We added this drive to an existing PC, but our current system partition was an honest-to-goodness 40GB and this drive is actually 37GB, so we had to start out by shrinking it. The upgrade kit version includes imaging software, but not resizing software, so we followed the advice of our friends at Download Squad and used the free EASEUS Partition Master Home Edition software to resize it. Once that was over, we were only using about 21GB of our system drive, so this was as easy as installing the software and letting it do its magic and rebooting. But if you are using more space than this on your system drive, you'll have to rearrange some things to get the used space to under 37GB before you can resize it. We know you already have an external drive around for backups (right?) so we suggest you back everything (seriously, always backup everything before messing with your rig!) up until there is enough free space, then go on to the next step.
The new SSD is of the 2.5-inch form factor variety, but includes adapters to make it fit into any 3.5-inch drive bay. Our Dell XPS 420 had an extra unused floppy drive bay and unused SATA connection, so we set the drive in the bay without mounting it for review purposes; if we were to keep the drive, we'd definitely want it securely mounted. On the Dell motherboard the SATA ports are off by default, so we had to go into the BIOS and enable it. Finally, we booted the system and confirmed that it showed up in Computer Manager. Windows will try to initialize the drive, and we let it even though we planned to image over it later.
Copying existing data to the SSD
Assuming your system drive is 37GB or smaller, you need to image it over to the new SSD. If you bought the upgrade kit you can just boot from the included Acronis Drive Image boot disc and make your copy, otherwise you'll have to find your own imaging software. There are plenty of free options here, so many in fact that we won't go into great detail. In the case of the included Acronis disk, we couldn't get it to make a partition to partition image. So we just used Drive Image boot disc to backup our system partition to an image file on our 1TB internal disk. Then we used it again to restore the image to our new SSD. The last thing we had to do was to go into the BIOS and tell the system to boot from the SSD drive instead and we were off to the races.
PerformanceWe know this is getting to be a cliché but SSD technology brings new life to just about any computer. Now we'll leave the serious benchmarking to the experts, but beyond just going by the seat of our pants impressions, we did time a few common tasks to see the measurable improvements. While everything we tried was at least a little faster, the most noticeable was the time it took for our PC to sleep, which was 13 seconds instead of 48, with the time from login until the desktop appearing coming in second with an 18 second improvement. The time to launch new programs was greatly improved, but we're talking a second or two here, unless we were out of RAM. Want some brutal honesty? If you're thinking of buying RAM or an SSD, we'd recommend the SSD. We say that because page files are a fact of life in modern operating systems no matter how much RAM you have, and accessing a page file from an SSD drive is markedly faster. This is a difficult thing to benchmark, but believe us when we tell you that there is no mistaking the perceivable improvement when the page file gets used. One thing to consider about a smaller SSD like this is that it means you won't be able to leverage your new disk speed on most file copies or loading large media files for playback or editing. The SSD will help these tasks somewhat because your hard disk with your documents and media will be relieved of its OS, page file and application loading duties, but we're not sure how perceivable that is.
Media Center PC performance
Media Center in Windows 7 is already much faster than it was in Vista, but we were excited to see if we'd notice an additional speed boost from an SSD drive. We tried a few different configurations -- such as setting the SSD to just be the Live TV buffer -- but honestly we really didn't notice any improvements. It seems that Media Center is loaded into memory anyways, so after the initial launch -- which evidently doesn't require much disk I/O itself -- things felt pretty much the same. Now the only time we've ever noticed any slow downs in Media Center (that were disk related, anyways) is when we recording five HD shows at once, but at 40GB, we could only record about 5 hours of material to this drive. For kicks, we copied a 30 minute HD show to it and scanned it for commercials with ShowAnalyzer, and it finished in 4 minutes instead of 8; unfortunately, the time it would take to copy the content to the SSD to be scanned would all but nullify the savings.