Here’s a checklist when using a SSD as your boot drive for Windows 7.
Check that your SATA controller is in ACHI or RAID mode
Why: A SSD will perform at its best if the SATA controller is in ACHI or RAID mode. This setting enables the SSD to use Native Command Queuing (NCQ), which lets the SSD work on small operations in parallell, greatly improving performance. This is also necessary for TRIM to work.
How: Check your BIOS settings. Upon powering on your system, check for any onscreen messages that says which key to press to enter BIOS. Often DEL or F2 are used. Consult your computer or motherboard manual or search Google if necessary. Look for any settings for harddrive controllers or integrated peripherals.
Further reading: Benchmark Reviews – SSD Benchmark Tests: IDE vs ACHI
Warning: If you do this after Windows is installed, you get a bluescreen. The method described here have worked for me.
Update: You can now run a ‘Fix it’ solution coming directly from Microsoft.
Update to the latest firmware
If your drive don’t come with the latest firmware, be sure to update it. Such updates often fixes bugs and can even make your drive perform better. Since such a firmware update can wipe the entire drive, it’s a good reason to do this before you install Windows. Check the manufacturer’s support page.
Don’t include your SSD in scheduled defragmenting
Why: The flash ram that a SSD is based on, has limited writes to them. Running a defragmenter on a regular basis will shorten your SSD’s life. And since all data on a SSD takes the same amount of time to access, there’s no need to group data together as you would on a regualar harddrive with platters.
How: Windows 7 exludes SSDs from the built-in scheduled defragmenter. If you want to check this, do the following. Search for defrag on the start menu and click on Disk Defragmenter in the list. Click the Configure schedule button and then Select disks… in the second window. In the third window you should NOT see your SSD listed.
If you use another program to defragment your disks, be sure to exclude your SSD!
Check that TRIM is turned on
Why: TRIM is a new ATA Command to support the deletion of files on SSDs. When you delete a file, it’s actually not wiped from the harddrive. Just the reference to the file gets deleted and the space is marked as free. SSDs consists of blocks with pages, where data is stored in the pages. When you delete a file, the pages it occupy gets marked as invalid. When you then write a new file to the block, the invalid pages has to be cleaned first. This process takes time, so your SSD seems to slow down. When you delete a file in Windows 7, the operating system (OS) sends a command to the SSD called TRIM. The SSD then sends the block with invalid data for cleaning. You then get a pool of free blocks and only valid data in the blocks in use. For TRIM to work, the OS must support it (Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Linux (since kernel 2.6.33) does. Update: TRIM Support Enabler for Mac OS X) and of course, the SSD itself has to support it. Most of the new SSDs do. See AnandTech, the Engineering Windows 7 blog and Wikipedia for even more details.
How: Start a Command Prompt as Administrator (search for command in the Start-menu, right click Command Prompt and choose Run as Administrator). Run the command fsutil behavior query DisableDeleteNotify. If ‘1’ is returned, TRIM support is off. Type fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0 to turn it on.
DisableDeleteNotify = 0 means TRIM is ON
DisableDeleteNotify = 1 means TRIM is OFF
Install Intel Rapid Storage Technology drivers
Why: Until version 9.6 of the Intel Rapid Storage Technology (IRST) driver, only the native Microsoft ACHI driver supported TRIM. It is now safe to use the official Intel driver. This driver does NOT support TRIM for SSDs in a RAID configuration, but does pass on the TRIM command to single SSDs when the SATA controller is set to RAID mode (source). This driver also seems to perform better than Microsoft’s, according to several sources.
Warning: This step is only for motherboards with an Intel chipset! I don’t have any knowledge or information for AMD systems. If you do, please leave a comment.
Turn off window animation when minimizing
Why: Apparently Microsoft has set a fixed time for the maximize/minimize animation. If you want Windows to feel snappier, it is recommended to turn this animation off.
How: Just run systempropertiesperformance.exe from the Start-menu (or Run-box) and the Performance Options should open. If not, it can be reached by pressing Windows + Pause/Break on the keyboard, click the link named Advanced system settings to the left in the System window and finally the Settings button under Performance. In the list, uncheck Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing.
If you want a crisper look, you can also uncheck Show shadows under windows.
Turn off the new boot animation
Why: The new glowing Windows logo that animates when booting Windows 7 is really nice. But a SSD is actually so fast that it has to wait for the animation to finish before continue booting.
How: Start System Configuration by entering msconfig on the Start-menu (and press enter). Click the Boot tab and check No GUI boot to turn off the boot animation.
Tom’s Hardware has an interesting article called ‘Can You Get More Space Or Speed From Your SSD‘, where they test the impact on speed and capacity by disabling functions and services. If you read the Engineering Windows 7 blog post I linked to earlier, you know that Windows 7 has been made SSD “aware”; Windows 7 will turn off features not needed for SSDs. So I won’t recommend turning off the pagefile or do any registry changes you’ll find in so called “tweak guides”. I feel most of these recommendations are old tweaks meant for harddrives and older versions of Windows, and often cause more problems than offer better performance. (As an example, I turned off the TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper service and could no longer reach my NAS…) That said, some of the specific SSD tweak guides focuses on turning off logging and other write intensive features in Windows to prolong a SSD’s life. And if you have a really small capacity SSD, I understand if you’ll want to move some folders (i.e. TEMP) to another drive. If you want to try them out, check the sources below.
June 26 2011 – Added Tom’s Hardware Tweaks for SSDs
May 29 2011 – Added info about TRIM support for AMD systems.
April 16 2011 – Added TRIM info and link to Microsoft ‘Fix it’ to ACHI step, a link to ‘TRIM Support Enabler’ to TRIM step and a new step on updating firmware.
July 31 2010 – Added further reading on ACHI-mode, and method for enabling ACHI after Windows is installed.