Wednesday, 7 June 2017

What is the best way to speed up my notebook?

A friend recently asked me this question.


She was not a heavy gamer or developer, she mostly used her notebook for browsing, streaming audio\video and a few 'light' games. However, the notebook was slow to load applications taking 10 seconds or more to load Google Chrome in some cases. Also getting to a usable Desktop from switch-on was taking well over a minute. She did not appear to have many startup apps either.

She wanted to fit a faster CPU because she thought that her notebook CPU was too slow, but I informed her that modern notebook CPUs were not upgradeable.

Then she asked me about adding more memory, but it turned out that she had the maximum amount for her notebook already fitted (4GB as it happened).

So then she started talking about getting a new notebook, but I suggested to her that I could swap out her hard drive for a new SSD for about £100-£150 (depending on size).

To demonstrate this, as her notebook had an access cover for the hard-disk bay, I quickly swapped her old slow 2.5" WD spinny-thing for a Samsung 850 EVO SSD (Amazon.com)  drive which already contained Windows 10 and let her play with it for ten minutes.

Samsung 850 EVO (other makes are available!).
She was amazed at the difference and asked me to buy and fit a new 500GB one for her. As she only had documents and mp3 files that she needed, I did not try to clone her old 300GB WD hard drive onto the new SSD, but just installed a fresh copy of Win10, added a few of the manufacturers drivers and then copied over her media files (I put the old drive in a USB disk enclosure for this).

Now, every time I see her, she says she can't believe what a difference the SSD has made and that it feels like a really fast, new notebook now.

Speeding up a notebook

Notebooks are fitted with 2.5" hard drives. These 2.5" drives are much slower than 3.5" PC hard drives. Often, they are the slower, low-power variants because a long battery life is a big selling point with notebooks.

When buying a notebook, people look at the CPU speed number (more GHZ!) and memory size (the bigger the GB number the better) and hard disk size (the more GB the better). But the speed of the hard disk is really crucial.

Replacing a reasonably-fast  3.5" spinny hard disk in a PC with an SSD can make a big difference, but replacing a slow 2.5" spinny hard disk in a notebook with a fast, silent, resilient, low-power SSD can make a dramatic difference!

The benefits of an SSD in a notebook include:
  1. Fast!
  2. Resilient - if you drop the notebook, the SSD will be the last thing to break, not the first!
  3. Low power (though TBH not a lot less than a low-power 2.5" HDD)
  4. Paging - when there is not enough RAM for Windows, it will start paging to the page file on the hard disk. Having a really quick SSD really makes a big difference. It is almost as good as adding more RAM!
  5. Quiet
  6. To reduce power consumption, set the power-down timeout setting in Windows to 1 minute - there is no spin-up delay for an SSD!
For Windows 10, the minimum RAM is really 4GB and I would recommend 8GB if possible. However, if you have 4GB already, I would suggest you think about replacing that hard disk with an SSD, instead of investing in more RAM.

Also, if you do buy a new notebook in the future, you can simply move your SSD drive (with all your old apps and files) into the new notebook, so unlike buying RAM for an old notebook, it is not a wasted investment. This means you should buy a 500GB one rather than a 250GB one!

If you buy a cheap hard drive enclosure, you can put the old notebook hard drive into it. Then you will have access to any files you forgot to transfer and also have an offline backup drive (which you will appreciate if you are hit by RansomWare and all your online storage folders get encrypted!).

So you get a much faster notebook, plus a handy USB storage drive and you can use the SSD drive in your next notebook!

The Samsung 850 EVO range is generally considered the best for price\performance.
If you cannot stretch to an SSD, consider a hybrid drive if you need speed+larger capacity.

So don't get rid of that old, trusty notebook - upcycle it!