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Could An SSD Be The Best Upgrade For Your Old PC?

Conclusion

There are definitely situations where storage isn't a bottleneck. In those applications, spending a lot of money on an SSD doesn't make sense. That's usually the case for netbooks and nettops, which are so grossly underpowered anyway that solid-state technology would really only be useful for improving ruggedness or making a dent in power use. SSDs also won't help when you're running workloads that specifically tax CPU and graphics resources; when either of those two subsystems are a bottleneck, no increase in storage throughput is going to help push more data through them.

However, our test results demonstrate that it does make sense to install a fast solid-state drive, even in a several-year-old system. It'll speed up the boot process, accelerate application loading times, and enable snappier responsiveness. In some cases, it still makes more sense to spring for a processor of graphics upgrade first. But we also saw examples in PCMark 7's suite where an SSD makes more difference than any other component. 

SSDs aren't typically in consideration as an upgrade for older machines. Processors, graphics cards, and memory are certainly more common choices. But if you're spending most of your time in office productivity apps, browsing the Internet, or watching video/listening to music, an older Core 2 setup is still respectable. And anything you buy to modernize it is going to require some replacing. A new CPU necessitates a motherboard (and probably memory) as well. A high-end graphics card could stick you with a power supply upgrade. But so long as your platform has a SATA controller with AHCI support, adding an SSD is about as painless as it gets.

So long as you're running at least an Athlon 64 X2 or Core processor and at least a couple gigabytes of memory, an SSD could end up being the most significant upgrade available to you. Of course, if you're a gamer, a new graphics card is almost always going to be the way to go. For everyone else, though, an SSD will almost certainly facilitate more performance than a RAM upgrade, and it might very well out-class a new processor, too. You don't even need to go all-out on an SSD. Simply adding a 64 or 128 GB drive for your operating system and most performance-sensitive apps can make all of the difference. You're looking at a game-changing piece of hardware for somewhere between $120 and $250 bucks. 

With all of that said, none of the machines we built were enthusiast-oriented setups. The conclusions we're drawing relate to the mainstream folks trying to get more life from an already-aging box. If all-around performance is your raison d'être, we have to acknowledge our enthusiast roots and recommend ditching that four- or five-year-old technology and discover the wonders of a PC built from the ground-up with balance in mind.

  • MAGPC
    SSD is just too exaggerated, yes it is faster than HDD and may be more reliable but that doesn't justify its price.

    Waiting until it is price gets reasonable.
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    The conclusions we're drawing relate to the mainstream folks trying to get more life from an already-aging box

    since its for mainstream, i would have liked a subjective test where some 'average' folks, doing 'average' tasks, would use the machines with/without SSD's, and rate the perceived speed on a scale of 1=10.
    those should have been included as well. most people "feel" the speed, rather than benchmark it.
    Reply
  • Can you run gaming/photoshop/actual applications instead of benchmarks?
    Reply
  • Please do a test with a Pentium 3 + KingSpec PATA SSD.
    I'm very curious about the results. My Dell Lat C400 is chugging along just fine on Windows 7 but I believe a SSD would greatly improve performance.
    Reply
  • I recently bought a Transcend 32GB SSD to be my Boot Drive in my 5+yr old system- Athlon64 3200+ (Venice) S939 , Gigabyte GA-K8N51PVMT-9 ( Geforce 6150), 2 Gb DDR400, WIN7 SP1.
    I do not see that the SATA controller mentions AHCI in the device manager tab, however when I run the TRIM check commnand through CMD, it returns a "enabled" reply. Also,have made the necessary registry changes to ensure that AHCI is enabled. There is however no option in the MB bios to set AHCI.

    So is my drive configured with TRIM enabled or not?
    Reply
  • buxx I wish I knew the answer to your question too. I have a Dell Dimension XPS600 which I would love to put an SSD into, just as this article suggests. However I can't find any mention of AHCI in the BIOS, manuals or anywhere on the web. Hard to say if it's present, but you would guess not, if they don't mention it... right?
    Reply
  • compton
    I think that if you're trying to get more legs out of an older system, a SSD is definitely a great way to do that. Especially with laptops from the past four years -- a Core 2 Duo processor in a laptop still isn't fast, but a decent SSD will make it feel like a new system (at least in my experience) and then some. I think trying to make your Pentium 4 system better with some solid state storage is a lost cause however.

    MAGPCSSD is just too exaggerated, yes it is faster than HDD and may be more reliable but that doesn't justify its price.Waiting until it is price gets reasonable.
    How much is reasonable? A 64GB Crucial M4 is $105... that's pretty damn reasonable to me. For that kind of money you could get a low-end mobo, an Athlon X4, or 16GB of DDR3. Upgrades don't get much more reasonable than that. But if you already have a decent, if older system, installing an SSD will make it feel like a brand new system should for the least amount of money.
    Reply
  • jsrudd
    I installed an SSD in my netbook with an 1.6ghz atom processor and it really sped things up. The computer went from unusable to fine for casual usage.
    Reply
  • SpadeM
    Predictable outcome but informative article non the less. My only concern is that since you talked about mainstream pc, i didn't see any amd equipped system. This is not about AMD vs. Intel it's about storage controller performance. Thinking back, most builds I did back in the 2004 - 2006 time frame where based off nvidia + amd. This article would have painted a more complete picture if it had taken into consideration the other half of the pc landscape. In theory i guess you can argue that yes, if it is AHCI enabled then it "should" be the same outcome as the ICH scenario ... but is it for a fact?
    Reply
  • echdskech
    Maybe Tom's can do double blind subjective tests like they do in Mythbusters.

    Spend 10 mins doing office/internet stuff on each config without knowing which is which and rank them by speed subjectively.
    Reply