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Can You Get More Space Or Speed From Your SSD?

Clearly the SSD tweaking scene isn't as cut and dry as following a simple how-to guide. Some tweaks hurt performance. Some help performance. Some free up capacity. And others are automatically done for you by intelligent operating systems, often times leaving you with very little to manually change.

The best part about running benchmarks, though, is that we can help quantify the effects one way or the other. For instance, we know definitively now that disabling write-cache buffer flushing on an Intel X25-M is an emphatically bad idea. OCZ's Vertex 2, on the other hand, seems pretty darned unaffected by any of our poking and prodding. The question we're left with at the end of this exploration is: what benefit does tweaking an SSD actually present to the enthusiast always looking to maximize the value of his purchase?

Perhaps the most significant gain comes from a boost in accessible capacity. Freeing up any space on an SSD is perfectly welcome. However, a few extra gigabytes make a profound difference on 40 and 60 GB boot drives, which are already crowded after a default operating system installation. In our experience, it's possible to milk an extra 10 GB or so from an SSD by deploying just a handful of adjustments. And while those tweaks are the most controversial, they also stand to deliver the best value to power users who know what they're doing.

We expect the biggest outcry will come from the contingent of folks who simply cannot get behind disabling the paging file. There are good points to be made on both sides of this debate. And while we'll refrain from encouraging you one way or the other, we will say that, if you want to give life without a paging file a try, keep an eye on memory usage for a bit first. You want to be darned sure that your peak memory use, plus a healthy buffer between 25 and 50%, doesn't exceed your installed memory capacity. For instance, if you're only rocking 6 GB of RAM, you wouldn't want to see memory usage exceed 3.5 or 4 GB. If it does, consider installing more memory before taking a risk with your machine's stability.

Many folks will also try their hands at tweaking in order to minimize writes. NAND flash cells have limited write endurance, and much has been made about the potential of solid-state storage to simply stop taking new data after a certain number of program/erase cycles. Although we don't have any way to test for this definitively right now, the hype surrounding write endurance is greater than the actual concern you should have about it. Don't believe us? Take Intel's recent warranty adjustment as an example. Despite transitioning to 25 nm MLC-based flash on its SSD 320 drives, the company increased its warranty coverage from three to five years. Tweaking for the sole purpose of minimizing writes is very likely unnecessary.

At the end of the day, you're the one who has to decide if any of these adjustments are worth your time. Microsoft does a commendable job optimizing the latest version of Windows 7 for systems with SSDs, leaving little to tweak manually. If you're willing to take a few risks, though, there is capacity under the hood you can free up. Just don't expect to see additional performance.

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