. You can use a progam like WinDirStat to find that information out for yourself. Also, If you don’t have room for a second drive internally I would strongly suggest getting an external hard drive, looking into cloud storage, purchasing a NAS, moving the data to another computer, or rethinking moving to an SSD. As Goldenstar can attest to, in these days of movie files, iTunes libraries, and large gaming footprints it’s really hard to limit yourself to such a little amount of space.
Note: If you want to get really fancy you could even use symlinks to redirect certain folders (I did this to my profile’s Downloads folder) to other drives to save storage space. However, I don’t advise doing this to your entire profile, your AppData folder, or even your Documents folder as you’ll suffer a big performance hit in doing so. I know because I tried it.
What Hardware do I need?
This can be kind of tricky depending on your current computer. For us the SSD Drives we bought were SATA 3 and while that was fine for Goldenstar, my motherboard only supported SATA 2. So I purchased a controller card as well as a hard drive bracketsince these are smaller (2.5 inch)drives. If you have a desktop you may need the bracket as well as a mount to hold it. You’ll also need to get some SATA data cables. (I wouldn’t count on the hard drive or controller card coming with them.) You may also need some SATA power cables if your power supply does not have them.
How do I switch to an SSD?
Well, if you don’t care about keeping your data then it’s pretty easy. You need to install the drive, choose it as the first hard drive to boot from in the BIOS, and then boot from your installation software. However, if you want to preserve your data then it becomes a bit trickier. For myself and Goldenstar I had no desire to start over fresh if I could avoid it. In retrospect I would have been up a lot faster if I had started fresh, but I wouldn’t have learned as much about the process either.
The guide that was the most help to me was Lifehackers Guide: How to Migrate to a Solid-State Drive Without Reinstalling Windows. (I’m sorry that I don’t have anything for Apple or Linux users, but I would assume the process is fairly similar and that there are some pretty good tools and guides out there already.) It covers pretty much everything I did except for moving the User folders. As I stated before, I suffered a performance hit when I did this so I just made use of Windows Libraries. If space becomes an issue in the future then I’ll probably use symlinks to migrate some of the larger folders over to another drive, but I’m still hesitant to do that. For now it’s not a real concern as I have plenty of space.
Also note that Goldenstar was already using an SSD, but hers was 128 GB while the new one was 256 GB. Her process was a bit different (and much easier). I was still able to use the same tools listed in the guide, but since she has a laptop I used a USB Hard Drive Converter Cableto connect the new drive to the laptop while using EaseUS Partition Master to copy her old hard drive. Once the copy was complete I took the old hard drive out of her machine and replaced it with the new. Her old hard drive now resides in my machine as an additional hard drive.
Is it Worth it?
To be frank, it was INCREDIBLY WORTH IT. It has breathed new life into my machine and it has made me a believer in Solid State Drives. While I still think that they are expensive my hope is that most people looking to purchase one will find some on sale this holiday season. For those of you thinking of getting new computers I would strongly suggest putting forth the extra money in getting an SSD as well (although in some cases it might be cheaper for you to purchase the SSD elsewhere and then follow the lifehacker guide to migrate your new OS over).
And if SSD’s are still outside your price point don’t worry as they will certainly only come down in price and go up in storage capacity as time goes on.