How To Optimize SSD Speed & Performance

2013 05 02 23.07.321   How To Optimize SSD Speed & PerformanceAlthough Solid State Drives can deliver break-neck computing speeds, most users don’t know a nasty secret – your drive might not be properly configured.

The reason is that SSDs don’t come optimized out of the box. Before the drive reaches peak performance, the user must engage in a fair amount of tweaking and preparatory work. In particular, AHCI mode in BIOS/EFI must be engaged and the correct AHCI drivers must be installed. Additionally, you should strongly consider upgrading your SSD’s firmware to the latest version and verifying that you have the correct drivers installed.

However, for those of you looking to extend your drive’s life, check out Tina’s article.

Technical Jargon

Garbage collection: Garbage collection in an SSD performs an essential part of keeping your SSD from sputtering out. Why you ask? Because SSDs cannot simply erase blocks of memory by writing over trashed data, the way a traditional, platter-based drive does. Before the SSD’s controller can write over a block, it must read it to mark it for deletion – the two-step read-write approach to erasing flash cells can take a great deal of time.

Background garbage collection solves this issue by reading and marking blocks as erased while the computer idles. This process, also known as idle garbage collection, functions independent of an operating system. So it works in both Linux, Mac and Windows. Activating background garbage collection simply requires that you log out and leave the computer running for a few hours.

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TRIM: TRIM solves the issue of erasing flash memory by functioning at the operating system level. Instead of the SSD controller marking which blocks require erasure, the operating system performs this role. Unfortunately, TRIM is entirely dependent on driver and operating system compatibility. So if any issue arises within the OS or installed drivers, TRIM will fail to function.

BIOS/EFI distinction: The Basic Input Output System was fairly recently replaced by the Extended Firmware Interface system in newer computers. Functionally, however, you can still interact with both systems in the same manner.

Enable AHCI In Your BIOS/EFI

Turning on AHCI in a BIOS Environment: There are no significant differences between enabling ACHI in an EFI or a BIOS environment. However, because many preboot environments differ in layout and terminology, I can only provide general guidelines. The screenshots in this article will not exactly replicate your layout.

To get started enabling AHCI:

  • Tap the correction F-key to get into your BIOS/EFI. This varies depending on the manufacturer and make of the motherboard. Oftentimes, the key is either Del, F2 or F10.
  • Once in your BIOS or EFI, look for references to your “hard drive” or “storage”. Click on it.
  • Change the setting from IDE or RAID to AHCI.
  • Normally, hit F10 to save and then exit. Your settings may vary, however. Just make sure you save and exit, otherwise your settings won’t stick.

Windows: If you have not installed the AHCI drivers in Windows, then your computer will experience BSOD upon boot. Windows 7 became the first Windows OS to feature TRIM command. Unfortunately, Vista and XP lack it.

WARNING: If you originally installed your computer with it set to IDE, enabling ACHI in Windows will cause the dread Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) on boot. Before proceeding, first install Microsoft’s AHCI drivers, before enabling AHCI. Fortunately, Microsoft made installation quite simple: Just download and install the Fix It package directly from Microsoft.

Mac OSX: For OSX builds older than Lion, you should manually install TRIM for it to work. Here are some simple directions for proper setup.

Linux: Linux has had TRIM implemented since 2008. You can manually install it by following these directions.

Here’s an example of an UEFI preboot environment:

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Here’s an example of the older BIOS preboot environment:

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Download The Right Driver For TRIM

TRIM optimizes your drive, preventing stutter and slowdown. Unlike in a platter drive, SSDs don’t overwrite data marked as erased. Before writing to a “dirty” block, an SSD must issue a TRIM command to erase it. When TRIM works properly, the SSD controller erases unused blocks, which results in a seamless experience. However, if a technical glitch or configuration error exists, TRIM may not function and the drive will run out of free space – however, as it runs out of free space, the drive will slow dramatically.

Fortunately, the idle garbage collection feature built into almost all modern firmware controllers, mitigates a faulty TRIM. Not all drives use idle garbage collection – however, for modern non-Intel SSDs, garbage collection comes equipped as a standard feature. Activating garbage collection only requires that you log out and leave it running in idle.

In general, enthusiasts suggest installing the official Intel storage drivers for Intel chipsets and the Microsoft drivers for AMD chipsets. To ensure that the MS drivers get installed, in Windows, go to Device Manager and select the SSD from “Disk Drives”. Then simply update the drivers — Windows should automatically install them.

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Make Sure Your Chipset Supports TRIM

Unfortunately not all chipsets support TRIM, particularly within RAID arrays. Series 7 Intel chipsets officially support TRIM in any form of RAID. However, unofficial support exists in Series 6 chipsets. Additionally, Linux purportedly supports software based TRIM in RAID arrays, although with some complications.

Update Your SSD’s Firmware

Many SSDs suffer from various bugs at the time they first reach markets. Fortunately, these bugs frequency receive updates in the form of firmware patches. These patches can be either destructive, where all data on the device gets destroyed, or non-destructive. In either case, you’ll need to backup your data before flashing the updated firmware.

For additional information on backing up your data, check out Tina’s manual. In a nutshell, simply copy your data to an external drive using software such as Clonezilla. Justin wrote an excellent guide on how to back up a drive using PartedMagic combined with Clonezilla, which I can personally vouch for. Alternatively, if you use Windows 7, try the baked-in backup feature.

While dangerous, updating your SSD’s firmware may prevent it from suffering issues in the future. But before updating, do your research – find what drives require firmware updates.

Don’t Buy Crap

Out of the eight SSDs that I’ve used in the past four years, four failed, despite having updated firmware and taken all necessary precautions. All four failures were from drives using second generation Sandforce controllers, which notoriously suffered from catastrophic failures. Fortunately, modern SSDs suffer from fewer issues than the earlier models. However, don’t tempt fate. Read the reviews before making a purchase.

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Conclusion

Your SSD’s performance out of the box isn’t optimized until you take three essential actions: First, try to enable AHCI in your BIOS/EFI. Second, check to see whether or not your chipset (motherboard) is compatible with TRIM. Third, check to see if your drive requires a firmware update.

Anyone else love SSD drives? Please share your optimization tips in the comments.

Image Credits: Flash Memory Blocks via Wikipedia, Tissue via MorgueFile.com

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12 Comments -

0 votes

Eian Ampoloquio

Noted everything. :)

0 votes

Shafiq Khan

Useful Post.. Thank You.
Question: By following the steps you’ve mentioned above such as getting a firmware update and enabling ACHI, would this mean i’d have to format the drive and reinstall the o.s back on the ssd?

I guess backup the drive first before I take any action.

0 votes

Kannon Yamada

Hey Shafiq, the most important optimization would be to turn on AHCI. In which case, you would only need to install the MS drivers for AHCI and, after, activate AHCI in the BIOS. In this case, you would do a backup in the event of a catastrophic failure. But that kind of failure isn’t very likely at all. And if you do get bluescreen, you can just switch off AHCI.

If you decide to update the firmware on your SSD, check to see whether or not the update is destructive or non-destructive. The flash instructions should tell you this. If it does destroy data, you will absolutely need to backup and restore.

Good luck!

0 votes

Jedi

I’ve read also about turning off hibernation, moving pagefile to a standard HDD, disabling defrag just to be sure as well as prefetch and superfetch in regedit and system restore if you don’t need it.
I have a crucial m4 512Gb ssd with 380gb empty so I hope it’ll last

0 votes

Ethan

@jedi these and more are mentioned in Tina’s article that is hyperlinked above.

0 votes

Brian

Is it safe to say that if I buy a new Macbook Air with an SSD already in it that I don’t have to do all this stuff?

0 votes

Kannon Yamada

The newer Macbook Airs have all these featured enabled by default. However, the very first MBAs were released BEFORE TRIM was introduced in OSX (to my knowledge) and therefore they would have to somehow update the OS. I’m not an expert on Macs, but it doesn’t seem like something Apple would do – release a product that would basically fail after a couple years.

0 votes

Steve Frey

Thank you for all the useful information; I recently upgraded one of my pc’s with an SSD and was frustrated trying to find out information on how to set up my new SSD drive to make use of the benefits they can provide.

0 votes

Kannon Yamada

Thanks for the comment Steve!

Intel actually has a toolkit that performs most of these optimizations for you, if you have an Intel SSD. I’ve used it before and have to say that Intel easily makes the best drives. It’s a shame they charge so much.

I’m sure you already saw it, but if you’re concerned about SSD drive longevity, be sure to check out Tina’s awesome article on the subject.

0 votes

Onaje Asheber

Thanks for the great info…

0 votes

Mikey

It is really strange second gen sandforce controllers have failed in your case! First gen controllers were known to have few compatibility issues, but the second gen sandforce controller were aimed at fixing this which has been successful to some extent. I have been using the latest sandforce based SSDs and haven’t faced any issues at all. Only thing I would advice to sound fair is, please try yourselves in using these drives & just don’t rely on the reviews.

0 votes

Kannon Yamada

Mikey, thanks for the comment. I screwed up. I meant their first generation SandForce 1200 series controllers in the Vertex 2.

I also had stability problems with the second generation 2000 series SandForce controller in a couple of Agility drives – but the Agility drives only required a firmware update. The Vertex drives were totally boffed up. I had to do FIVE returns on two drives!

They finally ironed out the problems, though, and they haven’t given me any issues since then.