Tuesday, September 4, 2012

It's SSD for Me

I had forgotten that when I ordered my new laptop, I had asked for a solid state drive.

What is a solid state drive?

It's a hard drive with no moving parts.  Think of it as a really large flash drive.  The effect is to speed up the entire process as the general bottleneck is the mechanical hard drive.  Since you speed up access to the data, everything moves faster.

Unfortunately the ssd arrived a few days after I had gotten a dual boot system all set up (Win7+Xubuntu).

How to make the switch?

There are a number of ways to change things around.   I figured I'd use linux to copy everything from the original hard drive to the ssd.  I also set up an external hard drive in case I had to copy things over.

If you are going to perform this, BACK UP ALL OF YOUR DATA.  Seriously.

Someone with a lot of class included an external hard drive case and cables with the ssd.  And some software that boots right from the cd (based on linux).  The directions were clear and concise.  And in several languages.

I was presented with another, easier way to switch things over when I opened the laptop and discovered an additional hard drive bay.  I moved the original drive to the second bay and installed the ssd in the first.  Since I used the original drive, which had mounting hardware attached, the ssd had too much wiggle room so I knew I had to be very careful while cloning the drive.  This wouldn't be a problem for me so much as a very helpful cocker spaniel and a wife without a single graceful bone in her body.

The included software seemed like the way to go, so I read the docs (really, I did!) and booted the cd.  In spite of having a few partitions, I went with the automatic cloning.  The timer said about an hour.  It felt much longer.

Have you ever had to keep a helpful pet from jumping on the couch?  I have.
Have you ever had to remind your wife not to FLOP down on the couch?  I have.

The cd finished and I rebooted.

And nothing happened.

I re-powered and nothing persistently continued to happen.

Of course the manual completely failed to cover this eventuality.  And I refer to it as an eventuality because stuff just seems to happen to me.

So there I was, deflated and on my own.  The wife went to bed and took the helpful cocker with her.

With absolutely no idea what to do, I figured this might be a GRUB error.  GRUB is the linux boot loader that allows one to boot linux and/or other lesser operating systems.  Windows doesn't play nicely with other OSes so if you have to use it, you need to install it first.  Then GRUB will provide you with a basic boot menu to choose which OS you want to use.

I went back and booted to the original hard drive, allowing me to access linux.  I checked and the ssd was cloned; all the partitions were there.

I have never manually used GRUB before so I had very little idea where to start.  There didn't appear to be a GRUB-SEARCH function, so I took a stab at GRUB-INSTALL (lower case, actually).  It's not a particularly good idea to guess at this unless you have lots of time and lots of backups.

If I remember correctly (and I rarely do), it was something along the lines of grub-install /dev/sda.  It happened instantly.

When I rebooted - POOF - there was my boot menu, right on the ssd, where I needed it.  I closed up, took out the original drive, put the hardware on the ssd so it could no longer wiggle and booted into linux.


It started to boot then gave me something about DO NOT TURN OFF THE COMPUTER and did some sort of service pack thing.  Since I had just booted up, I had no intention of turning the computer off.  However, Windows did, so I had to re-reboot, at which point it went further into configuring some sort of service pack, stopping to remind me NOT TO TURN OFF THE COMPUTER again.  After about the third reboot, Windows fully booted and informed me that a service pack had been installed.

Alrighty then.

The speedup in Windows was also dramatic.  Things tended to happen a lot more instantly than with the original hard drive.  I ran another scan to see what Windows thought of the new drive.  It got done then told me it couldn't test the hard drive for some strange reason.  Since the only change was the hard drive, I did what I usually do with Windows; give up and boot into linux.

Ladies and gentlemen (and guitar players), you need to run down to the store and buy the biggest ssd you can afford to install in your laptop (and desktop).  You can also buy smaller ones just for the OS and put your data on a mechanical hard drive.  Either way you will love it.

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