By January 13, 2011

SSD bypass for a Netbook

OCZ With Christmas coming, I decided to give my netbook a present – performance upgrade in the form of a 64 GB SSD hard-drive from OCZ. Was it a practical gift or just an expression of love for the undeperforming cutie?

Remember when Apple charged an arm and a leg and a kidney for a 64GB solid-state drive in the original MacBook Air? Fortunately, those days are gone. With SSD drives prices in a slow free-fall, a very decent drive can be had for less than £100 pounds.

That still wasn’t the case a year ago when I purchased my Toshiba NB200 10Z. A great netbook with superb battery life but limitations of netbook-grade hardware were sometimes too annoying. Having maxed out RAM already, transplanting the hard drive was the only performance upgrade left.

I do confess, though. The final impetus in my decision-making were the new MacBook Air’s benchmarks – supposedly underpowered machine achieved surprisingly good results. I know, it uses different solid-state storage technology, but it convinced me that the upgrade would be beneficial.


Getting technical

I purchased the 64 GB version of the OCZ’s Vertex series for £94 from Amazon. The faster Vertex 2 drive can be had for similar money but since it was going to be my private experiment (paid for by me), I decided to play it safe relying on Amazon’s return policy if the drive, for some reason, wouldn’t work in the Toshiba.

The hardware part of the operation is easy but before you embark on your own transplant, make sure you have the right tools. In my case, Toshiba decided to use two Torx 5 screws to hold the hard-drive cover in place. All other screws on the machine are standard. It’s just those two… One more thing, don’t forget to remove/disconnect the battery before the operation.

I decided to clone the netbook’s HDD (interestingly, its a Fujitsu, not a Toshiba) onto the SSD. A clean install, without various bloatware, would certainly make more sense but I didn’t want to have a drive without the emergency backup partition. I also wanted to have two identical drives so I could see the difference in performance.

SONY DSC                       SONY DSC

I put both drives into USB-SATA enclosures and used Acronis True Image installed on my Sony Vaio for cloning. The software enables you to clone a big drive onto a small one by shrinking partitions proportionally which was exactly what I needed. I now have two 30GB partitions (plus the hidden recovery partition) instead of two roughly 80GB “drives” on the old 160 GB HDD.

The cloning lasted about an hour.


Weird and wonderful world of SSDs

With great expectations, I put the drive back into the NB200, reconnected the battery and pressed the start-up button.

It lit up and . nothing happened. There was absolutely no mechanical sound or vibrations. Well, it’s one of those obvious yet magical things about SSDs but it surprised me. It still does 🙂 The machine booted up quickly and smoothly, Windows detected “new hardware” (on which it was installed) and everything worked like a charm.

I ran the latest version of the Crystal Disk Mark utility to obtain some basic benchmarks. Results were rather telling..

05 HDD bench Crystal Disk 1000 MB 06 SSD bench Crystal Disk 1000 MB

07 HDD bench Crystal Disk 50 MB 08 SSD bench Crystal Disk 50 MB


But benchmarks are one thing, real-world user experience may be something else. I was happy to see that things got better. First of all, the start up speed increased dramatically.

I also timed launches of several most used applications to see whether “rumours” that they’d launch much faster on the SSD machines were true. As you can see from the chart below, it was true – up to a point.

Software start up timings

Once the booting process finished, I launched an app and timed it. Then I closed it and launched another one. Once I finished the cycle, I repeated the process launching the same apps in the same order. As you can see, the 2nd run times are pretty much identical as the apps were being launched from memory rather than from the hard-drive.

Overall, the machine also became more responsive. That was to be expected, of course, but there’s one rather unusual improvement.

The NB200 has a rather well documented problem with the trackpad although not everyone experiences it. The trackpad sometimes just falls asleep for a few long seconds. I assume that has something to do with power-saving measures and putting the drive to sleep. It always took an annoying while for the trackpad to wake up but with the SSD the problem is non-existent. Scrolling using the right part of the trackpad also works better.

Apparently, the SSD wakes up in an instant and doesn’t have to spin up. Of course, we’re talking seconds here but the “annoyance factor” is zero now.

Another thing is that the machine doesn’t get as hot now as it used to. I don’t have the measurements but under normal use the fan only kicked in once so far and I guess the reason was the netbook was placed on a pillow that prevented effective heat dissipation.


Spaced out?

I replaced a 160GB drive with one much smaller and that doesn’t really sound like an upgrade. Some may think the performance gain is not enough to justify the loss of data real estate.

So is 64GB enough? Well, my first computer had a 20MB drive (yes that’s megabytes). In 2000, the tangerine Apple iBook came with a 3GB hard-drive and it seemed enough – for three operating systems!

But you don’t have to be old enough to remember Winchester drives to be able to work within a 64GB space. I realized that the original160GB drive was pretty much empty anyway – I still have about 35GB of space available on the 64GB SSD – I have my favourite songs in iTunes, all software I could ever need (and installers for just-in-case scenarios), all my files and still plenty of GB left.



Was it all worth the effort and money? Yes it was. Given the fact that most netbooks contain pretty much same components, SSD upgrade should be beneficial for any machine. If you can justify the price. At £94, a 64GB SSD drive is pricier than a regular half-a-terabyte drive.


Transplant done by: Kristian Klima

Posted in: Editorial

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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