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Top 7 Tips to Get the Most from your SSDs

By Justin Heyes on March 24th 2016

Upgrading your computer with a solid state drive is one of the best things you can do to increase performance. A solid state drive will speed up everything that requires disk access – from boot times to opening Lightroom Catalogs – but without proper maintenance, the speedy SSD will begin to slow over time. Here are my top 7 tips for getting the most from your SSDs.

crucial-ssd

1. Enable TRIM

TRIM is essential for keeping SSDs in tip-top shape. What is TRIM exactly? TRIM is a command that allows an operating system to inform a solid-state drive which blocks of data are no longer considered in use and can be wiped internally. Unlike a mechanical drive, when writing new data, an SSD can only write to empty blocks. Drives without TRIM enabled have to partially move large pieces of information, wipe out all the blocks containing it, and finally, write the new data onto those blocks. TRIM prevents your drive from making unnecessary writes and being overused.

For Windows, SSDs are usually detected when installed and TRIM is enabled for all drives. Apple, on the other hand, does not support TRIM on most third party SSDs, and it is disabled by default. If your computer came with an SSD pre-installed, you have TRIM enabled. For those who upgraded later, you have to run trimforce in the terminal with the following command:

Sudo trimforce enable

SSD-Trimforce

Apple does not want to be held responsible if your SSD’s hardware doesn’t implement TRIM correctly and you run into an issue. However, TRIM was added shortly after SSDs hit the market and unless you have an early model of SSD, your drive should support TRIM.

[REWIND: Samsung T1 External SSD – Tiny & Blazing Fast| Review]

2. Don’t Wipe the Drive

Assuming you are using an operating system that supports TRIM, you never need to overwrite or “wipe” the free sectors. This is important when using a mechanical drive, as files are not deleted immediately. Mechanical drives will be marked as deleted, but until they are overwritten, data can still be recovered.

The way TRIM works is that once something is deleted, it is removed from the drive; the OS sends a command to erase the data completely and can not be recovered. If you use any wiping software on SSD, it is going to degrade your SSD life by making unnecessary write cycles.

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3. Update Your Firmware

SSD manufacturers issue firmware updates throughout the lifetime of the solid state drive. Though the goal is to provide a product that is ‘set it and forget it,’ manufacturers sometimes need to release updates that can address technical issues and bugs. Sometimes a firmware update can even offer a performance enhancement and better drive reliability.

Firmware upgrades can be a bit of a hassle, with many requiring access to an optical drive and blank disc to burn an ISO. It is highly recommended that you backup all your data before upgrading the firmware. Check the manufacturer’s product page for updates and details.

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4. Move Your Cache Folder to a RAM Disk

In a previous article, we explained how creating a RAM Disk can boost Lightroom and Photoshop performance. The article briefly mentioned moving your cache to a RAM Disk will help extend the life of your SSD. Having your cache write in a RAM Disk prevents unwanted wear to your drive. Moving your cache folder to a mechanical drive has the same benefits without the performance boost to programs or taking away system resources.

[RELATED POST: Super Charge Lightroom and Photoshop With a RAM Disk]

5. Don’t Fill to Full Capacity

SSDs may suffer performance issues, especially in writing speed, when the drive reaches full capacity. It is easier for the drive to write to an empty cell when there is free space available. When the drive is full, the SSD needs to find out which blocks are partially filled, move that information into a cache and then write it back to the drive. It is best to have 10-15% of your drive set aside for free space, to keep a good balance between performance and space utilization.

Consumer-grade solid-state drives often set aside about 7% of their total flash storage and make it unavailable to the user; this is called over provisioning, and it is the reason you see drives in capacities of 120 GBs and 240GBs. The preserved space simply gives the controller/firmware room for stuff like TRIM, Garbage Collection, and Wear Leveling.

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6. Don’t Defrag

When data is stored on a drive, it often ends up in various parts of the drive. This slows down HDDs because the drive’s head needs to move from place to place to read all the little bits of information. This can be fixed using a process called defragmentation, which is built into recent versions of Windows. The location of data on an SSD is pretty much irrelevant, as it can quickly access any of it regardless of where it is; defragging an SSD is not only unnecessary but bad for the drive as well.

[Related: How To Use An HDD/SSD Docking Station For Inexpensive & Effective Backup]

7. Don’t Store Large Files

The ideal file types that should be stored on an SSD are ones that need to be accessed quickly and frequently. Operating system files and program files are perfect for this. In a world of Netflix and Spotify, storing large files like movies or your music collection on your hard drive are a thing of the past. Storing files like these on an SSD not only takes up what little space it may have, but also will see no performance gain. It is not a good idea to store your media collection on a solid-state drive, as you will not notice if your media files are played from an HDD or SSD.

[Related: New Test Reveals Modern SSDs Can Handle ‘A Thousand Years’ Of Use]

SSDs cost more per gigabyte than their mechanical brethren. However, what they lack in capacity, they make up for in reduced power consumption, less noise, and significantly increased speed. SSDs are immune to the same factors that make HDDs crash and fail, but they are not without their problems. Every time you write to your drive, you are bringing it one step to its eventual failure. Fortunately, those steps are very tiny and with proper care and maintenance, an SSD can last well beyond its usefulness (or until you replace it with something better).

About

Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

5 Comments

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  1. Rob LaRosa

    “Having your cache write in a RAM Disk prevents unwanted wear to your drive. ”

    Exactly what kind of wear are you speaking of? Isn’t the point of a SOLID State Drive that there are no moving parts to wear out?

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    • Chris Janzen

      It’s been said that SSD drives have a limited number of write cycles, but that amount is massive.

      I just did some googling and found a decent article on some endurance testing for SSD drives which actually explains the process of how an SSD wears out so if you want to nerd out for a bit it’s a good read.
      http://techreport.com/review/27909/the-ssd-endurance-experiment-theyre-all-dead

      Short version – the first 250GB drive to fail failed just before having 900 TB written to it, and They’re saying an average user will only use a few TB a year so really your whole computer system will be replaced before the SSD wears out.

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    • Dave Haynie

      The point is that flash memory — all kinds of flash memory — wears out. It’s of course an entirely different wear mechanism than the mechanical HDD, but it’s still wear.

      Flash memory works basically by trapping a charge in a special transistor with a thing called a floating gate. This is basically a bit of semiconductor trapped between two insulators, usually made of silicon oxide. When you write to a flash, you’re putting a charge on that floating gate, and once written, the charge doesn’t change (well, at least for a decade or so) because it’s isolated by the insulators. This occurs using a high-ish voltage and a thing called Fowler–Nordheim quantum tunneling… essentially, those electrons are “tunneled” though that insulator. And that’s where the wear occurrs… you can only do that for so long before that thin oxide layer starts to degrade.

      It also depends on the kind of flash in your SSD. An Enterprise-level SSD has an “SLC” Flash (one bit is stored per flash cell). That means that the charge put on the floating gate is “on” or “off”, essentially. These parts can last for 100,000 erase-write cycles, but as the parts have shrunk, the cells are smaller, with thinner insulators, and so the cells die sooner. In cheap consumer drives, there are MLC Flash chips, which store 2 or 3 bits of information per flash cell. Which sounds weird at first, but what you actually have there is that the memory chips store four or 9 different charge levels, not just “charge” and “no charge”. So for the same bit of gate damage, the ability to accurately read the cell’s value fails much sooner. As a result, these chips have much shorter lives than SLC, some at 10,000, 5000, or even just 3,000 cycles.

      But that’s not the whole story… all SSDs also do a thing called write leveling. Think of it this way. Let’s say I decided to write to the first sector on a 1TB drive 100,000 times. If I actually did that on a typical consumer drive, it would die long before I got to 100,000. But what actually happens is that the drive is mapping that first sector to a different physical location in flash every time I do that write… and since I have 244K sectors on that drive (assuming 4K sectors), I don’t even write each of them once. This is why the drive life for SSDs these days is specified in total bytes transferred.

      Write leveling is also why it is completely insane to defrag an SSD… even the OS has no idea where in memory the data is actually stored. And it doesn’t matter. Fragmentation on HDDs is a problem because of the seek time of a drive — your 100MB/s starts to look more like 1MB/s or less if you have to do a 10ms seek in-between every super-fast read. Never an issue on SSDs.

      This is one reason SSDs aren’t recommended for very large files in the main article. Doing plain old everyday operating system and application stuff, you’ll probably never wear out an SSD… at least, in practical terms, there will be a much cheaper one that’s much better that you just can’t say “no” to, long before the drive shows significant wear. But drop a dozen 50GB video files on it every week, and … well… it’ll still take you 29 years or so to wear it out. But not 1,000…

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  2. Chris Janzen

    Something to look out for before enabling trim on your SSD on a mac. Just did a quick google search on the process before doing it and found out that my SSD does not support TRIM with OSX (it’s on a blacklist in the Linux Kernel). Mines a Samsung SSD 840 EVO 500gb and I found out it’s on the blacklist. On some drives (such as mine) when the trim is enabled, it gets the process wrong and instead of clearing the space of the deleted file it clears somethings else. Not everyone has had problems with it, but some have.
    referenced from here:
    http://www.howtogeek.com/222077/how-to-enable-trim-for-third-party-ssds-on-mac-os-x/
    Black list from Linux Kernel:
    /* devices that don’t properly handle queued TRIM commands */
    { “Micron_M500*”, NULL, ATA_HORKAGE_NO_NCQ_TRIM |
    ATA_HORKAGE_ZERO_AFTER_TRIM, },
    { “Crucial_CT*M500*”, NULL, ATA_HORKAGE_NO_NCQ_TRIM |
    ATA_HORKAGE_ZERO_AFTER_TRIM, },
    { “Micron_M5[15]0*”, “MU01”, ATA_HORKAGE_NO_NCQ_TRIM |
    ATA_HORKAGE_ZERO_AFTER_TRIM, },
    { “Crucial_CT*M550*”, “MU01”, ATA_HORKAGE_NO_NCQ_TRIM |
    ATA_HORKAGE_ZERO_AFTER_TRIM, },
    { “Crucial_CT*MX100*”, “MU01”, ATA_HORKAGE_NO_NCQ_TRIM |
    ATA_HORKAGE_ZERO_AFTER_TRIM, },
    { “Samsung SSD 8*”, NULL, ATA_HORKAGE_NO_NCQ_TRIM |
    ATA_HORKAGE_ZERO_AFTER_TRIM, },

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  3. Albert Chow

    Should I put my bootable VHS (for Windows 7, 8 and 10) files on SSD? How about the virtual file for virtualbox and fusion on SSD?

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