Two SSD kits make disk upgrades easy

With a kit, you get the tools to upgrade as many computers as you like

With solid-state disk (SSD) drives becoming more popular for laptops, users may find themselves in the position of upgrading the hard disk drive (HDD) in an older machine to get the reliability and speed that comes with flash memory technology.

Most people probably don't want to start from scratch by installing a fresh version of an operating system -- along with all the additional applications and drivers -- so upgrade kits can come in handy.

I've reviewed a variety of hard drives and SSDs in recent years, so when Imation Corp. suggested I use one of its kits to install its SSD, I figured it would make the change-out a bit easier. It did -- vastly.

The whole process took about 15 minutes and transferred an exact image of my existing HDD onto the SSD drive that worked perfectly.

Note: These instructions are mainly for Windows-based machines, although there's information for Mac users below.

Normally, when I get an SSD, I format it and download a fresh copy of Windows XP or Vista onto it, and then add any files and device drivers I may need before beginning benchmark tests.

By using imaging software, I don't have to wait on the lengthy Windows download and then use a separate flash key to add drivers -- not to mention my benchmark software and the other files that I use to test I/O.

There are a few of these drive upgrade kits on the market. None are specific to SSDs or traditional HDDs; the only differentiator is whether the kit comes with one or the other type of drive.

Tested: Imation, Kingston kits

Imation's upgrade SSD kit starts at $238 and comes with a 2.5-in M-Class (M stands for mobile) 64GB drive. The 128GB SSD upgrade kit goes for about $372. That's the one I tested.

By comparison, you can purchase Kingston's SSDNow V-Series Notebook Upgrade Kit with a 128GB SSD drive on Amazon.com for $249.

Upgrade kits come with some pretty standard items: a USB to serial ATA (SATA) converter cable, a power supply, a CD containing imaging software and, of course, an SSD drive. Imation's kit comes with Acronis' True Image HD software, which took approximately 14 minutes to image my existing hard disk drive with 37.5GB of data on it to Imation's SSD.

The process is utterly painless, and I highly recommend using Acronis' imaging software. It's very intuitive and easy to use.

Be forewarned: The Acronis software is for Windows only. If you're using a Mac, the best way to do the upgrade is to make a backup of your hard drive with Time Machine -- Apple's built-in backup app. Then swap out the old hard drive for the new SSD. You'll need to start up the computer using your OS installation disk. (Just hold down the C key while restarting your Mac after you put in the DVD.)

Once you've started up from the DVD, use Disk Utility to format the SSD, reinstall the OS, and when asked whether you want to restore data from a Time Machine backup, do so.

You can create your own upgrade kit a la cart by purchasing a USB-to-SATA cable separately for about $25 and then either purchasing imaging software or downloading a freeware version. Acronis' True Image software can be had for about $40. That method affords flexibility in which type of SSD you choose. However, if you're the type of person who likes pancake mix in a box, an SSD upgrade kit is a good way to go.

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Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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